What does tennis know that racing doesn’t?

So Roger Federer won his fifth straight US Open title yesterday. It’s a shame that not many of us got to see his dominating win, and we can blame CBS at least in part for that, for refusing to have both men’s semi-finals begin early on Saturday, before the rain moved in. Had they done so, we would have had the men’s final in its traditional Sunday afternoon place.

Once again, though, the United States Tennis Association put on a show to which folks flocked from all over the world; again this year, attendance at the U.S. Open hit a new high, proving that if you’ve got a product people want to see, they’ll put up with pretty much anything to see it.

I’ve attended the U.S. Open for a decade, multiple sessions every year, from first week day sessions to the men’s and women’s finals, and while I never regret the time that I spend at Flushing Meadows and the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, I also am never short of things about which to grouse while I attend.

Prices are always high on the list, literally and figuratively; a day of tennis on Labor Day weekend cost $70; granted, you got nearly 12 hours of tennis for that price, but it’s still pricy, especially when you consider that the USTA adds a $5 service charge to every single ticket, even those sold to season subscribers (which adds up to more than $100 in service charges for those who buy tickets to every session—thank you, loyal fans). Concession prices are outrageous, though no more so than any other sporting venue. Beers in the $7 and up range; hot dogs around $4; various meals in the $10 range. This year’s U.S. Open cocktail, in a commemorative glass, would set you back $13. You can bring your own food, but if you’re going to be there all day, you don’t really want to lug around a bag and you can’t bring a cooler, so is a case of food poisoning worth saving the money? You decide.

You can take the subway to the tennis, but heading back after a night match, especially if you have to change trains (which, given that the 7 train runs from Flushing Meadows, is practically a given), guarantees a one hour plus journey. If you decide to drive, fork over $15 for parking.

Bad weather in the offing? You better show up anyway. It’s not uncommon to sit around for hours on end while the USTA decides whether to call a match, and the only way you get a refund or rain check is if no match is completed on the Ashe Court. They get one match in there (and they try their damndest to do so) and you’re out of luck: the session is considered complete, and you get one match for your money.

And what other sport puts its marquee players on when most people are going to bed? The Rafael Nadal/Mardy Fish match last week BEGAN at 11:30 pm—on a weeknight! Tough luck if you have to work; even on a regular night, the last match doesn’t usually begin until at least 9 pm.

The United States Tennis Association is as rapacious an organization as exists, yet the return for its rapacity is record crowds every year. And it’s not just the U.S. Open—I’ve attended tournaments in London, Washington, D.C., Miami, Toronto, and Montréal, and every single one is flooded with both locals and visitors who have planned a vacation around the event.

A tennis tournament is the very definition of a “boutique meet”; it never lasts for more than two weeks and often for less than that, and you’re guaranteed, at the larger tournaments, that the best players in the world are going to show up. And clearly, for this, fans are willing to come and to pay top dollar for the privilege of doing so.

By contrast, racing offers as much, if not more, in the way of sporting satisfaction. For less than $10, you get entrance, parking, and a program; for an additional $20 (or less), you can bring lunch and a six-pack to keep you refreshed during the day. You get five or six hours of entertainment for your investment, and unlike tennis, you also get the possibility of walking out with more money than you walked in with. If it rains, play continues.

Several of the comments on yesterday’s post about boutique meets stressed the “less is more” model, but the popularity of tennis has got to be due to more than that. What would it take, do you think, for one of those USTA marketing guys to get hired by the NTRA?

13 thoughts on “What does tennis know that racing doesn’t?

  1. they don't have to turn to tennis people as they won't listen to people in their own game that have been trying to tell them how to Promote the game… Alex W & his crowd will not LISTEN…they need to put a REAL PROMOTOR(a V-8) in charge of T-BRED & STANARDBRED HORSE RACING…Quiet frankley my dear ALEX NEEDS TO GO…BELLWETHER PRODUCTIONS will HELP lead the way simply by HARD WORK & one hell of a IMAGINATION …LONG LIVE THE KING OF CHANGE!!!

