Drama is already unfolding on the clay courts at Roland-Garros as the French Open tennis tournament is underway this year.
The Open also kicks off the sport’s summer stretch of grand slam tennis tournaments, with Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to follow in the coming months.
While it’s certainly an exciting time in the tennis season, the sport needs to generate some attention with this year’s round of tournaments. The reason? Its stars aren’t as popular as they once were.
Last year’s grand slams were terrible when it came to American television viewers, according to Sporting News. The men’s final at the U.S. Open, the last major of the season, earned a 1.6 final rating and just 2.2 million viewers.
It was, according to the article, its lowest rating ever.
Serena Williams, the biggest star in women’s tennis, and Caroline Wozniacki drew a 2.9 rating and 4.5 million viewers.
Williams’ popularity likely helped the women draw double the television audience of the men, but her dominance in the sport isn’t keeping people interested.
As Sporting News points out, last year’s rating was the lowest ever for a U.S. Open final with either Serena or her sister Venus vying for the title.
Television viewership dropped almost across the board last year for the rest of the top tournaments as well, even with the sport’s major figures in the final matches.
NBC’s broadcast of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the French Open was the only grand slam final that saw a jump in its rating, up to a 1.7 from the year before, according to the article.
Those numbers could mean trouble, Sporting News reports:
Overall, 2014 was a year to forget for tennis on U.S. television. While the sport’s popularity cannot be judged on Grand Slam finals alone — or on one year alone — the recent trend has not been encouraging.
Tennis used to produce some of the most popular athletes in sports, making household names of players such as Jimmy Connor, Chris Evert and John McEnroe.
The UK and Europe still focus on tennis. There, Scotsman Andy Murray’s wedding can be front page news, and Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal is a national hero.
But now the sport faces a future of declining television ratings. Tennis, especially American tennis, is in dire need of a new set of stars to bring the sport back to the national spotlight.
If the big names on television don’t attract young people to the sport, enthusiasts will have to get creative in order to keep the number of people playing the game growing.
The United States Tennis Association Florida looked at the sport’s future last month on its website and suggested the millennial generation’s affinity for fitness might be one way to draw interest from a young crowd.
It also looked at XGLOsive, a team in Florida that turns the tennis court into a nightclub-like experience with blacklight and bright colors, offering fun alternatives to the traditional game.
Whether it’s the stars at the professional level or fitness enthusiasts looking to stay in shape, young people will continue to change the sport.
For story ideas, find the public tennis courts around your coverage area. Have they been maintained or are they in disrepair? Call around to find out why and figure out how much they are used. You can also ask the local high school coaches if they are having trouble getting kids to come out for the team and ask clubs how many classes and lessons they give compared to the past.