Host It, and They Will Come….

Can you guess what the top 5 most popular sports in America are? Waiting, waiting, waiting. OK, times up. It goes something like football, baseball, basketball, hockey, then golf. I could be wrong, I usually am. Where is tennis on that list? According to a poll I made up, it’s wedged somewhere between beer pong and water polo. Which, if you think about it, isn’t necessarily a bad place to be. My point being, tennis isn’t the most trendy of sports with the kids.

Which begs the question, how do we get tennis to move up on that list? I’m sure if I asked a hundred people for their opinions, I’d get a hundred different answers. Here’s a thought: have an all-star weekend.

The NBA does it, the NFL does it, the NHL does it, and MLB does it. Yes, these are all team sports, but I think there is something about having the greatest players of your sport all under one roof that can help attract hoards of new fans. Each sport does the event differently, some better than others, and what tennis can do is take the best parts from each event to make its own. So let’s break it down.

NBA/NHL – The NBA does it the best of the big 4. The all-star event built up into such a huge extravaganza. The lights, the glamour, the Association pulls out all the stops for the 3-day event. It’s like if you took the NBA and Slap Chopped it together with the MTV Movie Awards, Grammys and Access Hollywood. The NHL version is almost identical to the NBA’s, except the NHL does it on a smaller scale with less glitz.
The NBA has another added advantage: a celebrity game. It might not appeal to hardcore basketball aficionados, but it’ll attract casual basketball fans or TMZ enthusiasts who want to see their favorite celebrities play ball. Because nothing says “good times” like watching non-athletic celebrities running around on a basketball court. That’s a fact. You can Wikipedia it. Whatever the case, people are tuning in, and that’s a good thing.
There are 2 main reasons why these events rule:
1. It’s interactive/fan friendly. Both events allow the fans to vote for their favorite players so the fans get who the fans want. Isn’t democracy a beautiful thing? During the slam-dunk contest, fans are even part of the judging process and help pick the eventual champion.
2. It lets their stars shine. The best players in the game get to show off their best skills in challenges and events. The NBA has 3-point shooting, dunk contest and a skills challenge, while the NHL features events such as hardest shot, most accurate and elimination shootout. People appreciate greatest and will tune in to watch it. This whole event shows the best being the best, what’s not to like about that?

MLB – Some will argue that the MLB All-Star game is actually the best event of the 4 because it actually matters. And those people would be wrong. Those people didn’t pay attention. I said best all-star event, not game. Pay attention! But it is true; the All-Star game is a competitive game with something meaningful on the line. No showboating, no one-upsmanship, no messing around. There’s a lot at stake because the team from the winning league receives home field advantage in the World Series.
What’s the downfall of the MLB All-Star event? One, there is only a single skills challenge. As much as I love watching men bomb 500 feet homeruns, I want to see more events than just that. Plus, the true super stars of the MLB mostly are not usually the participants in the homerun derby, so they never get to show off the skills that made them so popular in the first place. And two, the bulk of the events take place on Monday and Tuesday, also known as business days. All-Star events should be a weekend thing to really make it an event.

NFL – The worst of the bunch. Yes, there is fan interaction because they vote for the Pro Bowlers, but most don’t even show up for the game. Taking place after the season, the players are already in shutdown mode and won’t play in the game. There are multiple skills events that are actually pretty good, but it doesn’t even make it to TV.

From this deep, deep, scientific analysis of the 4 events, I can now introduce you to: (drum roll please….)

Tennis Aces: All Star Weekend
-   Presented by the ATP & WTA

When: The second weekend of October. The 4 Majors are over so players don’t need to have that in the back of their minds, but the World Tour Finals and WTA Championships are still looming so they can’t completely shut it down. It gives them time to decompress and relax before the big tournament in November/end of October. No major tournaments are going during that weekend so it’s perfect.

Where: Tougher question. It should certainly move from city to city, but from country to country? As an American, I would love to see this event stay in the US, but unlike the NBA, MLB, NBA or NHL, the pro tennis player travels the world to play. The inaugural location should be up to the fans to decide.

Who: The top 5 players from the ATP and WTA are automatically in. Fans get to vote for 3 more players. Therefore, there will be a total of 16 players.

Events: Following the format of the NBA, this will be a 3-day event culminating in a tournament on Sunday.

Friday: Skills Challenge.

Fastest Serve. The 4 biggest serving men and women on tour will have a chance to show off their rocket arms. This will be decided by the highest average MPH from the year. Each contestant will receive 3 chances to hit the hardest serve from both the deuce and ad side. Serve must be in to count. Top 2 advance to finals. Rinse and repeat.
Accuracy. All 16 participants are involved. Timed event. Players start off with a serve. They must hit a target placed on the court from both the deuce and ad side to move on to the next shot, the forehand. Ball is fed into play and player must hit the 2 targets to move on to the backhand. Ball is fed into play and player must hit the 2 targets to stop the time. Top 4 advance to the final round. Final round, targets are reduced in size by 35.72%.
Fastest player. Fans vote for who they think are the 3 fastest players on tour. Those 3 players will run a set course on one side of the net. Each participant gets 2 runs each. Best time wins.

Course the player has to run

Fastest Player Course Layout

Saturday:

Celebrities and Legends Doubles. A format we are already used to seeing. This is something the Tour is currently doing with exhibition matches. There would be two matches this day. Doubles teams are to be made up of 1 retired pro and 1 celebrity. Pair up John McEnroe with Will Ferrell and let the comedy hilarity ensue. All proceeds go to the winning team’s charity of choice.
Butts Up. If you’ve ever played tennis as a junior, in high school or even in college, you know what I’m talking about. I’d be willing to put money on the fact that this would be the highlight event of the weekend. All 16 all-star players are split into 2 teams. They play Around the World, double elimination, and best 3 out of 5. Every time a team loses, they line up at the baseline; winning team members each have one ball to serve it at the opposing team. (Yes, they are allowed to put the racquet between their legs for added protection) Each winning team member would receive bonus money. Let’s say, $10,000 each.  Just the thought of the world’s best tennis players running around, playing this children’s game, and then trying to peg each other, brings a smile to my face.

Sunday:

The Championship Bracket Event. Taking a cue from the MLB All-Star Game, this event will actually matter in the big scheme of things. The 8 players on the WTA and ATP will be seeded. Just like any other tournament, they will play for an eventual champion. Each match consists of one 8-game pro set. So what is on the line for the players? The champion will earn 250 ranking points as well as prize money. Even though the tournament is played all in one day, it shouldn’t be too strenuous on the body because they are only playing to 8 games; it’d probably end up being less than an actual best of 5 set match. John Isner and Nicholas Mahut would probably find this format too grueling, though, it’s not like they won an ESPY for a tennis match that went 70-68 in the 5th or anything.

Well there you have it people. I took the fun and extravaganza of the NBA/NHL, combined it with the importance of a MLB All-Star game and left out the NFL completely. Now I’m not trying to imply that this is genius, but this could be the best thing to happen to tennis since tennis racquets. With a few minor tweaks and modifications, I think it could work. I know I would tune in to watch an event of such epic proportions.

What are some of your ideas of how to grow tennis? What would you change and add to a tennis all-star event?

If you’re reading this Mr. or Mrs. Heads of the ATP and WTA, this blog is copyrighted. If you love this All Star idea, I’d like my royalty checks sent to Tennis Warehouse, C/O: Jason Huang. Oh, and I also want 1 ATP point. I’ll even take 1 WTA point. Thank you.

Jason, TW