The ATP CEO and the Wimbledon chairmen provided interesting insights into the future of tennis at the “International Tennis Talk”.
Tournament director Edwin Weindorfer had invited ATP boss Chris Kermode and Wimbledon boss Philip Brook to a tennis talk at the MercedesCup at Stuttgart’s TC Weissenhof.
One of the main topics was how to keep tennis relevant in the future. Kermode: “We are one of the few truly international sports, offering more than 60 tournaments in 31 countries. Right now, we are in a position of strength, which we want to keep. I’m convinced that tennis can get even bigger than it now is.”
Because of this, the current ATP rules will be evaluated: “Sport is very traditional and even arrogant. We know things better than the fans. Usually, change only comes when things go badly. But we want to use our current strength to freshly assess our sport.” Kermode used a comparison from private businesses: “If I want to sell a product I’m going to conduct a consumer survey. That’s what we have to do, too.”
Even revolutionary changes are in the cards – at least they are going to be tested. For the first time this year, there will be another Masters tournament besides the “normal” ATP World Tour Finals: this one will be for the “NextGen” players, i.e. those ATP stars younger than 21. The eight best young players will qualify for this new event, which will be held in Italy’s Milano. “The young players are all for it to give something new a chance”. Rules tested comprise, amongst others, shorter sets, no lets, but also the crowd will be affected, as the fans won’t be required to sit still throughout the rallys and will be allowed to move around freely.
Wimbledon chairman Brook gave an update on how the work on Wimbledon’s second largest court progressed: “Right now, we are fitting our second biggest court with a retractable roof. After one year of construction we are right on schedule, so everything should be ready for the 2019 tournament”. Amused aside: “This also means we’ll have great weather during the tournament in 2019. After the roof was finished on the Center Court, we also didn’t immediately need it, as the weather was great…”
In terms of a possible new set of rules the chairman of the world’s most traditional tournament was more reluctant: “We’ll be playing as we used to in Wimbledon for the next years. But who knows? Nobody imagined that there would be tie breaks at Wimbledon and now we have them.”
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club also takes care of the next generation of tennis fans. There are now events in England and India where children are chosen to spend a week at Wimbledon in August and play tennis. This year, there will also be such events in China.
The diverse demography of sport fans all over the world is a blessing and a curse for the ATP. The average age of sport viewers in the traditional markets in Europe and North America is 55. In Asia and South America, the two markets of the future, it’s only 24-30. “This makes things quite interesting”, said Kermode, “Also, the younger fans watch our sport in completely different ways. Traditional TV isn’t the factor it used to be”. This is where the ATP has to broaden their ways of communicating even more: Social media and other channels – and, as mentioned above, a new set of rules like shorter sets.