Fans of tennis want to be able to watch it. This is an objective fact.
Whether it is on their televisions, computers, tablets, or phones, it doesn’t matter: people just want to watch the sport that they love. As proven by the continued existence of Tennis TV, they will also pay to watch tennis — if it means they are able to obtain increased access to matches.
To be sure, this isn’t just at the Grand Slam level. You’ll find no shortage of fans — from countries around the world — willing to write out a check to watch lower tier events on both the WTA and ATP Tours.
Possibly most revealing is the ATP’s partnership with IMG to use Livestream to broadcast multiple courts at Challenger events around the world each week. Such a connection wouldn’t have been struck had the ATP didn’t feel people would actually sit down and watch the matches. And they do.
Here’s another fact: people who watch tennis want it to be easy. But the unfortunate reality is that watching tennis has become nothing short of an agonizing chore.
Let me give you my experience.
During the French Open, matches here have been split stateside, between ESPN2 and Tennis Channel. From 5 a.m-10 a.m. ET., ESPN2 has the rights to broadcast Roland Garros. From 10 a.m. ET and on, Tennis Channel takes over. During that first five hour time frame, ESPN3 — ESPN’s “online streaming service” — will show matches from Philippe Chatrier, Suzanne Lenglen, Court 1, Court 2 and Court 7. ESPN3 is technically free, but you have to have a cable subscription that is within ESPN3’s coverage realm.
But after 10 a.m. ET, not only does ESPN2 stop showing matches, but ESPN3 halts its coverage of all but one court.
If you don’t have Tennis Channel, you’re not of luck. Tennis Channel can be accessed online, granted you have one of the TV providers that allows you to access it. All those with Comcast are left out in the cold.
You can always go online and get Tennis Channel Plus, Tennis Channel’s equivalent of ESPN3. At a rate of $11.99/month or $79.99/year, Tennis Channel Plus provides its subscribers with a select amount of courts at various tournaments, including the French Open.
If I want to watch matches on my television, I am essentially stuck with the so-called “marquee” matches of the day — aka the matches that contain all the big name players. Regardless of how one-sided a Novak Djokovic match is, ESPN2 and Tennis Channel will stick with it to the very end, occasionally showing other matches at important stages.
You could sit there from 5 a.m.-3 p.m. and realistically only see four to five matches in length. It’s absurd and annoying.
To make matters worse, the online streams — particularly ESPN3’s — are well behind the actual live match. If you want to check the live scores or Twitter, do so at your own risk, because you’re bound to find a spoiler. Just this morning, I was watching the end of Kuznetsova-Schiavone epic. I went to check other scores and found that Schiavone had broken to win.
My stream was an entire game behind.
This is hardly a French Open-specific issue; delays and lags are things that has been going on for years. You’d imagine the Worldwide Leader in Sports could do something to rectify this problem, one that will only become more problematic as social media continues to eclipse “live” video in information dissemination.
My hope is that the intermittent, non-inclusive, and limited coverage of tennis improves in the future. It’s doing nothing for the game, and it spreads the unfortunate message that the almighty dollar takes precedence over all else. Unless something changes, we will continue to be frustrated by the coverage of the game, the complaining will not stop and, worst of all, potential new fans will be harder and harder to come by.
The ball is in your court, networks.