Table tennis needs Grand Slams

One of the things I find frustrating about table tennis is its lack of media exposure. Table tennis matches can be hugely exciting, spectacular points often go viral on the internet, hundreds of millions of people play worldwide, but very rarely is table tennis covered by national media (TV, print or online).

In the UK, the only time that table tennis gets any decent national media exposure is during the Olympics. And people who haven’t seen table tennis before really enjoy it. They’re intrigued by the funny service actions, impressed with the speed and athleticism of players and engrossed with the drama of close matches.

But once the Olympics are over, table tennis disappears and is forgotten about for another four years. AAARRGHHH!

What we need is for table tennis to be in the media spotlight more often. One way to do this would be to introduce Grand Slam tournaments, similar to tennis.

Table tennis / tennis comparison

At the moment, table tennis doesn’t have many truly major global tournaments. We have the World Championships (once every two years), the World Team cup (once every two years) and the Olympics (once every four years). There’s also loads of tour events, and an annual World Cup event, but these are much smaller in size. So over a four year period it feels like there are only five events which have any chance of attracting national media attention.

Tennis, by comparison, also has lots of smaller tour events, but there are four Grand Slam tournaments every year – Wimbledon, French Open, Australian Open and the US open. These are prestigious events, with big prize money. All the best players enter the tournaments, meaning you get fantastic matches and drama. And they attract massive media attention.

Whereas the tour events are really only followed by hardcore tennis fans, the Grand Slams have far wider appeal. So over a four year period, there are 16 tennis tournaments which have a chance of attracting mass media attention. This makes table tennis’s five tournaments look rather feeble.

So why not copy a format which works and introduce table tennis Grand Slam tournaments?

Here’s my Grand Slam plan…

Part of the appeal of tennis Grand Slams is the history of tournaments. They always take place in the same arena at the same time of year. All the best players participate. There’s a sense of past and present being connected. Table tennis should aim for a similar format.

Where should the Grand Slams be held? China would be my first choice. How could it not be? They love table tennis, there are huge levels of participation and the infrastructure is great. Easy choice.

Next Europe. Germany would be a strong contender. They have been the dominant European nation for quite a while and have the largest public following in Europe. Sweden or France may also be possible choices.

Over to the Americas. Even though it’s not a particularly strong table tennis nation – I think the U.S. would be the sensible choice. There is decent levels of participation in the U.S. and a growing fan base. Plus there is likely to be plenty of sponsorship potential to tap into.

And the final Grand Slam? I haven’t decided. I would love an African nation to host a Grand Slam, although you could argue that Asia (e.g. Japan or Korea) should host two Grand Slams as this is where the sport is most popular.

Crowds, competition and coverage

Table tennis grand slams mean bigger crowds and greater opportunity for sponsorship. This would result in more prize money and an opportunity for players to earn a better living.

There would also be more opportunities for players of all nations to win a major tournament. In tennis, 3 players have dominated grand slams over the past 10 years – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. But other players – Murray, Wawrinka, Cilic, Del Potro, have been able to win Grand Slams. It’s difficult for the same players to be at the top of their game all year round, every year. In table tennis, I’m sure the Chinese would still dominate most Grand Slams but there will be more opportunities for players from other countries to win a major tournament.

Finally, it will be far easy to attract media attention. Grand slams will bring bigger audiences and a sense of spectacle. The best players will face each other more regularly, creating more intense rivalries and drama. All of this will be more appealing to major broadcasters.

I’m not suggesting that table tennis grand slams would achieve the same level of media attention as tennis – it’s starting from a long way behind! But I’m certain they would help create more media coverage than at present. And that’s surely a good thing. More people will be able to see our wonderful sport, more spectators will want to attend tournaments, more people will want to play table tennis, more companies will want to sponsor players, clubs and tournaments.

What’s not to like about this idea? I should be made president of ITTF!

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