ESPN+TTC: Tennis on TV Becomes More Like… Tennis

by Lynn Berenbaum | January 31st, 2007, 9:58 am

Televised tennis has become a little bit more like a real match of tennis with today’s announcement that ESPN and The Tennis Channel (TTC) are joining forces for coverage of Roland Garros and the Australian Open.

If you’re fortunate enough to get TTC, there are some real gems to this deal. For one, you’ll be treated to four hours of prime time coverage with (presumably) Murphy Jensen roaming the streets of Paris pissing off tourists and Parisians alike in something called “Paris After Dark”. Secondly, you’ll also get to see some matches that you would have whined about not getting to see on ESPN2. Given that TTC actually does know something about our sport, it’s a safe bet that the matches will be good ones. Thirdly, you’ll get to see one of the men’s semis. Obviously that last bit is somewhat of a downer if you don’t happen to get TTC, but nevermind that now.

Let’s take a look at some of the less than awe inspiring facets:

Reach: This is TTC’s achilles heel, and something we have to consider. They simply aren’t in a big share of American television households. Since their inception, fans have taken part in online petitions and made repeated phone calls to their cable providers to even get the network added to their line-up, often to no avail. Forget the fact that you have to pay extra for it. We American tennis fans are very happy to cough up a few extra bucks a month to see Davis Cup, right?

While there have been reports that they’re fanning out to get cable providers to carry the network, TTC hasn’t been as successful as they were when they inked a deal with EchoStar satellite network a few years ago, and have plateaued at roughly 10 million American homes. This is no small hurdle — it’s a moutain for them to climb. Fans in major markets like New York City, the largest media market in the US, can’t get TTC. That’s a problem. A big problem.

Advertisers: Right now they’ve got some solid support from the ‘make money at home’ people and some folks who want you to ‘sell your campground membership or timeshare for caaash’. As mentioned previously, one thing I noted during the Aussie Open was that ESPN2 wasn’t really drawing a ton of advertisers either. While carrying a Grand Slam tournament is a big thing, unless it’s the U.S. Open, it’s pretty tough to bank on custom-made Lexus spots in these here American States.

Part of the deal with ESPN includes a “marketing alliance”. It’s doubtful that this indicates that they’ll be sharing the kitty, but will presumably help to expand TTC’s brand out to potential new advertisers for the future.

New Media: I’m probably the most skeptical in this area. And not just because I can’t seem to find the press release on TTC’s website. Okay, I lied. That’s part of it. (Update: As I was writing this they posted it.) My skepticism is due to the barbie dreamhouse wish list they’ve proffered up. Maybe I’m still bitter that ESPN promised some great online highlights via ESPN360 for AO and never delivered on it. Maybe because I generally think ESPN360 is a waste of time anyway, since I am on one of the few ISP’s that get it and still don’t see what the great shakes are.

That aside, looking at TTC’s website is painful, but there are some interesting things to be seen there. A fun exercise for me has always been entering a zip code into the form where they ask if you want to “Get The Tennis Channel.” Try it. Why, it’s fun for your whole computer!

A recent interesting addition is that they seem to be having a contest to find a writer to cover Roland Garros for them. Uh-oh. That can’t be good. You would think that they would have people on staff to do things like…writing. Well, no, aparently not. So they’re getting some free help to do it in exchange for a trip to Paris. Um, okay. Maybe this is their attempt to have a roaming blogger at the helm? Sounds great, but it’s not really presented that way. Maybe they should hire a writer to help write their … well, you get it.

But hey, if you’re a blogger looking for a free trip to gay Paree in the spring, go for it dude. You might fly!

But I’m not here to totally rip on TTC’s website. Suffice to say that it needs some work, and I don’t foresee that happening in 3 short months to keep up with their new media promises. If TTC can get ESPN to “do their homework” (ie, produce all the web pieces) for them, that’s great. I find that hard to believe. Otherwise, I don’t see it getting done by TTC’s web staff, so I’m naturally skeptical of this piece.

Staff: Given the above, you might wonder how they’re going to pull off the coverage of Roland Garros at all. I figured that with the ten millie that USTA tossed at them, TTC would be hiring folks out the wazoo.

Looking at the “careers” page of their website tells a different story. They’ve had some postings for positions up since basically October, which speaks to the notion that they’re not really cracking to fill up slots. Then again, it’s not like they’re being run like the LTA (rimshot). But bear in mind that running a top-notch new media operation takes not only cash flow, but a tight staffing structure. Their website, as mentioned, is proof that they have one but not the other.

Coverage: Who knows how well TTC will do, but considering how well they do with the tournaments they cover with their own cameras, they do a fine job. But TTC has never covered a multi-court tourney like a Slam before. This is quite a departure from buying a pool cam feed and commentating from Santa Monica. It will be quite interesting to see how they deal with it. Either way, showing live matches from Paris and Melbourne will be a big morale boost for fans who would otherwise be glued to 3 inch video streams on their computers.

