No April Fools: Pro Tennis Goes to Numbers, ‘Premier’
Last year the ATP and WTA tours each circulated a contest among their staff, ‘Let’s Confuse Fans Again by Renaming Our Top-Level Events.’
The ATP’s hard-working brand marketing staff came out of the box first, salivating at the thought of changing the well-known “Masters Series” designation that they had put millions of dollars into since last changing the name from “Super 9.”
‘Fans are stupid,’ they reasoned, ‘and names confuse them. And scare them. But fans like numbers, and NASCAR. Remember when we copied NASCAR and debuted the ‘ATP Race Standings,’ creating two parallel rankings systems? That was good stuff, but this time we can do even more damage to men’s tennis…’
So the wizards of brand-ness decided, starting in 2009, that the Masters Series designation would be replaced by a number — 1,000, to be exact, or 1000, comma inclusion to possibly be named later. Other events will be the “500″ designation, or “250.”
“The whole brand and brand name changes,” ATP corporate communications director Kris Dent told the Globe and Mail this week, “have been driven by and refined by extensive, global consumer research and the exact nomenclature is being finalized via another round of research before being presented to (the ATP) Board for final approval. The change has been driven by strong research results that show a majority of fans simply do not understand how tennis works and how the various tournaments relate to each other or to the ranking system.”
Nothing wrong with extensive global consumer research — but the rub is intelligently translating that research into initiatives that will help the game. Truth be told, fans don’t give a rat about the ranking system or how it works — they just want to see Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, etc., on court at the same events. And “Masters Series” already does a pretty good job of telling fans that. Because millions in “branding” has already been spent to do just that over the years — in fact, the announcement of the Masters Series years ago was supposed to be a triumph of branding, with the colored courts and the “shield” logo design and the Mercedes sponsor packaging and the TV package and the etc., etc.
Some of the players had some schooling before they hit the tour, didn’t some of them take some marketing courses? Can’t we give them a shot at this? Because the ATP has had their shot, over and over and over again for the last 18+ years.
In another development, which organizers are still trying to determine is within the scope of the contest, the ATP announced it will rename itself the “ATP World Tour.”
Again, addressing the stupidity factor, adding “World” to the title makes no bones about it — this isn’t your town’s 4.0 men’s singles league, this is international, baby! Just in case you are confused. Pity that the tour has to go to such great lengths to educate sports fans…who pretty much already get the gist that Federer, Roddick and the like compete around the world. Can you see the PGA Tour changing its name to ‘PGA World Tour’?
No, you can’t, because the PGA understands branding — rather than thinking if you say “Branding, branding! We’re branding, dammit!” enough in press releases and roll out redesign after redesign, it will achieve the attempted result. And they also know that part of branding isn’t renaming your tour and top-level events every 5-7 years. That’s kind of, um, anti-branding. Just when you have fans up to speed, throw them another curve ball. Or some like metaphor.
Not to be outdone, the women have come in with their own let’s-look-to-other-sports-and-confuse-fans contest entry.
“Premier” is a word that conjures top-class connotations (I guess?), and England’s Premier League football is pretty popular, so goes the WTA thinking — so the WTA Tour’s new tournament designations for 2009 will be “Premier Mandatory,” “Premier Five” and “Premier.”
All players must play the Premier Mandatory events — Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Beijing.
The Premier Five will be Dubai, Rome, Canada, Cincinnati and Tokyo, which aren’t mandatory for all players. Dubai can’t be happy with the second-tier designation, but they will simply buy all the top players anyway with under-the-table appearance money, as they do every year. Presumably the remaining tournaments on the calendar will be known as “Premier,” or “We’re not going to be allocated any top players and could be screwed.” As in the WTA Tour’s current Tier IV designation, which sometimes doesn’t see a player ranked in the Top 20 at an event.
Why not keep the current Tier I, II and III designations for the three levels? Tier I is not as “sexy” as Premier Mandatory? And why not just totally rip the football league off and rename the tour the ‘WTA Premier League World International Tennis Tour?’ Or save that announcement until next year.
Under the new ATP Rankings system, the Grand Slam tournaments will be worth 2000 ranking points. At the next powers-that-be-in-tennis meeting, perhaps the ATP and WTA could suggest to the International Tennis Federation that Wimbledon could be renamed “Premier 2000 Grasscourts.”
“It could be a new ‘brand!’ We’ll ‘Brand’ it and make it more popular! Then fans will know how many ranking points it is worth!” they could say excitedly.
Then when the laughing subsides, pretend it was a joke! Because the Grand Slams actually “get” branding, and it doesn’t involve renaming their events every 5-7 years!
Starting next year, tennis’ new brands are “1000″ and “Premier.” So who wins the confuse-the-fans contest: change everything to numbers, or put “premier” in front of everything? We’ll leave it up to the message board readers to decide. Let’s hear your take, maybe you think “Premier” is “spot-on,” as the English say. Maybe “1000″ will end up being cool, with commercials shouting “TENNIS 1000! FEEL THE POWER OF 1000!” Or not.
Hopefully, as always, pro tennis will survive and attract new fans, somehow, in spite of itself.
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