Tennis, a global sport with a gruelling year-round calendar, holds a unique position in the landscape, as a sport that seldom takes a break. But despite its widespread popularity, tennis struggles to maintain a consistent presence in mainstream media, often receiving limited coverage outside of major tournaments. While on the other hand, the thriving online platforms continue to grow, and create quality content.
Tennis in Mainstream Media: An Ongoing Challenge
In Australia, mainstream media's dedication to tennis remains sporadic, often confined to the Australian Open and other tournaments held during January.
For the remaining 40 weeks of the year, tennis enthusiasts relying solely on traditional media outlets, would find it increasingly difficult to keep up with ongoing events and developments.
Almost 900,000 people attend the Australian Open in January, plus the tens of thousands attending other events across the country. There’s clearly strong interest in the sport. It’s an amazing kickstart to the year for the sport. Yet the absence of dedicated television shows focusing on tennis throughout the whole season, (outside of Channel 9’s “Cross Court” program, which runs as a short lead-up to the Aussie summer) compounds the issue, leaving fans searching elsewhere for more comprehensive coverage and analysis.
Live tennis coverage throughout the year is available for certain events on Pay TV, but is very limited on free-to-air TV. During January, Channel 9 do a great job, with wall to wall coverage of all tournaments, across their various channels, and digital platforms. For the other majors, we get a selection of the best matches of the day (which is better than nothing). But if we wish to have access to all matches, we will need to stump up some money for Stan Sport.
If you’re simply looking for a show to wrap up the week’s events, you’d struggle to find one.
ATP Uncovered is a weekly show that covers tennis news on and off the court, but again, it is only available on pay TV (Foxtel). Not only that, but it is made by the ATP itself. It would be wonderful to see a local tennis show produced, with players and journalists discussing the world of tennis.
Numerous other sports have dedicated ‘panel style’ or ‘magazine style’ shows throughout the year, to keep fans engaged in the game on a regular basis. Wouldn’t it be great to have something as simple as an hour highlights/round-up show of the tournaments throughout the week.
For a lot of people, that would be enough to stay engaged and connected.
The limited presence of tennis in mainstream media extends to radio as well. Not meaning to be biased at all, only "The First Serve", on the SEN radio network, provides a platform for tennis devotees to catch up with the latest news and updates. Unless high-profile players like Nick Kyrgios or Bernard Tomic engage in controversial activities or make provocative statements, tennis tends to fade from the public eye. This sensationalistic approach to coverage, often overshadows the genuine reporting of tournaments and players' achievements.
The situation is unfortunate because tennis is a sport that deserves more mainstream recognition. It is a global sport. It is physically and mentally demanding. It requires skill, athleticism, and precision. It is a sport that has given us legends like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams, and Steffi Graf, to name a few. Not only that, it is a sport in which almost every Australian has played at some stage in their lives. Yet, it is still treated as an “off Broadway” sport.
One possible reason for this lack of recognition could be the individualistic nature of tennis.
Unlike team sports, where players represent a city or a country, tennis players represent only themselves. While this characteristic is also a reason for the sport's appeal, it does mean that fans of tennis do not have a team to support. It is the tribal nature of team sport that seems to attract the majority of the mainstream media minutes.
Additionally, tennis tournaments are scattered across the world, making it difficult to organize a fan base in one location.
Another possible reason could be the perceived elitism associated with the sport. In certain parts of the world, tennis has been played in private clubs and required a certain level of financial means to play at a competitive level. While this may have been true in the past, today, tennis is more accessible than ever before, especially in Australia. With the rise of public courts, coaching programs, and grassroots initiatives, tennis has become a sport for everyone. So why not take it to the masses in a more consistent schedule?
Or perhaps, the year-round schedule actually hurts the product. If the schedule was reduced from the 45-odd weeks it currently is, down to 35 for instance, would tv channels be more likely to commit to a weekly show during the season?
