What’s changed in tennis over the last four decades that’s been truly meaningful?
In a Tennis Rockers’ mind, it’s not much and that’s where the idea of Tennis Rockers came from. Tennis Rockers are people who love and find deep meaning in both the sport of tennis and rock ‘n’ roll. If you’ve ever air guitared to a rock song with your tennis racquet, welcome home.
To a Tennis Rocker, meaningful is like rock ‘n roll, it comes from the heart, draws people in, and inspires them to play along. Something meaningful is memorable and becomes a part of your body and life and when it does, you’re hooked and you want more - in both the same and varied ways.
Something meaningful calls you back, like playing that favorite song again and again. Like a great song, you want to hear and make it a part of your life at significant moments both good and bad - a birthday, an engagement, a wedding, or consoling yourself after a breakup or a loss.
How many KISS fans dress up in makeup and show up at the concert or go out on Halloween or even get married looking like the guys in the band? Why would they do this? Because the bands’ music and presentation is unique and meaningful to these people - deeply meaningful.
Do tennis fans dress up like Djokovic, Federer, Murray, or Nadal? Do they get married looking like them?
How many “signature” guitars (instruments built to the same look and feel the professional guitar or bass player use on stage) are sold in the U.S. every year to hobbyists who play? Why do they pay thousands of dollars to buy something that is really someone elses’ idea and thing? Meaning. These people want to be more connected to the instruments and the people who made the music they so deeply treasure. They want to try to experience what those musicians experienced when they used a similar instrument to make the music they made which is so deeply loved.
Are there highly customized tennis racquets (like guitars and basses) that people are willing to pay thousands to own? Pay so much to own that they don’t even want to use them but instead keep these racquets (like prize possession guitars) in a safe space and only taking them out on special occasions to use? These objects carry deep meaning to the people who pay.
How many music “clinics” do hobbyist musicians show up to all around the world to meet their ”hero”, listen to them play (just like the record), get their autograph, and buy a copy of their instrument? These hobbyists yearn to be like their hero because that hero has given them hope and joy that goes well beyond just a quick emotional detour. The fan wants to deepen their experience, deepen their connection to the music and the people who make it. They are taking time away from their families and jobs to connect with a sport that holds deep meaning to them.
How many tennis clinics are put on by ATP pros who show up to meet their fans or fans get to meet their hero?
How many times do bands pull into town and do local media interviews and meet people who are thrilled to see and have just a few minutes to be in the musician’s presence? These “fans” show up because the music and the people who make it hold a deep meaning to them. They show up because of what the bands music means to them.
How many times to ATP pros do local media interviews and personal appearances to connect with fans?
When a rock band hits the stage, the crowd goes wild with anticipation and excitement. There is an element of danger and unpredictability - what will happen and will it be as good as it was envisioned? The show is the full expression of what the music means to them.
Unlike rock shows that play in major cities all across the U.S. in a tour, tennis doesn’t do this. Why not? The closest major tennis tournaments near Chicago (the 3rd largest city in America) are either in Canada (the Rogers Cup) or in Ohio (The Western & Southern Open). Why aren’t we reaching more people with these types of tours? Too expensive relative to the demand? Make it smaller but still in a grand fashion - don't play a stadium, play at a university or major facility.
Maybe fans would be getting more excited with anticipation to see their hero’s up close and personal. Maybe the pros could do meet and greets. Maybe we could sell $$$$ racquets to adoring fans. Maybe this would cause more people to find a deeper meaning in tennis and in turn, call them back.
Maybe it’s even bigger than rock ‘n’ roll.
Maybe tennis should look at other endeavors and see what it can take.
Every day, there are tennis players who work in the arts, businesses, and science who love the game and have great ideas that could help the sport but these ideas are “different” and not presented by a “tennis authority”. Maybe we need to hear what they have to say.
Then again, maybe its even smaller than rock ‘n’ roll.
Maybe tennis should start talking to the hard working people who work in tennis clubs all across America to find out what they want. What they think is missing. What they think would help bring people back. Everyday, there are thousands of people who work at tennis clubs who see what’s working and not working. They have something to say but they are not heard. There is no local or national tennis election or organization that really hears what these people have to say.
For some yes, tennis is just a job, but for many, who are teaching and interacting with people everyday, tennis has meaning and in that meaning people have heart, are drawn in and feel inspired to be a part of it. It becomes memorable and a part of your body and your life and when it does, you’re hooked and you want more - in both the same and varied ways.
Maybe we need to start talking with the players and payers who contribute their hard earned cash to play on the courts for fun, a lesson, or a tournament. What do they want? What do they think is missing? What would be more meaningful for them?
Sure, tennis and rock are in the name, but what Tennis Rockers is really about something much deeper.
It’s about reinventing the way we access, participate, and think about the game of tennis. It’s about having conversations and kicking around ideas and considering the boundaries of change.
Consider that rock ‘n’ roll is uniquely American and democratic - it’s accessible to all and does not retreat in the face of “leading authorities”. It does not cow tow to people with PhD’s or rely on conferences to tell people what’s right and what’s wrong.
The heavyweights of rock like Stephen Tyler, Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, and Bono are celebrated but they aren’t exemplified as “the” way to practice their craft or do their job. There aren’t performance coaches or rock star coaches who taught these guys the “right way” vs the “wrong way”. They found their way and in doing so, they built meaning for themselves and for millions of others who love their music.
So tennis rockers is about bringing back the meaning, the excitement, and a desire to feel like you do at a rock show - like you are a part of something greater.
We’re borrowing ideas from other passions and professions and brainstorming on them. We’re talking to people who do “tennis” as a profession. We’re going to make a mess and a lot of mistakes in the hopes of discovering new things that can make a positive dent and help tennis progress to a new place of enjoyment and popularity - like rock ‘n’ roll.
Are you in?