Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Shoot that poison arrow through my heart

Like millions of New Yorkers, I like to read the newspaper on the way to work while riding the subway.

This morning, I saw something in the sports section that shocked me, confused me, disgusted me, intrigued me—nearly every verb you can think of but make me happy: A 30-inch story on the U.S. archery team deciding to stand by its embattled coach. The coach, Kisik Lee, is under fire for the team not winning a medal in Beijing and his controversial takes on training and his religious stances.

Now what does this have to do with tennis, you might ask? Absolutely everything.

You see, throughout the rest of the sports section, there was no mention of tennis anywhere: Not in the box score, not in the sports briefs, nowhere. Now, I know the regular season is over, but this is the week leading up to the Davis Cup finals, which despite the absence of the world's top-ranked player, Rafael Nadal, features two tennis powerhouses in Argentina and Spain. But if you were to look through your local newspaper or watch "SportsCenter," you'd have no idea this was about to go down.

But beyond this being a Davis Cup week, this goes on probably 85 to 90 percent of the year: minimal coverage, at best, of the sport we all know and love—at least here in the U.S. And I have some questions about that: Why is that the case and how can it change?

I guess tennis will always take a backseat to the major sports in the U.S., but to Mixed Martial Arts, and as anonymous mentions in the comments section, NASCAR? Does it have to be that way? The skill and athleticism required to play pro tennis is off the charts: Speed, eye-hand coordination, strength, touch—you name it, you have to be the best at all of that to enjoy some success.

Is it because there aren't any U.S. players making headlines with their off-court and on-court antics? How many times have you heard older people say they liked tennis in the 1970s back when Connors and McEnroe played? Well, here's something for those that say that: Those guys acted like buffoons at times! Is that really how you want an athlete to behave? Give me a James Blake or a Roger Federer, or even a Radek Stepanek, anyday: Guys that can either keep it cool, get fired up or get the crowd involved.

But back to my other question: How can the lack of coverage change? I work in the media now, but I'm not among the lead decision makers. I guess it's up to the fans. It's sad that it has to come to this, but maybe we should attack it from a grass-roots approach:

• Write someone if the lack of coverage bugs you.

• Turn elsewhere for your tennis jones, like blogs. Want the latest on the off-court activities of the pros? Read Down the Line! Want to get in-depth coverage on black tennis players? Read Black Tennis Pros. Want to gain an international perspective of the sport? Check out HCFoo's Blogyard, Tennis is Served..., Tennis From Beyond the Baseline, Topspin Tennis Blog. Check out GoToTennis. Want an irreverent look at the game? See Tennis With Attitude (the name says it all!) Just glance to the left of this posting and click on the blog roll or any of the listed sites.

• Talk about it. Spread the word and let people know why you love the sport so much.

That's all I have for now. I was determined to write something as long as that archery story I read this morning! If you like what you read here, feel free to spread it around. We have to start somewhere.


Anonymous said...

It's not that I don't agree with your larger frustration, but somehow I feel confident that tennis gets, on average, more coverage in the NYT Sports section than archery does. I'm perfectly willing to let all the other ignored sports have their moment in the sun, it's pages on pages of crap about NASCAR that gets me. :-P

TopSpin said...

Ha! Andy Roddick said it best: "It's a little disappointing that we're behind (in popularity) a sport that you turn left for four hours"

Its exactly the same in the UK where football dominates every so called "sports" publication/article/tv programme, and the tennis season begins with Queen's and ends with Wimbledon...

I gave in years ago and began an overseas subscription to Tennis Magazine - can you believe you couldn't even get a half decent tennis magazine here up until around 3 years ago (ACE magazine is not bad considering it has no competition to speak of!).

Still its improving somewhat as the media clamours to get a piece of Andy Murray....

Rich said...

I agree with you Van it's unfortunate but not surprising with how confusing it can be to find matches to watch nevermind cover it for a media outlet.

Maybe tennis will become more an internet-based experience for fans with coming, other streaming options, magazine sites, blogs, etc. Matches in our sport happen at all times, in all time zones, in so many countries that the internet becomes the easiest way to keep up.

PS - thanks for the mention!

TopSpin said...

Apologies Van - I got so carried away in my rant I forgot to thank you for the mention too...Cheers!

Jodi said...

We get almost no tennis coverage here - we get every second of the Australian Open, and a lot of the Sydney tournaments, and in the past, the final of Adelaide (I suppose that will become Brisbane this year) as well as government-funded coverage of the Hopman Cup - but apart from that, very little. We get Wimbledon late at night, and the semis and finals of the US, but nothing else. On free-to-air television, there is no coverage of the French Open at all.

All that said, Lleyton Hewitt is a big star over here, but it's because of his wife Bec and some multi-million dollar deal they have with a women's magazine. Lleyton is ten times bigger than tennis - and because he's no longer at the top, it gets no journalistic coverage at all.

heyheyhey said...

