Tennis Channel, Home of The Reruns: Disaster For U.S. Tennis?

H. Jason GreenCorrespondent IMay 21, 2009

PORTLAND, OR - DECEMBER 1:  (L-R) James Blake, Andy Roddick, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan of the U.S. celebrate after the Byran's 7-6,6-4,6-2 victory over Igor Andreev and Nikolay Davydenko of Russia to  clinch winning the Davis Cup during the second day of the Davis Cup Final at the Memorial Coliseum December 1, 2007 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

They call it “the sport of a lifetime," and it's making a comeback in the U.S.  

Thanks to coaching mavens like Patrick McEnroe and Jose Higueras, the USTA is making a concerted effort to develop and modernize American coaching standards. From age 10 and under camps to the top ranked pros, American tennis programs are on the mend and getting a lot of attention from the USTA.

Recent reports from the SGMA (Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association) show tennis as being the fastest growing traditional sport in the country.  Participation has increased 43 percent since 2000, and 9.6 percent in 2008 alone.  Every year we smash attendance records at U.S.-hosted ATP tournaments. Additionally, some reports show tennis as the fastest growing wheelchair sport.

Yet all of this, combined with the rich tennis history rooted in the U.S., doesn’t change the need for; effective and ongoing publicizing, biographies, news, local leagues, icons and heroes, blood sweat and tears. 

To sum it up in a dirty word—marketing. 

What does the Tennis Channel give us?  Re-runs of Murphy’s Guide, a show highlighting Murphy Jenson (one half of a used-to-be-doubles team) as he travels the world and basically acts like a goofball. Nice guy to be sure, but who cares what he thinks of French food? And how does that relate to the sport? 

Next we have Destination Tennis with your host Mieke Buchasomethings.  Basically the same as Murphy’s Guide, except instead of the goofball, we follow a seemingly promiscuous blond as she visits the “best country clubs” around the globe.  

Who is watching this show? More importantly, how does it relate to the sport?  The simple answer doesn’t. 

What’s the new addition in the Tennis Channel lineup? SPINvitational.  Nothing wrong with ping pong, but why re-run the identical match three times in less than 12 hours? 

Tennis Channel has other programming, to be sure—it’s all bad. 

Center Court with Chris Meyers, one-on-one player interviews? Getting warmer. The only problem is the interviews being aired, over and over and over and over again are six years old. 

In whose mind is this ok? How are interviews from six years ago demonstrative of current events?  The Tennis Channel is completely out of sync with where the game is today.

At one point, the idea of tennis became threatening.  The yuppie country club persona of collared shirts and white shorts made tennis seem boring and without soul. While tennis may be a growing sport on the public courts, it’s those sort of stigmas the Tennis Channel continues to publicize, subsequently preventing the sport from earning the cool points it righteously deserves. 

Do I really think the Tennis Channel can play that big a role?  Yes, I do.

Watching match re-runs from 20 years ago, one gets the impression it would be rude to show any kind of emotion (Jonny Mac excluded of course). 

Today the courts shutter with yawps of COME ON!!! or VAMOSSS!!  Regular temper tantrums and racquet abuse are par for the course. 

The game has evolved dramatically. The white collared shirts and cropped hair have been supplanted by a sleeveless Rafa and the gun show.  Playboy Verdasco sporting the faux hawk and Safin the tattooed bear, now stand where the still waters of Sampras ran deep. 

Imagine if one quarter of high school girls across America were somehow exposed to the heart throbs of the top 100. Imagine if one quarter of high school boys were exposed to how powerful the men’s game has become. Overnight, tennis would turn into the latest trend. 

Tennis Channel just doesn’t get it.

The Tennis Channel, home of the re-runs, has a responsibility to its namesake.  A responsibility it’s betrayed through complacency and no clear indication of a desire to do better. 

To make matters worse, it’s damaging the image of the modern game by propagating a smug, soulless persona. 

It is bottlenecking the evolution of the sport from turning into a mainstream, talk around the water cooler, hanging of provocative posters on a high school kid’s wall-type of past time. 

This argument is not without precedent.

Think Agassi during the long hair, fluorescent years.  Fan or no, that guy was a rock star. No reason why Tennis couldn’t and shouldn’t get that kind of attention now.  The only difference today…tennis produces a lot more rock stars.

Those running the Tennis Channel have had their chances. It’s time to flush the toilet of all in charge, along with their programming and start over. 

Let the sport show its colors. Stop isolating the sport as being a step above or a step aside.   Highlight these athletes–demonstrate how unique and exceptional the game is and do it in a manner through which people can relate.