RECENT U.S. FED CUP CAPTAIN GARRISON SUING USTA FOR DISCRIMINATION — The U.S. Fed Cup captaincy hand-over from Zina Garrison to Mary Joe Fernandez for the 2009 season hit a snag this week when Garrison’s lawyer announced she may be suing the USTA for racial discrimination.
Garrison was dumped after compiling a 5-5 win-loss record over five seasons where she struggled to get top players such as the Williams sisters to commit on a regular basis. The U.S. failed to reach the finals in that five-year span. “There’s an ongoing dispute, and there has been discussion of litigation, and there is not a firm date on which litigation is going to be filed,” Garrison’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said in a release. “There is an ongoing dispute with the USTA, and we’ll see where it goes.”
It could likely go the wrong direction for Garrison. The former Wimbledon runner-up will need some hard evidence other than a general racial accusation, as the numbers she put up during her reign as captain were awful, and she was specifically hired with an eye toward her relationships with the Williams sisters and Lindsay Davenport and getting them to represent the U.S. If the litigation goes forward, look for Garrison to not only likely lose the case due to her squad’s poor performances (not even managing a final over five years with three former No. 1s on the roster), but to also have burnt her bridges with the USTA, the organization in which she served in various capacities over the years, including its board.
Garrison is reportedly seeking millions of dollars in compensation. “It’s disappointing,” said USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier.
The U.S. is the winningest nation in Fed Cup history, but the spotty participation by its top players has led to the Americans failing to raise the Cup during the last eight years.
GERMAN TENNIS IN FREE FALL — German tennis fans are thinking, ‘Oh for the heady days of Boris Becker and Steffi Graf.’ Now, without any stars at the top of the game, the popularity of tennis in Germany is on life support.
The ATP recently downgraded the men’s Hamburg tournament from its Masters Series status, and this week it was announced that the WTA Berlin event, the German Open, will be dropped from the schedule. The Berlin event was owned by an investors group from Qatar, which has suddenly given the rights for the tournament back to the WTA Tour without informing the German tennis federation or Berlin organizers.
Georg von Waldenfels, president of the German federation, said he would try to keep the tournament in Berlin this year, but events seem out of his hands. Once so popular and laden with money that the ATP moved their year-end championship from the popular Madison Square Garden in New York City to Frankfurt (Frankfurt?) in a money-grab, now German tennis is in a coma. Germany currently has no men ranked in the Top 30, and no women in the Top 50.
FUTURE OF TENNIS: PAY TO WATCH? — In the U.S., ESPN has cornered the presentation (and a good one at that) of the Grand Slams; various other networks pop up with other tennis events (ex: FOX Sports Net with Indian Wells, Miami), and the Tennis Channel’s live tennis offerings are few and far between compared with their series re-runs.
That leaves — still not a lot of tennis viewing available in the U.S. compared to the number of events on the ATP and WTA calendars. If your sport isn’t on TV, it may as well not exist if you’re looking for growth. The solution from the ATP and WTA? Make people pay to watch tennis. On their computer monitors.
With fanfare the ATP and WTA this week launched TENNISTV.COM, where you can “Follow all the live action from the ATP World Tour and Sony Ericsson WTA Tour…”
Among the many problems with this model are: a) You can’t say “follow all the action” when you only show select tournaments live (and “highlights” don’t count); b) Only hardcore fans are going to pay $130 for a year-long package to watch tennis on a computer monitor while other major sports show their events free on TV; and c) Savvy fans searching for tennis on the internet can use Justin.TV or many of the other pirate video outlets to watch live tennis on their computer monitors — for free.
“Pay to watch tennis?” says the casual sports fan (who we’re trying to attract, by the way). “Eh, I’ll just watch basketball. Or volleyball. Or golf. Which are all on TV for free.”
Tennis needs to be free and on the TV — often — for tennis to survive. The tours should be putting their effort into helping The Tennis Channel and other TV outlets secure rights for events rather than looking for ways to suck their hardcore fans dry of cash.
“Tennis fans are changing the way they view the sport and we need to ensure we change with them,” said Steve Plasto, CEO of ATP Media.
Here’s a potential bell-ringer for your next executive meeting — tennis fans are changing the way they view the sport (on the internet) because YOU GUYS AREN’T SUCCESSFULLY GETTING TENNIS ON TV. We have a Tennis Channel, but it is mostly reruns and canned shows. In the U.S. the Tennis Channel is a huge part of the future of the sport, how about helping them out with tournament rights so we can see some live tennis on the big screen rather than the small monitor?
Putting effort into encouraging fans to pay to watch online instead of getting it on TV for free? If you’re reading this, you’re the tennis fan, so you tell me.
In the U.S., the USTA realized there was far too little tennis on TV, so they worked with the broadcasters and the tournaments to start the US Open Series of televised events — they didn’t start “watch-tennis-only-on-our-website.com.”
Tennis should be available online, but not at a premium charge for fans — this as opposed to improving tennis on TV? Sounds like another in a long line of poor marketing tactics by the pro tours. I already pay a premium to receive the Tennis Channel with my cable package, how about putting some tennis there? Oops, I forgot, the would be for the good of the sport, rather than putting cash directly in ATP/WTA coffers via their website TENNISTV.COM.
Let’s start printing up the t-shirts, “Free Tennis on TV!”
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