Marketing fixes for tennis, Nalbandian's comeback, more mail
• That reminds me of the old joke: What the worst part about being named a partner at your management consulting firm? It could imperil your second marriage. I agree that tennis seems to have an awfully low profile this summer. Media coverage has been shaky. When matches are shown on TV, there are a depressing number of empty seats. The U.S. Open Series is a fine idea, but it hasn't exactly revolutionized the sport. There are obviously all sorts of issues at play. The economy. The schedule: Among Nadal, Federer, Serena, Venus, Henin, and Djokovic, all went at least a month without playing after Wimbledon. The television situation.
But the balkanized, narrow interests have struck me lately. This is really more structural and organic than an indication of selfishness. Everyone acts rationally; but everyone looks out for themselves at the expense of the sport's greater good. The Slams want to maximize their revenues, but don't care a great deal for the run-of-the-mill events. To wit: the USTA is happy to sell TV rights to ESPN or sponsorships to a host of companies but isn't going to imperil the deal by overreaching. (e.g. "Hey, ESPN, we'll sell you the rights but only if you agree to televise Indian Wells and Key Biscayne as well." Or, "Thanks, Large Company, but instead of giving us $1 million, why don't you give us $500,000 and also become the new sponsor of the New Haven or Atlanta event?")
The events are concerned about surviving, turning a modest profit and satisfying their sponsors. If they exhaust players, or skew the economy by playing an exorbitant appearance fee, so be it. If they hold out for the best television package -- say, selling rights to a network that bumps coverage for bass fishing rather than giving it to Tennis Channel at a slightly discounted price -- so be it. They just need to make their number.
The equipment companies have financial pressures, too. So if their products sell, great. Even if the high-tech materials (and the injuries they may or may not be causing) may have a harmful effect on the sport overall.
The players, understandably, look out for No. 1 as well. Their window is limited and if they go overboard promoting the sport or serving on committees or adding extra events to their schedule, it could exact a price on their games and, thus, earning potential. What's more, as the Slams have become so lucrative, there's less incentive than ever to play the smaller tournaments.
Even the tours are narrow interests. The ATP has become borderline obsessed with promoting the year-end Barclays World Tour Finals event in London. Why? Because it's the tour's big money-maker, the one event it outright owns. This is fine, but it's one tournament and eight players. One imagines how these media buys and marketing dollars could be better spread for the good of the sport.
You have to start throwing McKinsey money at me before we go further. But I think the first step in boosting tennis' profile/relevance/microeconomy is to attack these structural issues and figure out a way to centralize interests. We joke about a "tennis commissioner" but maybe a real independent body tasked only with the greater good of the sport is a start. Of course after we solve tennis' problems we'll take on an easier assignment. Peace in the Middle East comes immediately to mind.
• Nalbandian deserves all sorts of credit for making it back. His was a long litany of injuries. (And I imagine there was some psychic pain when countrymen Gaudio and Del Potro beat him to the proverbial punch and won majors.) I think you listed the Nalbandian concerns and I'd add that they're related. When your body has betrayed you, it's easy for that to affect mental toughness and fitness. When you're not fit, it's easy for that to affect your health and mental fitness. Realistically, Nalbandian's days of contending for Slams are probably past. Too much has to go right. And, impressive as he was in D.C., he didn't exactly have to go through Federer and Nadal in best-of-five conditions. But could he reach the second week? Absolutely.
• I should be better at this than I am. But I read so many, "I had a good practice and now it's time for treatment" or "Light practice and now pasta dinner" or "Starbucks morning -- hold the foam!" that I only glance at most players I follow. Roddick is good, but erratic.
• Very good. The odds of Venus entering doubles with someone other than Serena are slimmer than Mardy Fish. (Side discussion: For fun, how would Venus and Serena fare in the mixed competition?) The WTA had already cut the schedule so that the season ends around Halloween. Think we're pretty close to the bone on that topic. Rosanna de los Rios at 40? Sure, why not? She's in shape, she has a good spirit, and remember, she missed many years while having a baby so maybe she gets them on the back end. (Trivia: Her husband once played soccer for legendary Argentine club Boca Juniors.) As for Serena, you'd like to think that she could replicate her success at the majors in other events. But especially as she gets older, her focus is lasering on the bigger prizes. Time and again, she shows that doesn't care about the whistle stops and she doesn't care about the WTA regulations and she doesn't care about the rankings ramifications.
• We could have a pretty good debate here. They've each won a Slam in Paris, been No. 1 (albeit briefly in both cases) and enjoyed Davis Cup success. They've each reached a hardcourt Slam final and eclipsed $10 million in earnings. (Moya has won $13,382,822, JCF has won roughly $12.7 million.) Moya's won 20 titles. Ferrero has won 15. Both are gentlemen who comported themselves honorably. Very comparable careers. Are they Hall of Fame worthy? This goes back to the old debate. I was recently in Cooperstown, N.Y., working on a magazine story and was struck by how many good players are not enshrined. It only accommodates the elite of the elite. Tennis is much more lenient. Are Moya and Ferrero towering figures? Probably not. But, again, given the precedent, they might well get the nod.
• I'm still baffled by why this is such a point of contention. Nadal has a winning record -- a decisively winning record -- against Federer. Yet the majority of those matches have been played on Nadal's choice surface and Federer's least favorite surface. Consider: They've never played at the U.S. Open, since Nadal has never made the final. This doesn't mean Nadal's record is invalid. It's just a point to consider when assessing the data.
• I see this from both sides. The player feels shortchanged and treated like chattel. The tournament is sympathetic but has a business to run and commitments to honor. Assuming this is just an unfortunate situation and not skullduggery, I have limited sympathy for the player. It's an occupational hazard. Sometimes the schedule is your friend; sometimes it bites you. Anyone who's ever played a junior tournament -- especially one beset by rain -- knows this. Deal with it. When Berdych, who doesn't exactly have
• Is there a doctor in the house? Even if you haven't examined Djokovic personally -- and I suspect you haven't -- anyone have insights/ruminations on his apparent condition?
• The invaluable
• Two words:
• Can we just pause to note that "Tom Lehrer," "Kim Kardashian" and "YouTube" were used in the same thought?
• Crush it and you can get to Cincinnati in five hours.
• Okay, here's an exercise: Sit in traffic in your car. Play
• Congrats to
• Betty Blake, mother of James, is working on a book.
• Calgary readers: Keep an eye on Graham Mothersill.
• Nice to see
• Graf and Lendl
Have a great week everyone!