Attitude sells: Check out women's tennis


June 22, 1999|By MILTON KENT

You may have noticed that the best way to sell something these days, whether it's a product or your very self, is to package it with a bit of attitude.

Consider that the jersey of Latrell Sprewell, who got an involuntary paid vacation because he tried to give P.J. Carlesimo a finger necklace without a clasp, sells more than that of any other New York Knicks player. Meanwhile, David Robinson and Tim Duncan of San Antonio, both solid citizens whose only hook is sterling play, are thought of as weird or even worse, freaks, because they aren't weird or freaks and don't carry "attitudes."

Interest in men's tennis is thought to be on the wane because none of the top players has any personality, while the women's game is overflowing with it.

Among Martina Hingis, Venus Williams and her kid sister, Serena, and Anna Kournikova -- none of whom is even 19 -- the distaff tennis game is loaded with spice and sass. So much, in fact, that HBO plans to devote 70 percent of its Wimbledon air time to covering the women's draw.

But can you have too much sass? Hingis, for instance, is the world's top-ranked player and the top seed at Wimbledon, but she has drawn as much notoriety in recent months for her mouth and her conduct as for her game.

The Swiss miss dismissed doubles partner Jana Novotna and Steffi Graf as "too old," called an openly gay French player "half a man," and then turned petulant during the French Open final, when Graf came back to beat her in three sets, winning the hearts of the Paris crowd.

"She's been nurtured in a cocoon," said HBO's Jim Lampley last week. "You knew this was going to happen. She deserves everything she's getting in competition because of the way she's treated her success."

Said Mary Carillo: "She displays subtlety and nuance in one respect and then she opens her mouth and then you say, `How can this all be happening to the same person?' "

The larger question is, will the networks and the media run from her if Hingis continues to display her "attitude"? Sadly, we know the answer to that.

Weekend makes and misses

From this vantage, the words "golf" and "compelling" are rarely spoken together, but Sunday's final round of the U.S. Open was dramatic television, and NBC was up to the challenge.

The network, which battles CBS for best golf coverage, provided informative commentary, led by the blunt Johnny Miller with capable assistance from Gary Koch and Roger Maltbie and timely graphics.

But what made the afternoon enjoyable were the stirring pictures. In particular, the shots of Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson on 17 and 18 were terrific, and Stewart's wild gesticulations and his holding first his caddy's and then Mickelson's faces in his hands were poignant.

Also, it's worth noting that the network that invented the phrase "plausibly live" during its coverage of the 1996 Olympics, readily and easily identified taped shots rather than pass them off as if they were happening live. NBC will probably reap a ratings bonanza too, as the overnight rating of 7.9/20 was up 18 percent from last year.

On the other hand, ESPN, which loudly trumpets its hockey coverage, did its audience a tremendous disservice early Sunday morning by failing to get a meaningful replay of Brett Hull's Stanley Cup-winning goal for about 20 minutes after the conclusion of the Dallas-Buffalo series.

People who may have gone to bed right after the end of the three-overtime game may have been shocked to wake up Sunday morning and hear there was a controversial ending. Twenty minutes is entirely too long to wait for something that important.

Let's see if ESPN, or more to the point, ESPN2, can do a better job with Thursday night's NHL seasonal awards, aired live from Toronto at 8 o'clock.

Women to the net

Coverage of the Women's World Cup continues this week with Brazil meeting Italy on Thursday at 6: 30 p.m. on ESPN2, and the host United States team taking on Nigeria at 8: 30 on ESPN.

On the subject of coverage, it was interesting Sunday to hear Mike Lupica and Rick Telander, two of the nation's top blowhard sports columnists, express a lack of enthusiasm for covering women's sports on the "Sports Reporters."

On behalf of those who do cover women's sports and for those who enjoy watching them, here's what we would say to Messrs. Lupica and Telander and their ilk: If you don't like women's sports, that's great. Don't watch them or cover them, but don't discount the growing number of people who do enjoy them, because you don't get it.

Pub Date: 6/22/99

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