Sinclair Broadcast Group Owning the Tennis Channel Raises Issues

In January 2016, the Sinclair Broadcast Group bought Tennis Channel for $350 million.  Sinclair Broadcast Group is currently embroiled in a scandal in which anchors at its many television stations read strikingly similar statements lobbing salvos against more mainstream news sources in the US.  Sinclair did not publicize its role in crafting or promoting these statements.  This is not the first time Sinclair found itself being criticized for promoting a political point of view.  During the 2004 United States Presidential Election, Sinclair faced criticism and legal pressures regarding a documentary it aired on its stations in the weeks leading up to election day.

Regardless of one’s political leanings, and many of my readers are not from the US here at Tennis Abides, manufactured storylines raise specters of Orwellian control of information (and public opinion?).  I do not expect Jon Wertheim to suddenly become a political pundit midmatch (“Serve and volley tennis is nearly as dead as the Whig Party.”).*  At the same time, I think the Tennis Channel would be better off if its owners were not A. so political and B. engaging in information manipulation.

Tennis figures have not been apolitical.  Arthur Ashe, Billy Jean King, Bud Collins, Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe, Andy Murray, Margaret Court Smith, John Isner, … have made political statements at different times in their careers.  Still, it was always clear who was making those statements.  Finally, ESPN is owned by Disney and both can be said to have massive cultural influence.  It cannot be denied that a multinational such as Disney has many potential conflicts of interest, but as compared to Sinclair there does not appear to be a scripting of public opinion taking place.  A Pixar movie such as Wall-E makes a critique of pollution while the marketing of Disney Princesses reinforces norms I’d prefer my daughter and sons not adopt.  Disney is so big that the messages it sends are not terribly coordinated as far as I can tell.  Muddled messages don’t make Disney non-problematic.  However, the coordination and clandestine nature of Sinclair’s message are more troubling still.  If you ever hear me say, “I love Big Brother”, remember that love means nothing in tennis.

*I tried to think of the least inflammatory statement I could weave into a tennis comment.  The demise of the US Whig Party seemed soft enough, but if I offended fans of Millard Fillmore my pseudo-Wertheim comment was made solely for dramatic effect.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike Swanquis says:

    So I was thinking of Whig Party/tennis links (outside of Agassi jokes) and, as it would, my mind was drawn into the inevitable fond reminiscing of the glorious month-long* presidency of William Henry Harrison (whose record for longevity in office was regrettably not broken last January) when it dawned on me that he shared his family name with a current ATP pro. A follow-up Googling led to a single Reddit claim that Ryan is, in fact, the great great great grandson of WHH. Did we stumble upon something here??

    *still longer than the combined reigns of Moya, Rafter and Yzaga**

    **the last of whom never cracked the Top 50, admittedly

    1. Dan Martin says:

      Jaime Yzaga … memory lane

  2. Jane says:

    An interesting factor in this situation is someone like Marina Navratilova who (almost daily) tweets her negative views on Trump’s politics but yet she works for this company which promotes his views; he even changed FCC policy so Sinclair could expand their holdings. It seems hypocritical.

    Also important to mention is the vertical integration: Sinclair don’t only own Tennis Channel. They own their web presence (Tennis.com) and their print presence (Tennis magazine) too.

    What kinds of adds or values will be promoted on this media given the behind-the-scenes machinations that we now know about? Are all tennis fans okay with this? Personally I will not subscribe to nor closely follow any of these venues as a result.

    1. Dan Martin says:

      Great questions … I was not sure if Martina Navratilova still worked for Tennis Channel. I knew she had in the past. I watch most of my tennis via Eurosport.

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