Titans of tennis ace mass appeal, but Knicks can’t get a break

Bulls of the Week

The ESPYs showed this week how far they’ve come since ESPN staged them for the first time in March of 1993.

ESPN eventually moved them to the summer to fill the void of prime-time programming on the Wednesday after the MLB All-Star Game, which is annually the quietest night of the year in the business of sport in North America.

The fact Disney saw fit to simulcast the ESPYs on the full ABC network is a testament to three hours that have become the Academy Awards of sport — only more inspirational and edgy, and often more politically and culturally compelling.

It’s also been a memorable week for the titans of tennis, with 37-year-old Serena Williams reaching her 32nd Grand Slam singles final and 11th Wimbledon final. Williams is up against 2018 French Open champion Simona Halep of Romania in her bid to win her eighth Wimbledon singles title and all-time record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles crown overall (she already owns the Open-era record).

If Williams — who has career prize money of almost US$90M — beats Halep Saturday, it would also mark her first major title since the birth of her daughter Alexis in September of 2017.

The other titans of tennis — men’s finalists Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer — have put on yet another show for the sports world. The men’s final Sunday between top-seeded Djokovic and second-seeded Federer is bound to entertain, with 35 Grand Slam singles titles between the two of them (15 for Djokovic and 20 for Federer).

Regardless of who wins, it will mark the 11th consecutive Grand Slam won by one of the Big Three (Rafael Nadal the third player) and the 50th win in 58 Grand Slam finals since the 2005 French Open. In other words, 86 per cent of the last 14 years of majors has been won by this remarkable triumvirate.

Yet no one has had a more bullish week than the U.S. women’s national soccer team in particular, and women’s sports in general.

The polarizing Americans were all business throughout the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, winning their second straight and fourth overall, giving the business of women’s sport another huge moment. Never before has the issue of gender pay equity in sport been more talked about than it was this past week.

Tennis has served as the gold standard — with equal prize money at the Grand Slams — and the success of the Americans this summer will advance the cause further. Yet true gender equity will only be achievable when women’s sports generates as much revenue as men’s sports.

Bears of the Week 

There is no professional sport franchise as deflated this summer as the New York Knicks.

Instead of basking in the glow of drafting Zion Williamson and the free-agent acquisition of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Knicks failed to get any of the three. Hence, they’re having a bad case of basketball envy toward the Brooklyn Nets, who signed Durant and Irving to max contracts last week.

At a Forbes Magazine valuation of US$4B, they’re the richest franchise in the NBA. Yet the Knicks and owner James Dolan (Madison Square Garden Company) are a laughing stock in every other category of performance.

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