The time is past due for dramatic changes to be implemented into professional tennis. In the United States, as well as many other major countries, the youth tend not to gravitate towards tennis and are instead attracted by the aura of football, basketball, and baseball. It is no mystery why the NFL, NBA and MLB generate over eight billion dollars in revenue every year, while the ATP brings in a little over one billion.
The cause for this discrepancy lies in the culture associated with each sport. Sports fans connect with the three pillar American sports in a far more personal manner than tennis. The NBA and NFL, in particular, are regarded as the kings of pop culture, directly tied with fashion and music. The athletes are known for their amazing slam dunks and one-handed catches but also publicize their vibrant personalities off the court. Tennis, on the other hand, has become stigmatized as an elitist “gentleman’s sport” that excludes the rest of the population. The game has yet to vastly expand its viewership and break from its outdated principles founded on tradition, silence and dress codes.
However, if the ATP takes into account these six proposals, tennis can break from its one-dimensional boundary, draw interest from the best American and world athletes, as well as captivate new fans.
1. Incorporate music and sound effects into every show court match
Music always provides the extra energy to drive a crowd, and having a DJ control the big screen and sound system on center court will undoubtedly keep the crowd engaged. The most popular and hottest songs should be played during warmups and every changeover, but it shouldn’t stop there. Every ace, winner, and big point should be announced and hyped up like a third down in football, a three-pointer in basketball or a homerun in baseball.
2. Allow crowd chatter during points
The best part of attending a sporting event is celebrating and conversing with a friend or family member during the competition. Calling for silence during points is an outdated expectation that can ruin the experience for non-tennis fanatics. In other sports, players continuously have to deal with the crowd noise, especially in the most crucial of situations, and tennis should receive no exemption.
3. Add more team events to the calendar
One of the best things the ATP did was add the Laver Cup and ATP Cup to the schedule. There is nothing more entertaining than watching all-time greats, rivals and countrymen coach each other and display over the top celebrations. Team events provide a refreshing and new perspective to the sport and are the most entertaining events to watch. Also, the ATP should allow players to brand their teams and create marketable merchandise and jerseys with sponsor logos and ads, which would provide much needed financial support to the players.
4. Change the tournament dates
Tennis is one of the only sports that hold competitions in the middle of the day on a weekday. It is no wonder why tournaments struggle to draw spectators when the large majority of the population is at work or in school. In order to increase attendance rates and television ratings, the ATP schedule has to include fewer tournaments stretched out over more extended periods. Matches should be played only after 4:00 p.m. on weekdays, and on weekends. After all, the ATP season is far too long and strenuous with only a mere two-month offseason.
5. Pay the players the money they earn
If all of these measures are taken into account, players’ prize money will grow exponentially. However, players could make even more money, and the sport would attract even more athletes if a more significant portion of tournament revenue was allocated towards prize money. Currently, ATP events allot 20-30 percent of its revenue generated towards prize money, which is a reasonable figure considering the tournaments are for-profit and need to support themselves. But the Grand Slams only grant 10-14 percent of their revenue towards prize money as they are non-profit and reinvest their money into smaller tournaments and youth programs. Nevertheless, the slams could undoubtedly afford to give players at least 20 percent of revenue, especially when the four majors continue to make more money each year and hold record attendance. The NBA, MLB and NFL all pay salaries that account for upwards of 48 percent of league revenue.
6. Create a unified organization and give the players a voice
The main issue inhibiting forward progress in professional tennis revolves around the lack of unity in the governing bodies, and the lack of power granted to the players. This was perfectly exemplified this year when the French Open decided to postpone their event to the end of September spontaneously. While such a move would drastically alter the ATP schedule and force players to play back to back slams, the owners of Roland Garros did not even bother or care to seek the permission or thoughts of the ATP and players. There has to be some higher administrative body of tennis that oversees all operations, as having the ATP, ITF, and Grand Slams run independently ends up hurting everybody. In addition, since tournaments do not employ ATP players, they are viewed as independent contractors and are prohibited from forming a union. As a result, their opinions are only considered as suggestions, and the players have minimal sway over their conditions and cannot implement change on their terms. On the flip side, the NBA is “run” by the National Basketball Association Players Association, whose 2011 strike proved successful in gaining larger salaries. While tennis players cannot form a union, a more powerful board must exist where elected player representatives have an influential voice that allows them to act on their platforms rather than beg to be heard.
With these measures, tennis will expand its boundaries to all people of all parts of the world, and the professional game will see increased popularity and revenue. More American boys will strive to become world number one, and a bright future of American tennis will persist.
Robbie Werdiger is a sophomore at Georgetown University. A former standout at Horace Mann High School, Werdiger has competed on the national junior stage and has achieved USTA rankings of top 25 in the eastern section in numerous age groups. Additionally, Robbie has represented team USA at the world Maccabiah Games in Israel in 2017, the third largest international sporting event in the world.