Over a half-billion viewers tuned in to watch table-tennis during the 2016 Rio Olympics. The typical medal contenders such as China and Japan had strong viewers but non-medal winning countries like the US, Brazil, and India also had over 20 million viewers. China had 372 million viewers during the Rio Olympics with Japan having 27.8 million viewers.
The US had 24.9 million viewers. Brazil had 23.1 million viewers likely assisted by Brazil’s Hugo Calderano’s run to the final 16 where he narrowly lost to eventual bronze medalist, Jun Mizutani of Japan. It was described as a draining, incredible atmosphere during Calderano’s matches. India also had strong viewerership at 22 million. Europe had a total of 67 million viewers.
The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) must get good money from the TV rights during the Olympics and from other events. I know that is one of the most watched sports worldwide during the Olympic Games. I don’t understand why more money is not being given to the players. One of the biggest World Tours, the German Open, went from $15,000 for first place to $11,000 first place after over a decade. This is tiny compared to other sports. Most of the players make their living through sponsors and league salaries playing for their club teams in Europe and Asia and the World Tours do not provide a good income for the players. I have heard some questionable reasons for why the plastic ball has been used and heard other stories of the ITTF. I know there were many complaints during the Rio Olympics that the official ball used was clearly inferior to other balls available in the market. I have also heard the ITTF never checks with the players when they make rule changes.
Spin makes table-tennis unique and I think the ITTF needs to find a way to measure spin instead of taking it away. The bigger ball that came into effect after the 2000 Olympics and the plastic ball take away spin. The average spectator watching table-tennis on TV probably doesn’t understand why a simple looking serve is missed into the net. However, if there was a way to measure that the ball had 4,000 rpms of right sidespin and backspin, it would make table-tennis more interesting. There can be around 8,000 rpms on a table-tennis ball during world-class play (more with the older balls) and if the ITTF had a way to measure backspin, topspin, right sidespin, left sidespin, corkscrewspin, and combinations there of, table-tennis would immediately become more interesting. Points like counterlooping, lobbing, and away from the table play are exciting for everyone but those points don’t happen every time. Now the ITTF has released TTX during the Rio Olympics which is a version of table-tennis that completely has no spin. Keep table-tennis unique!
I love watching basketball and watching my home team, Golden State Warriors, play. However, would a Stephen Curry 3-pointer be exciting in an empty gym where no one knew who he was, no one cared who he was, no one understood what a 3-pointer was, and there were no stats about his 3-pointers? When there is so much media build-up, everyone is talking about his 3-pointers, everyone understands the 3-pointer, and 20,000 fans are “ooohing and aaahing” as he releases the ball changes everything. In China, there is media build-up and since 100 million people play and understand table-tennis, a lot of people watch passionately. The top table-tennis players in China are as well-known as the top NBA players here so people tune in to watch. However, in China, likely due to Western influence, people are more into soccer and baskteball now due to English Premier league, NBA games, and other Western sports being shown more now on TV. In the US, most people don’t care much about or understand table-tennis and don’t really know who the top players are so don’t care as there is no media build-up. There also are hardly any statistics for table-tennis on TV.
The International Olympic Committee did a study and found table-tennis to be one of the hardest sports to be good in. No sport requires the combination of physical speed, fast hands and reflexes, extremely good hand-eye coordination, and control of nerves and the mental game, and such to the extent that table-tennis does. The ITTF needs to find a way to measure spin instead of taking it away as spin differentiates table-tennis from all other sports.