The Rise of Social Media: A Tennis Enthusiast's Paradise
Given the lack of coverage across mainstream media, social media platforms have emerged as the ultimate hub for tennis fans seeking a comprehensive and immersive experience.
Platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and dedicated tennis blogs and podcasts, have become the go-to sources for real-time scores, breaking news, insightful analysis, and engaging discussions.
The tennis community on social media have taken it upon themselves to create a wealth of content, offering both quantity and quality that often surpasses what traditional media outlets provide. In fact, there are hundreds of everyday tennis fans, who have a huge following, because of the brilliant content and analysis they offer.
The online tennis community has an insatiable appetite for statistical analysis, delving deep into player performance, match statistics, and historical data. Twitter, in particular, has become a hub for fans to share and dissect statistics, uncovering patterns, trends, and hidden gems within the numbers.
It is not uncommon to find fans meticulously analyzing a player's performance on specific court surfaces, examining their success rates on different shot selections, or exploring the impact of various strategies and tactics. The wealth of information available online, allows fans to become experts in their own right, developing a comprehensive understanding of the sport that surpasses the superficial analysis often found on television.
Moreover, the online community has cultivated a keen sense of humour, adding a lighter and more entertaining aspect to tennis coverage. Memes, witty observations, and playful banter are often exchanged among fans, creating an atmosphere that fosters camaraderie and enjoyment. Tennis, like any sport, has its fair share of amusing moments, and social media fans are quick to highlight and celebrate these light-hearted occurrences.
Whether it's a quirky celebration, a funny exchange during a post-match interview, or a humorous take on a tennis-related event, the online community embraces the lighter side of the sport, which, it’s fair to say, hasn’t always shone through on traditional tennis coverages throughout history.
One of the strengths of social media is its ability to connect fans with individuals who possess a deep knowledge and passion for tennis. By following the right people, fans can access a wealth of information, analysis, and opinions that are often absent from mainstream media.
Tennis journalists, statisticians, coaches, and even current and former players actively engage with the online community, sharing their insights and providing unique perspectives on the sport.
Tennis blogs have also emerged as a valuable resource for fans seeking in-depth analysis and commentary. Bloggers, armed with their extensive knowledge and passion for the sport, offer thought-provoking articles that delve into various aspects of tennis, from player profiles to tactical breakdowns and historical retrospectives. These blogs provide a platform for comprehensive discussions, and contribute to the overall understanding and appreciation of tennis.
The online community also excels in providing context and historical perspective. Social media platforms serve as virtual archives, allowing fans to access and discuss iconic matches, memorable moments, and significant milestones throughout tennis history.
This collective knowledge and shared passion for the sport, enable fans to engage in lively debates, relive historic rivalries, and appreciate the evolution of tennis over time. Through these interactions, the online tennis community nurtures a sense of connection and nostalgia, further enhancing the depth of their understanding and love for the sport.
The ability to connect and engage with tennis experts and enthusiasts from around the world transcends geographical boundaries, allowing fans to gain a diverse and global perspective on the sport. By following a mix of established tennis journalists, respected analysts, and insightful bloggers, fans can enhance their understanding of the game, and gain access to perspectives that go beyond what traditional media offers.
So if online and social media give us far more than our traditional media, why is it so important to get the mainstream coverage and support?
Put simply, not everyone has access to, has money for pay tv or streaming services. Nor does everyone have the time or know-how to search the internet for tennis news. It becomes very clear in January each year. How many of us have family and friends attending the tennis, and tell us they saw Djokovic vs ‘someone’, or Williams against ‘some woman I’d never heard of’ (which is usually code for…’a player ranked in the elite top 50 of a global sport’!)
Or how often do you hear….’wow, this woman/man has come from nowhere!’…?
No, they haven’t. They’ve been playing and winning matches across a number of years. And the only way for the general population to know that, is to search across all sorts of platforms. The casual fan won’t do that. If we can get these players in front of people more often, the sport can only benefit.
While we understand mainstream media has its limitations, and online is the future, it’s a shame the pendulum has shifted so far away from a medium that the majority of people still rely on.