Note: I realize that I’ve gone over my 5 minute limit with this video – I didn’t have my timer with me. I’ll make sure to keep it short and sweet in the future.
Hi guys – thanks for joining me – in this video I’d just like to touch on the topic of is table tennis a spectator sport and just give you some of my thoughts and see if you guys have got anything to say about it.
The reason I’m discussing this is that I’ve got in my mind from a little while back I was watching the ITTF web stream of the Australian Open, which they had on live streaming. I had been following the progress of William Henzell, one of the Australian players. Because I’ve met him a couple of times and seen him play quite a lot I was interested in how he was doing and hoping he would do well.
What I found and what got me thinking was that watching William play – while William played very well – the actual match itself as a spectacle wasn’t a great match to watch. It wasn’t full of amazing points – it was kind of a bit scrappy because that’s how William wants to play, he wants to stop the opponent getting into big open rallies. It’s not a criticism of his style it’s just the way the actual games turned out. Having said that though I was still interested in watching, but the reason I was interested in watching was because I was interested in William and how he was doing, I wasn’t really particularly enjoying point after point after point because it wasn’t a great, great, great game to watch.
In table tennis in general I think a lot of the modern game of table tennis kind of mirrors that these days. There is the occasional really great match, but for me in my opinion probably 8-9 times out of 10 most of these matches between world class players I don’t find really entertaining to watch, I don’t find them particularly attractive to watch – the actual game itself. I think that just the modern style and the way the game is played today isn’t really a great spectator sport to watch on TV or to watch the pure game itself.
So how can we improve that? Well I think the two ways we can improve that and make it more of a spectator sport is firstly have people more invested in the players. I watched William because I’ve met him a couple of times, seen him play a lot of Australian Opens and I was interested in how he was doing. As soon as he lost in the semifinal, I turned off, I wasn’t going to watch the final, I’m not interested in the other players, I don’t know them, I don’t really like the way the play, so I wasn’t going to watch it. I was watching for William and interested in him. The more we know these players, the more we know about them and have someone to support – people that we like – the more people will watch – they’ll come to watch their favorite players or they’ll watch it on TV.
The only other way I think we can do it is maybe take a leaf out of something like poker and have a production value that adds to the excitement. I mean poker itself isn’t particularly exciting to watch but you can watch some of these World Series of poker because in the production they’ve added all this entertaining commentary, entertaining analysis, entertaining other stuff so it can still be something interesting to watch even though the poker game itself isn’t all that entertaining. I think that’s where the ITTF, if they want to get table tennis as a TV sport in its modern form, they’re going to have to do it in there , in the production values and really try to lift that up to make it even though the actual game itself may not be riveting they can entertain you in other ways through that medium.
Table tennis as a spectator sport in person when you are live and you are actually in the auditorium – what I find that is that tends to be more exciting because the speed of the ball, the spin of the ball and being there translates better. There’s still a lot of stuff that I would find boring and I’m probably showing my age a little bit here, but I think for myself I’m seen a lot of veteran’s table tennis between 50 year olds that I find much more entertaining than watching the young guys at the Australian Open that I’ve seen. I’ve seen a handful a great matches at the Aussie Open between young guys, but I’ve seen many, many terrific matches between vets at the Australian Veterans and the New Zealand Veterans- awesome matches between attackers and blockers, attackers and defenders, even just two attackers. The level is not quite as high, and because the level is not quite as high, the rallies are a bit longer, you can see what is going on a little bit better, it’s not all serve and kill. Because of that there is some really great stuff that I would come and watch, that I would almost pay to watch that sort of stuff and go in and see it.
So I think as a live spectacle it can work better. I also think that if the ITTF really want to improve this sport, they need to be thinking a little bit about what makes table tennis a spectacle – what makes it entertaining. It may not be what I find entertaining and it may not be what you personally find entertaining, but if we really want it on TV or we want crowds coming I think we all have to ask ourselves what does the average person of the public find entertaining in table tennis, and if we want to bring those guys in as spectators, just like they do for football, soccer, tennis, what does the public want? And are we willing to change our sport to give that to them, and if we do we should maybe get spectators. If we are not willing to change table tennis we probably will stay fairly niche unless we can steal the production values from something like poker and take a mediocre spectacle but in the production room turn it into something that’s entertaining. But gee wouldn’t it be nice if we had a really entertaining game of table tennis all the time that didn’t need much actual production room expertise to turn into a spectacle.
I think for myself the game between the 40 year olds and 50 year olds of good attackers, good defenders, good blockers, good lobbers – not overpowering attackers – the rallies and the games between these guys are generally really good to watch because nobody can serve and third ball kill. You have to earn the point most of the time.
So for me, I think we either have to change the sport to what the general public wants, and if we are not willing to change the sport, well we are going to have to improve our production values to make it an entertaining thing. Otherwise we are going to be stuck where we are now, people playing in front of empty venues and nobody watching the sport on TV which is a shame because it’s such a fantastic sport to play.
So anyway, those are my thoughts – if you’ve got anything you’d like to add feel free, throw in a comment and add to the discussion. Thanks for listening.