Athletes, just as much the competition, are what drives a sport’s popularity. We watch to see the people we care about make big plays. Today, in men’s tennis, the most beloved players are also the best. The ‘Big Four’ of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are all in their 30’s, usually the beginning of the end for a professional tennis player. So, what happens once they’re gone? The ATP will need help from the young guns to keep viewers engaged.
What does this mean?
The Big Four not only dominate the competition on the court, but they also rule the tennis social media world, according to MVPindex, with a combined audience of 91 million across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The rest of MVPindex’s top 10? Only 16.9 million! That will be a huge loss when retirements become reality. While they will still post about tennis, their followers may not tune in to watch like they would have before. In a time when sports are trying to be more social, losing these chunks of fans creates a big challenge for the ATP.
Who’s going to fill the void?
Some young guns are already picking up new fans. From the rambunctious Nick Kyrgios, to the smooth Grigor Dimitrov (AKA ‘Baby Federer’, called that for his nearly identical style of play), to the energetic American Jack Sock, there is hope for the athlete brands of men’s tennis in the future. They are still far from the millions mentioned above, but they have the advantage of being born in the social era. Even though the Big Four may seem to support the contrary belief, on-court success isn’t a magic bullet to social media stardom. Federer is the perennial fan favorite who collaborates with Air Jordan to make shoes and loves using emojis on social. Nadal’s brash play on court contrasts his quiet and kind demeanor off it. Novak Djokovic is known for having fun at the expense of his fellow players. Athletes need to show the other side(s) of themselves and let fans in on their lives to rack up followers and engagement.
How will they do it?
Just like any brand touchpoint – media appearances, ads, fan events, on-court demeanor – doing well on social media starts with authenticity and uniqueness. The players mentioned above or others gunning for the top must be themselves – not try to replicate the departing stars – and deliver content that people can’t get anywhere else. Dynamic personalities drive ratings as much as dynamic performances on the court. Engaging current fans is as simple as playing lights out tennis. Engaging those outside the sport will require lights out brands.
With retirement on the horizon for the Big Four in tennis, the young guns of the sport will have their time to shine on social media, and the court, of course.
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