The Tennis Glamification Project
by Lynn Berenbaum | March 21st, 2007, 9:15 pm
  • 16 Comments

Play got underway today at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, where one of the weakest components of our sport is being put on full display: we are suffering with an image problem, and those trying to reinvent the brand don’t seem to understand it.

In August, WTA sponsor Sony Ericsson took over sponsorship of the tournament in Miami from NASDAQ and set out with IMG to turn the event into a “Glam Slam”, or as I will now refer to it, the “Tennis Glamification Project” (TGP).

Basically, TGP is the overall rebranding that’s being attempted by the TPTB. It cuts directly into the heart of the push-pull conflict of retaining and satisfying die-hard fans and going after new ones.

As part of Tennis: Hollywood Make-Over Edition, IMG also purchased and revised Tennis Week magazine and just launched the new print version to coincide with the tournament. Though they haven’t done anything with the online version, this morning I got a full taste of the new print version of TW via the scans my buddy Kenneth Walsh posted on his blog. No, I am not a subscriber, but I read TW online pretty much everyday. I am a fan, and while I would agree that it needs a web make-over, the content and reporting is wonderful and a staple of any good tennis reading diet.

I really tried to reserve judgment on the print version despite the initial press release overtly stating that they were going to turn the mag into something more like IMG’s fashion book, The Daily. Ken and I weren’t alone in our assessment either, and as he points out, the new spin to TW is a little more Us Weekly than we bargained for. The funny part is that people like me and Ken should probably be the primary targets for this venture into tennis celebrity-dom (celebrity-dumb?). Unfortunately we both found it funny-sad, not funny-haha. Whoops.

In today’s USA Today, Dee Dutta, the head of marketing for Sony Ericsson, who has been a primary architect of the TGP explained that, “This is all about being hip and cool. Somewhere along the way, tennis became more about backhands and forehands and lost some of its glamour.”

Jumping up and down and saying that you’re gonna ‘glam it up’ and be ‘cool and hip’ is the behavior of an insecure junior high schooler, and is a tell-tale sign you’re definitely neither hip nor cool. Are we really ready to air our dirty laundry in an afterschool special? And if we do, should it be daily wear or evening wear?

Oh, and, um, since when has tennis not been about backhands and forehands?!

Couple Dutta’s statement with ATP Chair Etienne de Villiers now-famous “furry ball” line earlier this month, and you’ve traced out a much larger problem that tennis faces in both morale and overall branding architecture. Is it a big surprise that the ATP canned the Round Robin today?

Sports executives, no less two sports executives that hold such powerful sway, who blatantly demean the very basic principles of tennis, and in doing so, insult the intelligence of their fans, are not the kind of leaders who can change the sport. What they’re proving instead is that they simply don’t get it.

Bizarrely, Dutta and crew are intent with capitalizing on the success of a Maria Sharapova-branded model of tennis “glamour” that’s been honed and cultivated for many years by IMG. Unfortunately, Sharapova’s not really a trend-setter and her influence among those who are already fans is a mere slice of the base of already dedicated enthusiasts. Sure, she probably brings in a few new male fans, but if her play doesn’t keep up, she could go the way of another blonde Russian bombshell in a jiffy.

Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, who was also interviewed by USA Today, points out that there’s nothing to carry TGP forward once you’ve piqued someone’s interest, and the connections are too loose. Techno music will not turn someone into a tennis fan, no matter how much they drink.

Add to this that in going down fashionista road, they’ve lost sight of the fact that average fans aren’t interested in, no less could afford, a Marc Jacobs skirt or a Chanel racquet.* It also sets up the notion that tennis is a sport of have’s — something that echoes the exclusionary country club tradition we’ve come away from.

Good golly, who do they think they’re going to get to pay attention to tennis by luring Naomi Campbell to the player party? The mad maids brigade of Miami-Dade? Is she going to make Roger Federer hold her purse?

Tennis has very proudly become a sport of inclusion: whether you learned on the public courts in Compton or hitting a ball against a wall in Eastern Europe, you are embraced by tennis fans for your successes and your athleticism.

TGP sets up a further division between fans and our athletes. It doesn’t take a genius to know that fans want to connect with their sport’s stars. That’s a given.

The TGP going on in Miami isn’t a singular example of how the TPBT are going about this image make-over either. It’s an evolving pattern which includes thrusting Tiger Woods and Roger Federer together, with the sheltered divisions between the athletes and journalists that cover them**, between those they choose to promote and those they choose to let fall by the wayside.