Part of the problem lies with the media outlets, especially television. It used to be ESPN. That's where you knew you could find the matches. Then, they would cover tennis more in SportsCenter. Now we have Fox, TTC, Versus, USA, etc. You never know where to find tennis, and none of the stations that cover it have a sports news show. No one with a talk show talks about tennis ever. Sure, Letterman will have an occasional player on, but that's because CBS forces him to. The most obvious channel is, of course, TTC. But their programming has been incredibly ill-conceived and laid out since they first aired.

It also seeps all the way down to local sports news. Where I live, even when the slams are going on, we don't hear a peep about tennis. Forget about Davis Cup. I would bet my life's savings that 99% of anyone in my city I asked could not tell me what Davis Cup is.
I complain all the time to my local outlets and e-mail the major outlets about the lack of tennis coverage, but unless I'm buying advertising from them, they don't give a rat's a$$ what I want.

Blogs have been the only way to see some coverage, but even those aren't consistent. Sometimes days go by without updates. (Nothing personal, Van. I'm sure you have a real job and aren't getting paid to do this.) It's just that blogs cannot be relied upon solely as a source of tennis information. But they are really the only way of knowing that somebody else besides me follows, dare I say loves, tennis.

The Tennis Hacker said...

New York? Why was I assuming you were from Alabama? (Did you mention you were at a Mobile tournament?)

hcfoo said...
This post has been removed by the author.
hcfoo said...

I hear you Van! This is what happening to the local papers in this part of my region too.

Even on paid TV, tennis has to be sacrificed and make way for sports like soccer and F-1. Countless times I was so into watching an important live tennis match, and the broadcaster can simply cut the coverage half way just to show football. This usually happens on weekend where the semifinals and finals are shown.

Tennis blogs and forums have become so important for die hard tennis fans like us. Honestly I don't read tennis news on papers anymore because it becomes sort of outdated by the time I flipped through them.

From my experience at the recent Showdown of Champions exho, IMG Asia Pacific and the local organisers finally see the importance of tennis blogs they gave me media passes to access to all events. But like what heyx3 said, it's not easy to be tennis bloggers coz we have our full time job too.

van said...

Hey everyone, thanks for all the comments!

• Anonymous, great point about the NASCAR. I gave you a shout-out in the posting!

• Topspin and Rich, I was glad to mention you both! The situation is so frustrating, even from the standpoint of figuring why tennis isn't more popular. I didn't realize, Topspin, that coverage is lacking in England, as well.

• Hey Jodi, what's up? I'm shocked to hear that coverage is lacking in Australia, too. I guess it's the same as it is here: Without someone dominant on the world scene, the coverage lacks.

• Hey Heyheyhey! Glad to hear you're active trying to get more coverage provided. I wish I could post more. Most of the time I am doing it from work! : )

• Hey Tennis Hacker. I grew up in Mobile, but I've been living in New York for 11 years. Definitely a different world!

• HCFoo, what's up? I've been enjoying reading your accounts of the exhibition there. That's great that you've gotten so up close to everything! Us bloggers can only keep plugging away, I guess.

Krystle Lee said...

I have only just found that there are so many tennis blogs out there. I didn't realize there was so much competition out there. I appreciate all the enthusiasm from everyone to make almost daily posts.

Would you be interested in exchanging links with my tennis blog? It's I don't make updates as often as everyone here, and it's a slightly different style of blogging, less opinionated.

freakyfrites said...

Hey there Van!

First, thanks for the shout out! I finally did my 2008 wrap up, and hope you get a chance to tell me what I missed.

I go back and forth with the whole "why isn't tennis popular?" thing. To me, it's one of the most perfect sports ever invented, with so many variables, skill sets, and things to like about it! I honestly think that individual sports, for whatever reason, will never have the popularity of team sports. Why? Because team sports are always linked to a city, region or country - they don't disappear once a star player has faded. Dah Bears are still Dah Bears without Walter Payton and the Fridge. But where will Roger's fans turn when he retires (I'd say to Andy Murray or Jo-Dub Tsonga, but. . .(
So I think all we can do is, as you suggest, continue to form an online community, watch tennis whenever it's on t.v., support your local tournaments, pay for a Tennis magazine every now and then, go to drill classes and get your lazy friends back on the court to hit some balls. I do think tennis has regained some of its buzz, especially with Roger, Nadal, the Williams sisters and Sharapova all making it big.

The lack of Davis Cup coverage is criminal - it's such a great event! They need to hire some big time PR people!!!

Naf said...

First of all, blushing! Which is difficult for a person of my hue ...
Second, awesome post, and you are so right! I think there's a way for us tennis bloggers to make an impact in tennis coverage. I'm just not sure yet how we do it. But I feel the powers that be in tennis are shooting themselves in the foot with horrible marketing, especially the WTA. But you're right -- we can still spread the love ... get it? ha ha ha