Watching the absorbing documentary Once In a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of The New York Cosmos last night, I suddenly realized that ping pong is following the path of soccer in the USA and this is why table tennis will succeed in the USA. It was once a distant glimmer of hope but now there is the very real possibility that the US could become a table tennis nation. In the 70s, soccer was a non-existent sport in the United States, as American football, basketball and baseball dominated. Following the formation of the New York Cosmos in 1971 by Warner Communications President Steve Ross, not a lot was happening. Then, Ross began to sign international superstars like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer and the team rose to the fore giving New Yorkers something that took their attention away from their beloved New York Yankees and New York Giants. Celebrities didn’t care about Madison Square Garden. They wanted to be in the Cosmos locker room. The momentum continued for just long enough for the US to win the bid to host the World Cup Finals in 1994. The tipping point had been reached and people who would have never looked twice at a soccer match, were jumping around their living room and bars, cheering on goals scored by the world’s best players. After the World Cup, in 1996, a new league – Major League Soccer – was formed and continues to thrive. Today there are over 18 million kids registered with the American Youth Soccer Organization. The USA National Team as qualified for every World Cup since 1980 and is currently ranked 8th in the FIFA World Rankings.
So now, to table tennis (or ping pong as it is more commonly known). As with soccer, it was a sport invented in England and it has grown to become the second most played sport in the world. Yet, in the USA, this is not obvious. Apart from recreational halls and official clubs, this fact appears to be true in other areas of the world. But things are about to change. In Germany, there are over 700 table tennis tables in Berlin and thousands more in the rest of the country. In the UK, the Ping! initiative has meant that approximately 50 tables are in every major city meaning anyone can play on the outdoor tables. In China and Japan, there are many more. In Denmark, PingOut puts tables in public places to allow communities to come together. The rest of the world has proven that table tennis is starting to grow in popularity. It is now up to the USA to join this charge and make it the most played sport in the world.
In the US, Uberpong is trying to shake up table tennis by bringing more color and cool to the game. We want it to be more accessible to people who have either never played it or who haven’t played it for years. So many people play the game in basements, garages and at college but there need to be extensions of this so people can come together in a social setting. Last year, the International Chicago Table Tennis Festival attracted not only professional players from around the world but also 1.6million visitors from China. The event marked the 10th anniversary of Killerspin. Ace in Denver, Colorado is a cool table tennis inspired restaurant/bar that has recently opened that hopes to be the catalyst for a bigger scene in the area. Spin, the Susan Sarandon, celebrity-fueled table tennis social club has seen franchises pop up in New York, Milwaukee, Toronto and LA. Uberpong’s Red & Black Rebellion event is the first of its kind and aims to change the way people think about table tennis. We want to make it more appealing to people who like to have a beer, listen to good music and have a good time whilst playing.
I feel the tipping point is coming for table tennis. I think it is up to all of the companies mentioned above and ones we haven’t mentioned to take the sport to the tipping point so table tennis will become the most played sport in the USA and the world.