Tennis used to be about sport, now it’s more about games.


* See “Court Couture” in the March 2007 issue of Tennis.
**See Chris Evert’s “Generation Gap” in the same issue.


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16 Comments for The Tennis Glamification Project

HHH Says:

Right on, Lynn. The new Tennis Week is complete and utter rubish. Thankfully it’s only produced six times a year or so!


Sal Says:

Excellent on all points. Fire the suits, replace them with true tennis enthusiasts and keep focusing on the sport. IMG is the culprit for tennis’ Hollywood-style bastardization.


Denise Says:

Amen, Sister! I still remember that fashion spread in Tennis magazine from last year–it was an embarassment! My favorite was the $390 Prada short shorts….

The editors should know better; who the heck else reads tennis magazines but true tennis diehards? It’s not like you pick up a tennis mag on a whim–leave that for People and US Weekly (Brittany is out of rehab!). Give the diehards what we want! Give it to us now! Tennis IS about forehands and backhands, dangit!


-cj- Says:

wow. it’s like someone made a spoof of women’s tennis in the form of a teeny-bopper magazine.

it is sadly comical.

am i the only one that remembers how funny it was to flip through a tennis magazine to find a spread of Gabriela Sabatini wearing some skimpy black swim suit in a sauna? i can’t say that made me want to play tennis, but i’ll NEVER forget it.


tbarile Says:

Excellent article. These folks try to be too smart while thinking their audience is too dumb and have to be led.

What makes sports exciting? Drama! Either there is first rate competition or there is not. I saw Rosewall-Laver’s five set match at the first ATP (?) Championship in Texas and can still replay points in my mind. We always remember the drama, the great matches. Tired, over worked, injured, exhausted athletes (even wearing expensive and designer clothing that we would never buy), do not and cannot create the drama needed.

As to these magazines, read Golf Digest if you want to see a sports magazine that is put together properly. Always entertaining with very good instruction, the content makes it a fun read even to a non-golfer such as I. These “Think like Roger Federer” articles are rideiculous. How many of us can really translate strategy from theory to action in the heat of play. It is better to have real articles that concentrate on stroke imrpovement.


backhander Says:

Terrific blog entry. I agree on all points. Maybe Sean Randall could get some tips from you about how to write like an adult tennis fan and less like a 12 year old Federer fanboy? It would improve the news quality of tennis-x tremendously.


John Says:

I’m getting tired of hearing that they have to change the sport to add new fans and keep old fans.

There are two ways an old fan or a new fan can follow this sport. TV and in-person.

My first choice is in-person, but I need a ton of money and no job. And then I can fly to each event just like the players. Nice, but I’m not there yet.

Second choice is more practical, TV. However, while the ATP is trying so hard to make changes to the sport and increase the sport’s image, they’re missing what is really necessary, TV coverage.

One example: I’d like nothing more than to be in Miami today. Walking the grounds. Picking and choosing the matches that I want to see. BUT I can’t be there.

So what’s the next best thing? TV. Tell me the channel and I’ll be there. You say it’s not on. Well how is the “new glam”, RR format, or the “2 challenge rule” going to fix it?

There are various ways to increase viewership: TV, DVDs, YouTube, Pay-per-view, On-demand, livestream and the like.

The ATP can make a million rule changes, but if the sport cannot be viewed, why bother.


Lynn Berenbaum Says:

Hey Folks,

Thanks for all your insightful comments and your comps.

The point that John raises, and he and I have agreed on this point in the past, is that there are great ways to reach the youth market via technology. Dutta, as a tech guy, should be capitalizing on his technology knowledge and engaging fans that way. This fashionista thing really just reinforces the fact that he should stick to selling cell phones.

Quick example, when SE became the sponsor of the WTA Tour they created the “Girls on Tour” website. This seemed great at first glance, but it only works with SE phones and it basically seems like a stalled project.

They also did a press preview today for Night Tennis, where Dutta said, “There is a need to get tennis to be at its rightful place – as the hippest, coolest sport that it used to be.”

The hits just keep coming. Thanks for insulting us yet again Dee! Let me know if you’re free later. I have some homeless folks who could use ye olde tire-iron treatment.