  2. I think those are great points; I love tennis as well and think there are some definite ’boutique meet’ parallels – but I’m also all for hiring a real sports marketing person!

  3. What I don’t understand is why anyone is even bothering with the NTRA anyway. It is a dysfunctional and powerless institution.Would it be inconceivable to just create a new association/marketing agency? It might be reinventing the wheel but I don’t know that anyone within the NTRA can step up to the plate and do what needs to be done. Sure, they can get you a discount at John Deere but where the hell in Brooklyn are you going to park it?

  4. The USTA markets well and also the Open is a short drive form Tennis Rich areas such as Westchester County. The also have context to their season and don’t dilute the product. I agree with Winston-disband the NTRA and start anew-bring on the marketers from the USTA, and better yet- the NFL-if anyone can market a sport (with a gambling element also) better than the NFL-I have not seen it.

  5. I’m not sure the comparison works. Taking out corporations that get boxes, casual fans go to the US Open once or twice a year. That’s roughly what we also get in racing, be it at the Belmont Stakes or Saratoga or elsewhere.

  6. well stand by and keep a eye on the fall meet @ Laurel Park Md…if they do work with Bellwether Productions we will turn it around…looks more & more like they will LISTEN to what we CAN DO…we also won our first race ever(going on three years in Biz) @ beautiful Laurel Park Sept 5th!!!…Long Live The King!!!

  7. Thanks, everyone, for reading and for commenting.Superfecta: actually, I’d like them to hire my brother, who works in marketing and knows a ton about racing. =)Winston/SS: Fair enough about the NTRA–but right now, whom else do we have?El Angelo: definitely parts of the parallel don’t work…but I am just so struck that what doesn’t work about the US Open has no effect on its ridiculous success. Bellwether: Congratulations on the win!

  8. Brother Backstretch is in marketing?That man is a genius and why he isn’t running the whole damn show is beyond me. That is a blatant case of misallocation of resources.

  9. all will change soon…stay tuned…& thanks on the win as it was good to get that MONKEY off our backs…now on to getting the MONKEY off Horse Racings back!!!…Long Live The King & The Dirt!!!

  10. Federer is the most extraordinary athlete I have seen in my lifetime. He is THE BOSS. The edge that Tennis has over racing in the NYC metro is the supply and demand edge. Racing is available at an OTB or track 364 days a year 17 hours a day. It is a never ending show. Too much supply of racing. Tennis is only available for two weeks late in the summer and it is the highest caliber tennis one could witness. The lack of supply drives demand. If Tennis went 24-7 365 like racing I do not think the USTA could get hundreds of $$$ for a ticket to see powercap/BKLN BKLYN Backstretch play Superfecta/Winston in a non-winners of two matches lifetime mixed doubles match. Racing runs the equivalent of this tennis match 4 or 5 times a day during the inner track meet in the middle of nuclear winter.

  11. The best thing that tennis did to attract a global audience and encourage more foreign players to come through the ranks was to reduce the number of tournaments played in North America. The American season is now part of February and March and the period between Wimbledon and the US Open and i’m sure that’s made the other Masters events and of course the Open more special.This perhaps has had a very positive effect but perhaps in the not too distant future it may cause problems if 2nd week of The US Open and the other Grand Slams are reached with no American involvement. When Roddick and Blake and Les Deux Williams where are retired or on the way down where are the American stars of the future? In 1980 American players counted for 50 of the entrants in the Wimbledon Mens Singles and an amazing 53 out of 96 in the Womens competition. As far as racing is concerned. Yes to much better marketing and someone should offer Nick Smith who runs the Press Box at Ascot and does all the legwork getting foreign runners a huge package to relocate to the US

  12. Thanks, everyone, for the comments..you’ve added much to my thinking about this and I have comments simmering…soon to come to a boil here (how’s that for an unattractive image?).Winston–Brother Backstretch is most gratified. From your mouth to some racetrack exec’s ear…PowerCap: you gave me the laugh of the day. The image of that foursome playing doubles is priceless!

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