If the powers-that-be are trying to raise the popularity of tennis in the U.S., they’re not getting a lot of help from the ATP.
Besides trying to export the Las Vegas Tennis Channel Open to South Africa, continuing the U.S. trend of losing U.S. pro events to Europe and Asia, the ATP’s brokering of the Indian Wells and Miami television coverage from ESPN to Fox Sports Net (FSN) has turned disastrous.
The Sony Ericsson Open in Miami is the largest tennis event in the U.S. outside of the US Open. On Thursday night, world No. 1 Roger Federer played American No. 1 Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals at Miami — and compared to regular television audiences for the event, next to no one in the U.S. saw it.
Fox Sports Net is a regional network, where the regions get to pick and choose what they show. I live in Florida, so you’d think I’d be able to see the Miami tournament, eh? FSN Florida instead chose to show a Florida Marlins baseball game. Understandable, unless you saw the pre-event schedule where FSN National said FSN Florida was going to show tennis on Thursday night.
And when the game got rained out (from the beginning of the telecast), instead of tennis, they showed a Marlins off-the-cuff post-game show. And when the hosts ran out of things to talk about around 10 minutes into it, they showed a repeat of “The Best Damn 50 Sports Bloopers” or some such taped show, instead of the available live tennis feed featuring the U.S.’s best player against the world No. 1.
Even before the IW-Miami deal, when tennis is scheduled on Florida’s regional Fox Sports channel, their favorite past-time is putting fishing re-runs on in place of live tennis. So, infuriating, but no real surprise.
Here is a reporter in Miami asking Svetlana Kuznetsova in a press conference if she had watched her next opponent, Serena Williams, play her match on TV at her hotel.
“I guess she played unbelievable, but I was in my hotel watching Next Top Model or whatever I was watching,” Kuznetsova said. “I was not watching any of tennis. It was not on TV. I wanted to watch.”
That match she couldn’t watch was Serena beating the world No. 1 Justine Henin. Not on TV.
This is why tennis thrives in Europe and in Asia, but will always take a back seat in America — due to the bungling of those in charge of promoting the sport.
But it is all good news for the ATP, which has a plan to drive fans to their Masters Series TV website, where you can watch live-streamed tennis — after paying for it. Which major sport out there has a strategy of growing their fan base by making them pay to watch from home?
Making some calls to other tennis fans and industry-types, I found they had watched the match on the internet via the Masters Series TV site. Sure, tennis IDIOT FANS like me, and maybe you, will pay $30 bucks or whatever to watch an interesting match-up on the internet, but do you believe this is a viable plan for growing the tennis base to include casual sports fans?
Yes, the YouTube video of Mikhail Youzhny smashing his face with his racquet until he’s bleeding is closing on one million hits — but that’s because it is FREE. And it’s stupid and entertaining. Paying to watch tennis on a scratchy medium-resolution internet feed on your computer screen is mostly only the former.
The ATP and the Miami event should have found a way to get Federer vs. Roddick on the Tennis Channel, or Versus, or ESPN Classic, or ESPN Ocho. Anywhere on a NATIONAL network. Fox Sports has no love for tennis, they were simply the lowest bidder. As I write this Thursday night, by Friday morning, when you’re reading this, it is big news.
It is big news because, in a rare showing, Roddick beat Federer in a thriller of a match. But in the end it was a loss for the U.S.
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