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After a successful official debut in Denver in August, the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) is preparing to stage the second edition of a concept that seeks to reimagine the sport to emphasise its social roots.
Rome will be the setting for the ongoing evolution of Table Tennis X (TTX), as the ITTF brings the venture to the grand setting of the Colosseum on October 6. TTX was born in 2015 when the ITTF sought to tackle the challenge of engaging more with people who play table tennis as a socially competitive activity, rather than the sport’s professional athletes.
The sport’s world governing body estimates that 330 million people across the world play table tennis, highlighting the belief that it is one of the few sports that many people have experienced in one form or another.
By removing the technical barriers of elite table tennis and adding an accelerated time-bound format played with redesigned equipment, TTX seeks to level the playing field in terms of access and underline the sport’s lifestyle element.
Having been showcased at a promotional event during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the ITTF has since run test events across the globe in order to promote the brand and refine the concept.
Simplified, Social and Inclusive
The ITTF’s managing director of product innovation, Gordon Kaye, tells us: “Although the seeds of TTX were planted almost three years ago, we are still very much in the learning and development stage of the product.
“In its origins, the concept has always been to provide a platform to create a connection between the hundreds of millions of people around the world that love playing ping pong with the sport of table tennis, and the ITTF, as we know it. In doing so, one important factor we noticed is the positive social aspect of the sport – that no matter who you are, where you are, or who you are with, ping pong in its essence is an incredibly social sport.
“Thus, TTX was born from the core principle that our sport is socially competitive – meaning that while the idea of competition is essential, the social aspect of the experience is equally, and sometimes more important, to millions of people not involved in our core elite competitive products. Add the fact that table tennis can be enjoyed by anyone, anytime, and anywhere, you then have the essence of TTX – Simplified, Social and Inclusive.
“Using those three core principles as a foundation for the development of TTX, the rest is just a matter of building an experience that incorporates the many positive aspects of the sport in a social and fun environment. And that is where we are today – in the early stages of building a platform, called TTX, to create a global community of people who love the game, for whatever reason, through a fun, social, and entertaining experience.
“I think it is still too early to say what has worked or not worked – but what we do know is that ‘everyone loves ping pong’ – and building an engaged community around the ideals that the sport can be an inclusive, competitive and social experience is what TTX is all about.”
More than 4,200 people turned out for the ‘Smash Street by TTX’ event in Denver. Players and guests were able to enjoy live music and interactive activations on different variations of TTX tables. A total of 75 tables were available to play on, with a variety of food trucks and custom-built bars designed to promote the festival experience.
Elsewhere, local artists spray-painted tables and platforms, TTX merchandise was available to purchase and the proceedings were overseen by a live DJ and local comedian acting as the event’s master of ceremonies. An officially organised tournament also gave a competitive element to proceedings, but Kaye explains that ‘Roma Ping Pong Fest, a TTX Experience’ will have an identity of its own.
“While the Denver event was really focused on a specific demographic – young professionals – we see the Rome event as being driven by a wider engagement platform,” he says. “The Denver event had a more ‘street’ feel, with the experience incorporating elements targeted at a specific audience.
“On the other hand, set against the iconic backdrop of the Colosseum, the Roma Ping Pong Fest is designed to be more of a showcase for the ‘TTX Experience’ to a broader audience. While TTX is front and centre, there will be separate kids, celebrity, and adult tournaments and all-day performances, more of a celebration if you would, whereas Denver was really more of a TTX party.
“Even the locations were specifically selected based on the look and feel of the two events. We wanted Denver to have a ‘grittiness’ to attract the urban young professional crowd, while Rome is really more based on the iconic and central location to attract a wider audience. With that being said, both events are heavily focused on the fun and social aspects of the sport, with a little competition to go along!”
Looking beyond Denver and Rome, Kaye is buoyant over the opportunities open to TTX moving forward, stressing that the concept can be adapted for events both big and small.
“With an open platform like TTX, the sky is the limit,” he says. “Certainly, our focus moving forward will be developing big festival-type events around the world, but the flexible and social nature of the game can be translated into virtually any environment provided we maintain a focus on the three core principles – Simplified, Social, and Inclusive.
“The Swedish Table Tennis Federation just hosted a wildly successful Swedish TTX Championships, drawing thousands of people, and the Arab Table Tennis Federation is doing some really interesting and engaging activations in the Middle East, so partnering with regional and national associations on championship-style events is absolutely an avenue for development.
“Our team in Africa has also been working hard on developing TTX on the continent, and we believe TTX is ready to take off there as well. With the massive rise of social ping pong, and socially competitive sports in general in the Americas, the market is ready for a series of events focused on an entertaining social experience around TTX.
“It’s exciting to be part of a transformational platform where the prospects of where TTX can go are literally limitless.”
With the current trend of revitalising the make-up of major sporting events to include sports or sporting disciplines deemed to be more youth-orientated, what are the chances we could see TTX as part of mainstream ITTF championships, or even table tennis at the Olympic Games? Kaye, who is in no doubt, says: “110%, maybe even 120%.”