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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Pro tennis not a popular sport?

Television ratings are the way we determine the popularity of sports in this country. And there is good reason for this. The ratings use statistical sampling to determine how many people watch events.

The NFL is far and away the highest-rated sport on TV in this country. Tennis is near the bottom, and the sport's ratings have been on the decline for years. There has been a bit of an uptick recently thanks to the growing rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the men's side, and the resurgent Williams sisters on the women's side.

But TV ratings are just one thing to consider. Baseball's ratings have dropped but the sport continues to set records for live attendance.

Last week, I attended an afternoon session of the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadow in New York City. It was the second day of first-round matches and the place was packed.

After taking the No. 7 train from Times Square, I arrived just after 10 a.m. The ticket line was long but I thought it would be no problem to get a grounds pass. After about 30 minutes, an official shouted that there were no more grounds passes. A woman in line behind me seemed amazed by this, telling someone that she had never known them to run out of grounds passes.

My only hope was to get a ticket for Arthur Ashe or Louis Armstrong stadiums -- as good as grounds passes. When I was almost at the ticket booths, an official shouted that Ashe Stadium, which seats more than 20,000, was almost sold out. Thankfully, I got a ticket. As I was walking back past a line several hundreds yards long, they announced that both the day and night sessions had sold out.

Of course, most people who got stadium seats didn't use them for the stadium but just to get on the grounds. There were about 10 matches on the outer courts going on at the same time. You could try to get a seat in the bleachers or stand behind people and watch. The view wasn't that great but you could see good enough. It was fun just to go from match to match.

The whole experience was a treat. Flushing Meadow is a cool complex with restaurants and bars and nice places to just sit and relax. At a large fountain in front of Ashe Stadium you can watch a giant TV screen with action from Louis Armstrong Stadium and view the results of every match going on.

Yes, tennis' popularity isn't what it was. But you would never know that by attending the U.S. Open.


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