Who doesn’t want to deliver material like this to a wider audience?
The NHL Lockout is a Potential Opportunity
Tennis even with a slightly shorter season produces a lot of material TV networks can use. Tournaments run from January 1 through the first week in November. Just this week 5 tournaments plus the Hopman Cup took place. This provides countless hours of possible material as networks can draw from matches, highlights and interviews.
Cable networks in the US and Canada have lost material to broadcast due to another lockout in the NHL. The NHL dispute may or may not be settled in time to save the remaining 2012-13 season. Regardless, tennis needs to package, market and sell its hours of potential programing. If the NHL cancels the season, this should be much easier and more imperative to do, but there is no reason that the feed from various WTA and ATP events can’t be omnipresent on cable TV outside of the Tennis Channel.
In fact, the Tennis Channel could produce and sell some of these programs to other networks. The popularity on US television of programs ranging from 0 as Pawn Stars to ESPN’s 30 for 30 series tells me that television viewers like to learn factoids about events such as rivalries as well as items. Tennis could provide a lot of fodder to ESPN as well as to a host of fledgling networks that focus on sports simply by cutting and editing matches and historic events in an engaging manner.
A Road Map
One problem that tennis has is that it as a sport has too many governing bodies. Are the WTA and ATP going to agree on giving access to journalists and editors in order to present personality driven looks at each tour? The ITF has made ESPN the Grand Slam network in the USA. The Australian Open and Wimbledon championship matches are no longer broadcast on network television! (something that in the case of Wimbledon I find to be criminal*) Is the ITF going to object to the ATP or WTA strike deals that might help networks other than ESPN? These questions do not help tennis market its vast potential for programming.
What is Needed:
- A Czar who can help hammer out agreements that get as much tennis on US television as possible by cutting across governing bodies
- An internet and production team that can engage players, tournaments and tennis history in a manner that is dynamic
- An increase in free live web feeds from small and large events across the globe
- A web presence that provides a great deal of interactive material for fans
These things can and should help tennis to penetrate into a larger part of the US television market. Given that television and computer consumed media are going to increasingly morph into one entity, tennis must be at the forefront of internet delivery options. Instructional materials and match highlights already abound on youtube and other sites. Adding high quality analyses of matches, rivalries and various events will only aid the growth of the sport.
The NHL strike is an opportunity, but the global nature of tennis dovetails nicely into the increasingly diverse US demographics. The limitless programming potential provided by the 11 month long tennis season also meshes well with the increasing availability of airtime/net time for sporting events. Tennis simply needs to get ahead of the curve on this one. There is no reason it cannot happen, but also I am not overly optimistic that it will happen.
* The odd start time in the US for the Australian Open final makes it more palatable to me that this is offered on cable only. The fact that the Disney people can’t put the Wimbledon championship matches on ABC instead of ESPN irks me to no end. I only hope that NBC and CBS keep their rights to the French and US Open championship rounds. Many homes in the US do not use cable TV and this number is only increasing due to internet options that sidestep cable and satellite television plans.