Sunday, April 03, 2011

Swim stars versus tennis stars!

Sony Ericsson ATP Tennis: I was enthralled over the weekend at the quality of both the players and how much tennis has changed. Maria Sharapova is definitely not hard to look at, Rafael Nadall is amazingly dexterous, good looking and "ripped" and he even played in the semifinal sets against Roger Federer wearing a Richard Mille timepiece valued at $525,000.

I was watching all of this on the Tennis Channel and during the interstitials they would feature brief segments called "bag check with [insert tennis star name goes here.]" These athletes would pull out sunglasses, rackets, sunscreen, all the stuff they are paid to pimp and talk about what they liked about them and how and when they are used.

When the commercials came on, they had one featuring Roger Federer confronted by two female TSA Airport Security officials who find a bag full of Lindt Chocolate truffles surrounded in what appears to be ice. Of course after sampling one, the two women nearly "climax" right there on the spot and then they instruct Federer that he will have to be stripped searched! Consequently I am sold and will sample some of these truffles this week.

After I saw Rafael Nadal destroy Roger Federer I went over to Maria Sharapova's website to see when she was playing next. Therein I learned that she has set up scholarships for kids in or around Chernobyl, she works extensively with a UN Charity, and that Nike takes very good care of her by flying her around in private jets. She is also sponsored by Tag Heuer; a timepiece manufacturer who also "sponsors" Leonardo DeCaprio.

These tennis athletes live amazingly fruitful lives. They spend more money and burn more carbon during a fast weekend than a swimmer can earn in several years time. Why is that? Swimmers can sell sunscreen, sunglasses, suits, goggles, yoga, apparel and even chocolate truffles but they don't. Why?

The worlds most popular sports feature trajectory physics as their premise: Baseball, basketball, football soccer, golf, tennis, etc, etc. Each sport takes an object, usually a ball of sorts, hurls it through space and time by hand or stick and ultimately has a target as the final goal. However, there are some amazingly successful sports that do not rely on the trajectory physics model such as yacht racing, formula one, skiing, skateboarding, snowboarding, cycling, and more. The key component that makes theses concept sports so enticing and ultimately successful generally involves "UFO grade" equipment or equipment the public can own and go out and have some fun with. The fact that athletes therein make a lot of money inspires both kids and parents as well.

As it stands now swimming governing bodies at large will not allow swimmers to wear tech suits. Pools are far and few between and mens college swim programs are evaporating with absolutely no support whatsoever from FINA or USA Swimming. Governing bodies only care about the Olympics, they only care that they can provide a team that wins. They do not want swimming to be a professional sport. They do not want governing body competition.

Tennis gets it, swimming doesn't. When your sport starts to fade you change it. You don't wait for a "Phelps" or a "Spitz" to show up to buoy it. If wearing techsuits would get more people swimming; like it did in 2008, you do what is necessary to grow the sport. Note: have any swimmers been featured in the Huffington Post in 2010 or 2011 besides Michael Phelps? 2008 featured many swimmers especially their suit failures like Ricky Berens and Alessia Filippi. High end equipment also allowed swimmers to sell expensive suits to affluent adults. When that was taken away, so were sponsorships.

The only way for swimmers to be treated and paid as well as tennis stars is to redefine the game in a professional setting that features promoters rather than governing bodies. Promoters will change the sport not governing bodies! Clay Evans once said to me they should hold a race in the Ballagio Fountain in Las Vegas and let people bet on the racers, Make swimming a spectacle rather a boring serious of heats. He is a smart guy!

I fear that swimming will always remain an amatuer sport - governing body execs make to much money and do to little for the sport to try and make it a viable one. For instance, take a look at the college swim programs that are evaporating. What are the governing bodies doing to prevent this decay? Look at the USA Swimming Foundation which suddenly disappeared when donors immediately pulled out. Why did the donors exit so suddenly? Has that ever been explained? What about that post grad FAST program in Fullerton? Why is that suddenly being left to die on the vine? I don't know the answers but a lot of you do.


TedBaker said...

You are absolutely beating a dead, not moving, deceased, no longer alive horse and you're missing the primary appeal of sports like tennis and yacht racing.

Tennis has no draw in terms of raw numbers and yacht racing has even less. Skiing, here in North America, just doesn't draw big numbers, either.

The appeal of those sports, though, is not how many watch but who. They attract a marketer's dream demographic: Upper middle class and higher, educated and they've got money.

And, at the risk of beating my own dead horse, every single one of the sports you mentioned; tennis, yacht racing, ski racing, Formula 1, any sport with a significant piece of technical equipment that is intrinsic to the sport, has very strict rules and regulations surrounding that piece of equipment. Every one of them. All them. If they did not, then the sport itself would be reduced to farce.

Face it, tech suites are dead. And they deserved to die. We're now seeing great performances that stand on their own, without an asterisk.

Tony Austin said...


The sports I mentioned generate more money in a single weekend than swimming generates in a whole year.

Nice observation about the equipment being the sole focal point. perhaps swimming;(outside of the Olympics), should move in that direction?

Tech suits are in what I call a temporary exile. :-P

TedBaker said...

You miss the point on the regulations in sports like tennis, The regulations are in place so that the technology is NOT the sole focus. It is there so that all athletes are competing with - essentially - the same equipment.

Tony Austin said...

Perhaps, Ted, but look at the rackets, the shoes, the ball themselves and tell me equipment is not somewhat of a focal point.

livefreeswimhard said...