They also hired a couple of junior players and ((drumroll) Bethanie Mattek to play in the Night Tennis event. One of the kids said, “It’s not natural. Weird is an understatement.”

Watch this kid. He’s going places. Maybe not in court, but definitely in life.


TIm Says:

Thanks for the editorial/article Lynn.

I think this “Glam” agenda is ridiculous. For one, radical court colors have already been used before without a big “we’re trying to be cool” press release. Think Gaz De France, Proxmius Diamond Games, Fed Cup Finals in Belgium –

Bring the tennis up front, and add in other elements, and people will notice.

Another example is Dubai and Doha. Due to the a more cultural modest view of women they do not sell “sexy” to promote tennis in the Middle East. Yet, these events have a solid energetic young following. There were so many kids watching Dubai and Doha events.

Kids want fun and excitement, tennis doesn’t need more C list celebs on a red carpet to get attention. It’s the action on the court from the best players in the world.

Thankfully this silly “Glam” agenda is mainly used for American audiences, and tennis is good enough to be viewed as a real “Sport” in most countries.


it finally happened « corned beef hash marks Says:

[...] Again, a horrible misstep in an effort to “glamify” tennis. Tennis-X is too pissed off; I still think the folks at IMG should get a thumbs up for increasing awareness in the sport, but they don’t need to be talking smack in order to do it. [...]


Sean Randall Says:

Love the post Lynn. Forgot about ET and his “furry ball”!!


Ted Says:

I recieved the “new” Tennis Week today and promptly sent an e-mail to the publisher to cancel my subscription. They can keep my money and the magazine. I’m almost embarrased to have my mailman deliver it. I have a 12 year old junior player at home and the new Tennis Week is even worse than the “Smash” subscription she ended up with through her USTA membership (and that’s aimed at kids).

If they keep sending it to me, maybe I’ll bring it to the woman who cuts my hair. It will fit right in with Cosmopolitan, People and all the other airhead publications they have there.


Lynn Berenbaum Says:

That’s a good point Ted.

FYI everyone, Tennis Week has asked for reader comments on the new issue and would like to hear from you:

Please let us know what you loved (and even what you didn’t!). Please send us your comments, questions, suggestions and ideas to letters@tennisweek.com or by mail to

The Editor,
Tennis Week,
420 West 45th St.
New York, NY 10036

If you’re a subscriber and you don’t like the new issue, be sure to send them a note. By all means, please give them the thumbs up for welcoming feedback too.


John Says:

Hey Lynn,

I just noticed that the WTA is using the ATP doubles’ rule changes in Miami, which includes no-ad scoring, which I despise with a passion, and which is the reason that I no longer watch ATP doubles.

In your opinion, will the new “glamification of the tennis” offset the awful no-ad scoring?


Jeff Says:

I have to agree with most of this. In aligning ourselves with the “glam crowd,” the sport may gain a few new fans, but could risk turning off many of its existing ones. The sport should never stand pat with its marketing attempts, but I think it’s a huge mistake to pair up with the Hollywood set.

It’s cool every now and then to see a Sharapova or a Roddick in media outlets that aren’t tennis-related, but it’s a completely different concept to turn over your editorial niche and spirit to a US Weekly-type rag. Tennis may be “hip and fun,” and it is a sport and a lifestyle. Last time I looked though, I didn’t see anyone out at the public tennis centers that 70% of Americans play tennis at wearing Prada tennis shoes. What a joke!

This TW changeover is very discouraging, since it’s tough enough to find good quality tennis journalism. TW did a great job prior, and I will continue to read the online editions. But, I don’t think I’ll bother renewing my subscription to TW.

Jeff


Bob Starr Says:

I have read the new Tennis Week and found this format quite enjoyable, informative and fun to read. I found myself reading it pretty much cover to cover which I don’t usually do. I do wonder where you will go for continous glam as you covered Maria, Andy, Roger, Serena and some others in the first issue? As for the “forhands and backhands” I can get plenty of that from Tennis Magazine which comes with my USTA membership. I do have several problems with it though.

You still need to get your publication and mailing dates in order. You continue to write preview articles about tournaments that are already over. This has been a problem with Tennis Week for years.

Also, the main reason I subscribe to Tennis Week is for the more complete coverage of tournaments.
I like to follow the progress of players who are not the top names. Where do I go for that? Perhaps to the internet.

I did enjoy the new issue. I hope you will take into consideration my thoughts.

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