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June 27th, 2010
10:03 PM ET

Tennis Benefits from the Long Game

The Feel-Good Fortnight

From Sports Business Analyst Rick Horrow:

42,000 tennis balls are used every year at the Wimbledon tournament.  This year, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut seemingly used that many balls in a single match. 

The epic battle was so long, the U.S.’ national debt increased $1.7 billion in the 11 hours and five minutes the match was played, according to economists and their calculators.  But as interest piqued over the three-day contest, Isner and Mahut generated invaluable media coverage for themselves, for Wimbledon, and for tennis, upstaging the World Cup and Queen Elizabeth II, visiting the All England Club for the first time in 33 years.  For three days, Wimbledon was the star of the sporting world.

Think U.S. soccer is excited about our “newfound” interest in the World Cup?  The United States Tennis Association has to be doubly thrilled about last week’s marathon match.  The USTA and tennis enthusiasts across the United.States have been buoyed by the ever-growing tennis involvement in this country.  In 2009, according to the USTA, tennis participation topped 30 million players for the first time in 30 years, growing in all age groups across the board and all ethnicities, with African American participation up 19 percent and Hispanic play up 32 percent.  Those numbers leave soccer gasping in the crease – and golf isn’t even in the same stadium.  Exposure like Isner and Mahut provided tennis is another ace for the sport.

From the start of Wimbledon through the final day of the Mahut match, Isner gained 18,000 followers on Twitter.  The match itself was one of the most searched items on Google.  Even sponsors got a big return on investment.  According to Front Row Analytics, TV exposure was worth $345,000 to Lacoste, $621,000 to Prince, and $1.17 million for Nike.  Nike could have earned another $900,000 had Isner worn his hat straight.

And while one player had to lose the match, they’re both winners off the court.  Before the score was settled, agents for each player were fielding new endorsement opportunities.  I wonder who will be the first to back an everlasting battery, long-lasting deodorant, or a high mileage hybrid car.

More than the financial gains, or jumps in viewership or sports participation, America really needs this feel-good story right now – at least for a few hours, we were able to put aside the Gulf oil spill, the fired general and unstable situation in Afghanistan, the stubborn national 10 percent unemployment rate.  Three days later, we’re still talking about Isner’s and Mahut’s marathon match.  Their performance and undying will are exactly the kind of respite on a changeover we need this summer.

Rick Horrow is the CNN Sports Business Analyst and co-author of Beyond the Box Score: An Insider’s Guide to the $750 Billion Business of Sports

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