Glad you brought this up. It was a couple of months ago that you said swimming is only done by 15% of people. To me thats just the problem. Tennis is something that a lot of people can go out and play. If I asked my non swimming friends whether or not they want to play tennis or go swim laps, Tennis would win by far. Look at running. Its a popular because not only is it done in a lot of sports as a fundamental aspect but its used as a basic conditioning activity. What if swimming was used to condition athletes as the norm, especially at the collegiate level. We all know swimming is easy on the joints. Imagine college football teams conditioning in spring with swimming. Athletic Directors would never even think about shutting down the pools. Not to mention theses athletes would give the swimmers the respect they deserve.

You mentioned basketball as well. In that sport, there is progression. The athlete over the years has time to develop and learn basics. In middle school you play like 8-12 games per season with games lasting 36 minutes. You get to high school and those number expand. You get to college and those numbers expand again. If your ever so lucky to make it to the pros, those numbers expand for good reason. But in swimming you have a 12 yrs old year round swimmer that trains and swims like an elite athlete. Is that really necessary? I personally dont think so. Sure you'll have talent that can handle such a rigorous schedule but what about everybody else. What if swimming were just relay based all the way through high school? I know more kids would join if there were 4 x 25 butterfly relays and 4 x 50 breastroke relays. So what if these kids cant swim a 10 x 200 I.M.s for time. What will matter most is that they would enjoy the sport on a basic level. Theres only 52 spots on the Olympic team anyway.

Which bring me to the suit companies. I see what you are saying with tech suit. But if swimming were a more basic sport for the average individual Speedo, TYR, FINIS, Arena etc.... would make money selling basic jammers to pay their elite athletes. In fact i think because of the different events, swimming would be so much more appealing to different types of swimmers (sprinters, butterflyers, etc...) making an even market for the suit companies. By doing this also you gain what this sport need the most, FANS. Not swim geeks just regular fans. Fans who can sit and watch a swim meet and say, thats was horrible flip turn thats why he lost. We need people to understand the sport. Dare I say, we need Skip Bayless to be talking about how Lochtes freestyle technique is all wrong. I was never a football player but I can explain to you how a west coast offense works. I can tell you the difference between a 3-4 defense and a 4-3 defense. Im just a fan of the game. We need new swimming fans. I may not be a pro basketball player but I have a pretty good jump shot. We need the average person to be able to have a decent freestyle. May be not 20 x 50s on the 30 but just a smooth freestyle stroke. Then they will learn to appreciate the pros which generates interest in the sport. Look at MMA and the XGames. The fans control those sports and have mad those event big in just a matter of years.

One last thing. You mentioned Nike. Where the hell is Nike in our sport? Soccer, Football, Basketball, Tennis, Golf and even boxing (Manny Pacquiao, who swims for conditioning by the way) have Nike in them. They should be a force in our sport challenging the rest of the suit makers. Personally I feel the sport of swimming would benefit more if Phelps was signed with Nike. There marketing is aggressive and they have money to blow. Remember, Nike wasn't really in the golf mix until Tiger came along. They saw a game changer, paid him and worked with him to make Nike a strong brand.

Your right about changing our sport. Mr. Phelps needs to be an advocate and spokesman for change. I think hes the only person "they" will listen to.

Good post.

TedBaker said...

Of course it's a focal point, just as caps & goggles are a focal point in swimming. I was a Speedo guy and raced in black Hind Compy's. That was my preference and I believed, for whatever reason, that I raced better in that combination.

I knew, however, that even if the guy beside was in Arena and clear "swede's", his equipment was - at is core - the same as mine. There was no profound advantage offered by his equipment. The race was between me and him, not between his choice of suit and mine.

Same goes in tennis. Federer and Nadal have different brand rackets but, basically - as per the rules - they are the same. There are differences, of course, but they are very small; perhaps different tension on the strings, a different handle and/or grip. You don't see Nadal come out with a racket twice as large as Federer's.

Anonymous said...

Is there tennis without a racket? No.

Is there swimming without a suit? Yes.

Argument over.

Tony Austin said...

I guess what I should have emphasized more was the supply an demand issues. There are fewer pools and fewer programs than streets, basketball courts and baseball diamonds.

surfer said...

there are lawsuits if there is swimming without suits ...argument over.

Tech suit records are being challenged. There were some major rule and technique changes that occured at the same time and helped create the times we saw. lets not give the suits to much credit, they are only a small factor in performance. There are still records from pre 2009. The suits had only a marginal impact at the high school and conference levels.
I agree with tony they had major market appeal. I can just see specific designs for the superstars, then kids buy training versions that keep them warm, encorage proper posture, and keep the sun off them ...the kids get all excited to "be like mike"

Nike... this company has slowly been wheeziling into swimming and not with positive effect, only looking for profits. There suits are crap, their reps are overlaoded with clubs and orders and they dont have a means to provide a good product. A company you would think could have revolutionized tech suits, was standing on their heels watching the race get away. none of the Nike sponsored teams were having a good time with the tech revolution. I would not be surprised to find Nike at the middle of the anti tech revolt. NIKE is not a synonymous swim company, people see Nike they think everything but swimming. People see Speedo or TYR and they automatically think swimming.
The tech suit war is far from done, the triathletes and masters still love them.

Swimming is a basic skill, that is incredibly complex. So is walking and even more so running(neither get much attention professionally). But we practice walking and running all day everyday from age 2. The reason we have to push so hard in the pool is because we are only working at swimming for a very little amount of time on a hourly, daily, weekly, monthly... basis. We have a ball sport and most swim coaches what to see it irradiated ...polo is the future bread and butter. and for x-treme, we have Iron-man. But it would be great to have an ultimate swim ...100miles of Nile (down river race) ...maybe a race down the snake river. No doubt the standard swim meet is BORING to all but us geeks.