February 2, 2009

Who Cares About Tennis, Anyway?

As I was watching the Super Bowl yesterday, it struck me how much more excited we, as Americans, get over football than almost any other sport. Crazy fans, rowdy players, tickets that cost thousands of dollars, spectacular halftime performances -- even the commercials are an event! There are few other games that can put on such a show.

Poor little tennis, it would seem, can't begin to compete with that.

But, I wondered, exactly where does my personal favorite rank against the alternatives?

I was surprised at the answer.

In a completely unscientific and not at all exhaustive study, I turned to one of Google™'s amazing little features. The search engine's Trends site allows users to enter multiple terms and compares search and news volume on each of the topics. It even breaks down the results by region, city and language so you can get an idea of who's making the requests.

First I compared tennis to football. Not surprisingly, tennis was far out-matched, more than three to one. Spikes in searches for the gridiron game seemed to coincide with the start of the season in the fall.

What I did find interesting was the geographic breakdown. Of course football was more popular in the U.S. -- but even in the U.K., France, and even Australia, where the year's first Grand Slam wrapped up just yesterday, football was way ahead. When I thought about it, though, it made sense -- football, the term most of the world uses to descibe what we know as soccer, would certainly be more popular in these other countries. A search for tennis versus American football yielded more intuitive results.

Against baseball tennis actually held its own pretty well, falling behind mostly in the spring but then resurging even through the summer and fall. Understandably it was only in the U.S. and Canada where the Great American Pasttime had any real advantage.

Basketball seemed to rank on par with tennis, though at different points of the year. The spikes, somewhat surprisingly, coincide more with the onset of March Madness than they do with the NBA playoffs which begin a few months later -- a fact I completely understand, being more of a college hoops fan myself.

Tennis and hockey were similarly complementary -- more results for tennis appeared in the summer while hockey peaked, though at a lesser level, in the winter. Our neighbors to the north were the source of the most searches for the ice sport, with Toronto, Ottawa and Calgary accounting for the most inquiries.

I also wanted to take a look at how tennis ranked outside the sports world. Despite the MTV show featuring contestants desperate to be her "New BFF", tennis is thankfully more popular than Paris Hilton...

...And, maybe slightly more disturbing, our newly-inaugurated President.

So maybe we can't attract crowds like the Super Bowl, but that doesn't make us any less popular, and we obviously have universal appeal.

The lesson? Don't be intimidated by the high-school quarterback and his cheerleader girlfriend -- tennis is just as cool, if not cooler!

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