Sadly most of the action played out in front of appalling small crowds; we're talking fewer fans than attend the average high school match. A JV high school match. Like most businesses, sports properties devote great time and resources figuring out how to penetrate China and tap into the world's largest population. Tennis appeared to have a nice beachhead, what with a gleaming facility in Shanghai ("Grand Slam ready," we've been told/threatened) and a recent Grand Slam champion in Li Na.
But that sure didn't translate to fans last week. Whether it was distance of the venue from downtown Shanghai (an hour with no traffic) the high price of tickets or the scheduling of matches during the workday, there were vast oceans of empty seats. This doesn't mean the event was a failure. Attendance is only part of the sports equation, a diminishing one at that. Still, it suggests that for all of China's potential, there's work to be done. You have believe that the NBA and NFL are paying close attention and figuring out the source of the marketing shortcomings and challenges.
Some of us (self included) simply chalk this up to randomness. Flip a coin a dozen times and you could have 12 heads. But, as a rule, we don't like randomness. And as a rule, we like conspiracy theories. Inevitably this has triggered raised eyebrows. Katarina Pijetlovic, a European academic, goes further still, wondering if this isn't a Nike plot to maximize the chances of a Federer-Nadal final. Go
Next week will mark the start of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships, held in Istanbul. One spot is still up for grabs -- Marion Bartoli won in Osaka and is still in the running. This event gives players a chance to take home a boatload of cash, finish the year strong, and -- though momentum has been hard to come by in the women's game lately -- start 2012 on a high note. If you're handicapping the field, pay attention to Petra Kvitova -- who won the Linz event on Sunday -- finally returning to her winning ways after a post-Wimbledon slide.