In sum, this basically sounds like a deal where the two networks will be hitting an invisible yellow ball of coverage back and forth over a virtual net, while tennis fans try and keep score. ESPN will cover the big names, and leave the real tennis to the fans to see on TTC. There’s nothing wrong with that… as long as you’re a fan who can actually get TTC.

For their part, TTC now has a big opportunity to really reach fans and show us that they’re worth our support and our money. The ball’s in their court. Let’s see if they can keep it in play.

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12 Comments for ESPN+TTC: Tennis on TV Becomes More Like… Tennis

Victor Johns Says:

One question I have is : Why can’t ESPN (don’t get TTC, so can’t speak for them) use more imaginative camera angles. They always use the same old camera angles which makes it really hard to get a feel for how much work and speed the balls actually have. I have to think that if the technology exists for shotspot and line call challenges, then the technology also exists for getting more varied camera angles and perspectives


Katya Says:

What does a person actually have to do to get TTC? I could care less about the shows, the website, etc, what i want to see is the tennis on the outer courts. I don’t need to see Federer annihilate player after player on center court at the majors. I am willing to pay extra for it, but what exactly is TTC doing to get more exposure, and more cable carriers? Can’t we start a movement to get Eurosport in America? Not all of us are fascinated by the NBA, NCAA, NFL.

Steven Rahn Says:

I will be thrilled to see any broadcast that is appropriate and fair to the athletes and fans. The best matches and best players should be show-cased….not just ANY American player vs. an unknown from Bulgaria or where-ever. And then there was the coverage of the Aussie Open. ESPN really pissed me off by constantly re-playing every American players match, even as other, higher ranked player’s matches, were in progress and ignored. I hope this merger/collaboration improves the situation.

kamret Says:

This strategic/marketing alliance between TTC and ESPN is a terrible thing. TTC should remain a separate entity showing additional hours of tennis, not share the number of hours of tennis coverage with ESPN. Besides, those who don’t get TTC (which is the majority of North American tennis fans) will get only half the number of hours of tennis coverage that they would have wanted during those Grand Slam tournaments. In the worst case scenario, most North Americans will get to see only one semifinal, which is unacceptable. And then, when you are good (like TTC is), why partner with a piece of crap like ESPN? In the long run, this will only lower their standard (to the detriment of tennis fans). Instead, TTC should try to partner with a real winner like Eurosport (which shows a lot of tennis and truly understands the game). Besides, that would give them a different style/flavor and get them known worldwide and perhaps eventually help them to globalize and become a global brand.

Andrew Says:

CORRECTION — TTC is available to most of New York City (via a sports tier on Time Warner Cable).

Curt Says:

I will naively hope for the best. I choose to believe that TTC will show us matches from outer courts. That we might see some doubles matches on occasion. That they will opt for live coverage in place of tape delayed blow outs. Oh, and that Monica Seles will come back. Is that so much to ask?

lynn berenbaum Says:

Yes, Curt. You are way out of line. ;^)

Andrew, sorry. I was going by info given to me by friends in NY. I’ll be sure to pass that along and see if they want to switch cable co’s. As I pointed out, using TTC’s website to find a suitable carrier is near impossible.

As I think more about this merger, and the infusion of USTA into the equation, it makes me a little nervous.

But again, the ball is in TTC’s court. We can only hope they do it right.

Lilas Pratt Says:

At least one of the satellite companies offers The Tennis Channel. So, if your cable company doesn’t offer it, that might be worth checking out.

John Says:

Katya says “Can’t we start a movement to get Eurosport in America?”

Great idea.

Kamret says “Instead, TTC should try to partner with a real winner like Eurosport (which shows a lot of tennis and truly understands the game).”

Katya’s idea is best. But this is good too.

Lynn says “For their part, TTC now has a big opportunity to really reach fans and show us that they’re worth our support and our money.”

The TC has been improving a little at a time. Right now they have some nice coverage of early January’s Watsons Water Challenge. Last night and this morning was Kim Clijsters vs Patti Schnyder. Prior to that was Elena Dementieva vs Nicole Vaidisova. Next is Maria Sharapova vs Kim Clijsters. Each match is shown 3 times (9pm ET, midnight, and 9am the following day.) This is nice for me. If I miss a time, I can always catch a different time.

rc Says:

the Rolland Garos will air
on both espn and eurosport?


look for tradingtennis
on google

John Says:

For what it’s worth:

The Toray Pan Pacific (in Tokyo) final is tonight on TTC at 11pm ET Live. Hingis vs Ivanovic. If you miss it live, there are a minimum of 5 repeats. The semi-finals would have been nice. Maybe next year. Sometimes progress is slow.

John Says:

On another note:

The commentator (Steven So) for the Watsons Water Challenge (on TTC) was excellent. Just the way I like it. Just the right amount of talking while the match was in progress. No talking during points. Just between points. Very nice.

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