Friday 14 August 2015

Why We Need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis

Going to China Open, one thing stood out more than anything else. The fans for table tennis in China are simply amazing. Dedicated to their players and crazy about anything ping pong. When I was in Chengdu I realised that this 'relationship' between fans and players (at least for the Chinese players) was pretty one sided.

Not a flicker of emotion from Zhang Jike
Why we need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis
Here are the things I noticed:

  • The players rarely smile in pictures with fans, or show any emotion at all. In fact you can see on their face that they want to get away as soon as possible.
  • They don't engage the fans in the stadium during or after matches. At best they might wave over the back of their head as they exit the playing area.
  • Sometimes they don't sign any autographs they just push past fans and leave.
  • They don't take any time to deal with their fans, they always rush between the venue and the hotel trying to avoid people.
After Ma Long beat Oshima 4-3 there were easily 100 people waiting for autographs and pictures outside the player entrance. He pushed past all of them and jumped in a private car and left. Of course being behind him I got swamped. But I stayed. I signed anything for anyone who wanted anything signing. 

I spoke to Timo Boll about it and he said that in the German league they have 1 hour sessions after their matches and they make sure they sign something for anyone who wants it. Timo Boll is a superstar and I feel he is really loved for this humbleness all around the world.

Timo, humble and always happy to be around fans
Why We Need Real Fan Superstars in Table Tennis

The Chinese team were very much a closed network. The Europeans were beyond welcoming. They asked if I wanted to join them for dinner, we talked so much. They are much more social.

Is part of the reason the sport is dying that we have no one to cheer for? Are fans of Ma Long and Zhang Jike really satisfied when they go to watch? It felt so one sided. The amount of energy the fans gave and received so little in return.

Look at someone like Federer, Nadal, even Waldner. Hussein Bolt. So much charisma on and off the field/court/table. They offer so much to their fans, they make us satisfied watching them. They engage with the fans, they entertain, show so much emotion. 

I think this is another aspect of Chinese dominance which is hurting the sport a little bit. Seeing how disappointed those fans were when Ma Long drove off after they had waited for him for so long was a little sad. I think there could be a huge improvement with how entertaining table tennis is if the players we idolise can learn to engage the crowd more.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm sure Ma Long and Zhang Jike have signed more than enough things before but it just looked like they were tired of having fans when I saw them. Perhaps that's understandable, but from the outside it didn't look too great. This is not a vendetta against the Chinese team at all, watching them play is great and I'm sure they are all very nice, but they are very shut off from everyone else, even the other players.

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  1. Yes Timo does seem to be a cool guy. Do the women players have the same demeanor as well?

  2. I'm sure there's a very good reason why they don't "engage" fans, but I don't think that's the problem. The real problem is there aren't any "superstars" who're capable of actually beating the Chinese other than their off days or past their prime.

  3. I was delighted when i went to the World Champs in Manchester and was surprised and delighted how friendly and approachable all (except the Chinese) were. As a big fan of Chinese table tennis it was a shame. However at a Chinese league match the players were great at engaging the fans.

  4. You hit the nail on the head. The Chinese team have to hire your QE2 PR firm if they want to make any headway in making TT a world wide sport. Here in North America it's a desert, even darts gets better coverage.


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