New tennis scoring aims to attract fans

By Alex Roux

In this day and age, people are impatient. They’re easily distracted. It’s common that you’ll go to a sporting event nowadays where spectators will be enamored with their smartphones rather than with the action in front of them. Fans arrive late and leave early.

The governing bodies of collegiate tennis have taken notice. Through the first six weeks of the NCAA tennis season, the Indoor Tennis Association has put experimental rules in place that are designed to shorten matches and keep fans in their seats.

The new scoring formats differ slightly between the men’s and women’s games, but they both have the same goal in mind. If you’ve ever attended a tennis dual meet or any tennis match in general, you know it can run longer than expected.

With the new rules in place, warm-up times will be cut between individual matches. Also, doubles matches will be consist of one set to six, shortened from eight in the previous format. Other tweaks were also added to the singles format in both men’s and women’s tennis with shorter play as the focus.

“The overall goal is to shorten matches to between two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half hours,” Illinois women’s tennis head coach Michelle Dasso said. “Probably the main goal would be three hours or under.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that your average American sports fan can only handle about three and a half hours of a single sporting event or so before becoming impatient. One of the reasons Major League Baseball has been so reluctant to adopt replay is due to their fear that “going to the monitor” will further lengthen games that are already sneaking up on four hours long (five if you’re watching a Yankees/Red Sox game).

NFL games usually last around three hours but can regularly push four. NBA and NHL games fall right around an average of two hours and 20 minutes. Soccer games are generally even shorter. We don’t follow any cricket-like sports that can go on for days on end, and for good reason. If you’ve ever watched an MLB game stretch deep into extra innings, the crowd will begin to thin out. There’s only so much time an everyday fan can invest into one sporting event.

So by American sporting standards, collegiate tennis takes a long time. These new rules are shortening the matches to three and a half hours long, which is already pushing the attention span of Joe Fan. After the first six weeks, (through the end of the National Indoor season) the scoring will go back to last year’s format. Like any potential rule change, the experimental results from this season will be evaluated by the powers that be and we could eventually see the shortened matches become permanent.

Personally, I like the idea of shorter tennis matches. I have relatively little tennis experience and absolutely no eye for the intricacies of the game, but I think shorter matches could help draw in potential new fans like me. The hope, as Dasso puts it, is that “fans are engaged and that they stay for the entire match.”

After all, football season ends this weekend. You’re going to need something to fill that empty three-hour time slot on Sundays.

Alex can be reached at [email protected] and @aroux94.