by Sharada Rajagopalan
Both on the men’s and women’s side of the game, tennis action has been gung-ho on the professional front. The first quarter of the season featuring hard-court action have made a segue to the naturally-occurring clay, both of the red, and as seen in Charleston, of the green variety.
On-court action, however, has not been the sole determiner of discussions about the twists and turns of the circuit. Most specifically, this aspect pertains to the men’s side of the game with the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) trying to slot in pop-culture references to bookmark the winding of the season on social media, especially on Twitter.
The results of this initiative remain mixed. The picture the ATP created – and used – to talk about the clay season, which borrowed from the Netflix series Stranger Things brought out tennis fandom en masse. What started off as an innocuous shout out seemed to take a cacophonous turn as Rafael Nadal’s fans objected to the marginalised depiction of their favourite in the picture. Which, thus, forced the ATP to pull it down – delete the tweet – and come up with another picture with the size of the players in the image and their positions visibly altered to soothe and placate the ones who were miffed.
On the other hand, even with this episode not having died down entirely, the ATP came up with another gimmicky creation. This time, of using Game of Thrones as a metaphor for the fight for the year-end top-spot of the men’s singles rankings. There was one picture of Novak Djokovic released as a White Walker/Night King, followed by a depiction of the current top-nine players in the ATP rankings as White Walkers, and a video of GoT’s introductory theme song feat featuring the players, each with a sigil of a House from the Thrones’ saga.
The last bit of creative adaption was undoubtedly fun. Even more so when considered the careful planning that had gone in trying to match each player with the right kind of sigil. Like it was the case for Rafael Nadal who was matched with the Dorne sigil – signifying the Dornish kingdom which was known for its desert, dryness and, sand, with its people’s mettle remaining unbent even at the peak of Aegon Targaryen’s conquest, based on inferences drawn from George RR Martin’s work.
Making use of these TV shows – particularly when it comes to GoT – as a point of correlation forms a good marketing policy not only for the sport which can be perceived as stodgy sometimes but also for the series, too. At the same time, it is not without its pitfalls.
Conceived as ideation of harmless fun, such pick-me-ups become an unnecessary point of conflict with fans taking umbrage as seen in the Stranger Things’ illustration. Removing it and reposting it with alterations, then, only accentuates the unpalatability of what went wrong instead of side-lining it. As yet, there do not seem to be any fall-outs from the ATP’s eager and feverish appropriation of Thrones but that could also be because there are many who do not watch the show – just as there were those who did not understand the hullaballoo about Stranger Things – and therefore, are outliers to the significance of this analogising. Or even if they watch the shows, do not care about them much to be affected by these trivialities.
This, then, is the biggest shortcoming of such social media engagement tactics. That they are niche even as they are fleeting in relevance, unlike the series upon which they are based. That is, while the concept has resonated among a certain section of fans, it would not make much sense even a few months down the line. For one, given the quicksilver-like change in cultural preferences among audiences. Secondly, because some of the players featured here may not even be a part of the race as the year progresses further. Thereby not only restricting the scope of such inventiveness but also giving it an unwanted frivolity.