International Tennis Hall of Fame Ramps Up Fan Voting Engagement

    • Through a new partnership with BNP Paribas, the ITHF is implementing a voting referral program.
    • The US Open proved the importance of fans, ITHF CEO Todd Martin said.

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The International Tennis Hall of Fame is one of just two sports where fan voting can have a direct impact on inductees — the other being NASCAR. Now the organization is rolling out new initiatives to boost fan engagement. 

Headlining the changes is a social media challenge called “I VOTE, YOU VOTE,” which will encourage fans to use their own social media accounts to rally other fans to vote. 

Backed by a new partnership with presenting sponsor of fan voting BNP Paribas, voters will receive unique referral codes from the Hall of Fame. The 20 fans who reel in the most additional voters, which will be tracked based on that code usage, will get to participate in a Zoom chat with a “small group of Hall of Fame tennis legends.”

“[Fan voting] was started for a couple of reasons. One is that in the 21st century, the way that fans participate in our sport, in sports in general, it seemed appropriate to give the fan a voice. We were careful not to give them the only voice, but to give the fan an opinion and the opportunity to voice their opinion,” ITHF CEO Todd Martin said.”It’s also a way to distribute the history of our sport, and get the history of our sport out in front of a global fan base that is moved.”

The ITHF doesn’t reveal how many individuals cast votes, but in 2018  — the first year of fan voting, for the class of 2019 — voters from 130 countries cast ballots. In 2019, for the class of 2020, that number dropped to 120 countries. 

Since 1955, 257 inductees from 26 countries have been inducted.

To be elected to the Hall of Fame, candidates must receive a yes vote on 75% of ballots from the official voting group that consists of tennis journalists, historians, and Hall of Famers. The top three vote-getters from fan voting get bonus percentage points on their score: three additional points for the top fan vote-getting, and two and one additional points for the second- and third-place finishers, respectively.

Fans are only able to cast one ballot during the voting period, which runs Oct. 1-25, but can pick as many candidates as they want. The ballot will include five candidates, set to be announced Sept. 21. Results of the fan vote will be announced at the end of the voting period, with final inductees set to be made public early next year. 

Martin added that in watching the fan-less US Open, he was “struck by the lack of external energy.” Fans’ absence served to highlight just how integral they are to tennis, and sports at large. 

“So I look at it and I wonder if the fan hasn’t ‘won’ in all this, as far as proof of their importance,” Martin said. “And when you look at it that way, it emphasizes the notion that the digital connection, the social connectivity, is even more important than we at one point in time thought. And I think you see sports entities all over the place trying to figure out how to up the ante on that.”