The fifth edition of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown was hosted last week in Los Angeles and it was another reminder that tennis needs innovation.
Don’t get me wrong, the sport is fantastic. There is little better than a high stakes five set tennis match with momentum swings and a fully invested crowd.
We saw a near perfect example between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic in the men’s Wimbledon final.
But outside of the four Grand Slams, tennis has a major issue with fan retention – particularly amongst the younger demographic – but it is not alone.
There is a widely held belief that millennials enjoy sport less than previous generations. In reality, young people just engage with content in a different manner.
Attention spans are shorter, and fans have an increased interest in highlights and statistics as opposed to full match broadcasts.
Tennis can cater to this shift through events such as ‘Ultimate Tennis Showdown’ (UTS) – a faster and more frantic format which can operate amongst the traditional calendar.
Obviously, maintain the four Grand Slams and ensure that each has a month-long buildup of 500 and 1000-level tournaments, but around those six-week stretches, an opportunity presents.
UTS – a competition started in 2020 by tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou and Australian businessman Alex Popyrin (father of Alexei) – aims to “revolutionize [the] sport, while keeping tennis the way it is for people who love it”.
The format has a series of different rules and aspects which aim to boost fan entertainment and player personality – and matches also provide brilliant clips and highlights to generate greater exposure.
Each match consists of four 8-minute quarters, with the playing leading taking that round (upon the siren, opponents behind are given a chance to steal the quarter by retaking the lead without dropping a point) and a decider contested in the case of a 2-2 tie.
Players also hold a bonus card to play, making a given point worth three – and noise during play is not only allowed, but welcomed.
It may sound like nonsense to a traditional conventional enthusiast, but the reality is, tennis desperately needs new and younger fans.
The average age of a men’s tennis fan in 2017 was 61 – and given the continued dominance of Djokovic prior to Wimbledon, I can’t imagine that figure has gone down.
The same study revealed that just 4% of those aged 2-17 watched tennis – sitting above only golf in a list of twenty-five major codes.
UTS targets a more youthful demographic with no player warmups, a shorter shot clock between points and players on microphones during changeovers.
Constant music can also be heard during matches and players are referred to by their competition nickname – all initiatives which seek to connect with a younger audience.
In addition, the event appeals as a plausible method for Saudi Arabia’s investment into tennis, as we have seen with other global sports.
Negotiating to buy the United Cup from Australia and now securing the ATP Next Gen Finals indicates clear interest – and many players, including Nick Kyrgios and Ons Jabeur have suggested they would welcome such investment.
Ultimately, innovation is paramount. We need a recurring UTS style format to fill those weeks where the sport currently loses momentum and bring younger people to tennis.
And if such a competition can be successfully integrated within the calendar, it will funnel many new fans towards the traditional game.