Though tennis continues to lead the pack in long-term participation growth for kids ages 6-17, it still is not a popular sport in America. Tennis can learn much from America’s most popular sports: football (NFL) and baseball (MLB).
Baseball was once known as America’s favorite pastime. It is no longer considered the central part of American culture. As the 2014 Harris Poll illustrates, football (NFL) now has a stranglehold in America. The NFL has proven that a sport’s growth and popularity is dependent on accessibility. This accessibility is not relegated to availability, for it includes organization and the culture the sport fosters (encourages and promotes). However, without consistent and dependable availability, the sport’s death is certain! Tennis is currently ranked behind golf and ice skating.
Unlike the other popular American sports, tennis viewing requires multiple subscriptions. Any tennis fan can bemoan you with their viewing tales. Simply put, finding a host that airs an entire match much less a tournament is a test of patience if not futility. Tennis fans need viewing cheat sheets or the more reliable tennis twitter community to navigate tennis’ TV and digital landscape which is a patch-quilt of owners, partners and sponsors.
While ESPN owns the Australian, Open US Open, US Open Series and Wimbledon, Tennis Channel owns the French Open. Similarly, Tennis Channel Plus and TennisTV have claimed stake to the smaller tournaments, the digital space and On-Demand services. Each owner sub-licenses its events to the other. This approach shows that owners are more interested in monopolizing than creating a complete tennis experience for fans. Of particular concern is the myopic programming which ignores doubles, college and junior tennis. The lack of tennis on American television networks further points to the sport’s lack of focus or interest in growing the sport or providing fans with availability which will improve their tennis experience. Sadly, illegal streams will proliferate as tennis prospectors continue their land grab for ownership, parceling the sport into extinction.
When I started writing this, I planned it as a single column examining the sport’s lack of popularity in America. After many weeks, I began to wonder if the sport was satisfied with its niche status or if it was willing to address core issues to achieve popularity, mass appeal. This five-part series will address some of the issues that thwarts the sport’s popularity.
- Game, Set and Match
- Tennis Fandom: Niche and Rabid
- Accessibility: Not Relegated to Availability
- Organization: Fan, Player and Sport Well Being
- Culture: Transparency, Criticism and Equality