How did Tennis and Twitter Collide at This Summer’s Australian Open?

January each year marks the month when tennis’ finest hit our shores to compete in the Australian Open Grand Slam.  Whilst the competition provides many of us with nail-biting entertainment – tennis has become one of the most lucrative sports world-wide, thanks to large prize pools and an abundance of sponsorship deals.  The sport’s popularity has only been exacerbated through the availability and utilisation of social media platforms such as Twitter.

In this blog, we explore how Twitter was able to create some positive exposure for the sport this past January, as well as how it became a downfall for one rising star.

When Federer and the Australian Open Twitter page ‘aced’ it 

Social media has given tennis stars a platform to connect with their fans and give their sponsors some additional exposure.  In effect, this extra engagement between players and fans draws more attention to the sport.  A perfect example was when Roger Federer took to Twitter to have the Rock judge his ‘smolder’: 

The Rock weighed in and commended Federer on his efforts:

Federer served an ace with his playful tweet which gained him an advantage.  The tweet was personal, good-humoured and engaging; elicited equally entertaining tweets from Dwayne Johnson, fans (such as the one below) and even hit the mainstream media.

The rally between Federer and The Rock not only highlights the “bromance” between the two superstars, it is also a good example of using social media to expand a personal brand.  By engaging with The Rock, Federer was able to expand the reach of his personal brand beyond tennis, extending himself to both fans of The Rock and the movie Jumanji.

The Australian Open Twitter account was also able to demonstrate exactly why it had been dubbed the ‘happy slam’ by engaging with fans.  For example, the page hosted a ‘tweet o’clock’ trivia to involve fans of the game.

The page’s constant match updates, along with player engagement and fan interaction certainly projected the tournament’s exposure.

When a player’s controversial views were out for show on Twitter

Poor behaviour by players on the court is looked upon unfavourably, often resulting in code violations.  However, how is poor behaviour off the court viewed?  This question was answered when US player Tennys Sandgren had some surprising victories during the Australian Open and gained some media attention.  Unsurprisingly, his Twitter account received some extra traffic after his wins – however, what people found was certainly not an ‘ace’ for Sandgren, and instead might be seen as a ‘fault’ for his image.

Sandgren’s Twitter feed was scattered with retweets which demonstrated his support for the far-right movement and other questionable political views.  Additionally, he also followed a range of pages which supported alt-right beliefs.  A social media storm ensued, which eventually led even the mainstream media to report on his political views.  

Sandgren soon responded by deleting his Tweets, which he later stated would give him a ‘cleaner start’.  He was also forced to address the controversy after post-match media appearances.  He received some extra backlash after failing to properly apologise and also after slamming the media by stating that media outlets are trying ‘to write an edgy story, to create sensationalist coverage’.  After the continued backlash, he eventually tweeted the following apology:

Unfortunately for Sandgren, he is more likely to be remembered for his social media ‘fault’ rather than his tennis abilities.

Main Takeaway

The increased use of social media platforms by players, brands and tournaments have meant that fans of tennis have the ability to become more engaged in the sport than ever before.  This extra exposure could be a contributing factor with regard to both higher ticket sales and levels of interest in the game, hence demonstrating the truly positive reach that social media can have when utilised correctly.

However, as seen in the backlash towards Sandgren, it is more important than ever for rising stars to think before they tweet.  Whilst a few tweets may not affect a player’s performance, they could potentially ruin any chances of future sponsorship deals – as big brand sponsors become more selective about their affiliations.

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