Monday, December 18, 2006

US Tennis Coverage Sucks

Starting today at 8pm EST, The Tennis Channel will air the 10 best matches of the year. These are, of course, from the matches that TTC had the rights to broadcast throughout the year. Not a whole hell of a lot to chose from, but it beats nothing, which is just about all that ESPN air had to offer in 2006.

12/18: WTA Dubai Duty Free Final - Sharapova vs. Henin-Hardenne
12/19: Davis Cup Quarterfinals - Blake vs. Gonzalez
12/20: TCO Singles Final - Hewitt vs. Blake
12/21: Master Series Monte Carlo Final - Federer vs. Nadal
12/22: WTA Rome Semifinal - V. William vs. Hingis
12/23: Master Series Rome Final - Federer vs. Nadal
12/24: US Open September 4th Match - Hewitt vs. Gasquet
12/25: US Open Mixed Doubles Final
12/26: Davis Cup Semifinals - Roddick vs. Tursunov
12/27: WTA Zurich Final - Sharapova vs. Hantuchova

But at least all of the above matches were first aired live. Which is a perfect segue into the topic of this post: Overall, tennis coverage in the United States sucks in a major way.

When ESPN did manage to air a tennis match, it was tape-delayed and we already knew the result. This was extremely annoying throughout the year, and especially during Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai. A few of the weekend matches were being played in my time zone at the wee hours of the morning, but ESPN choose to air fly fishing instead. Thanks to ATP Masters Series TV, I was able to see matches live. And ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports (perhaps it's about time they change their tagline!), didn't even bother airing the WTA Season Ending Championships.

For all the fan criticism that TTC channel receives (too many reruns, not enough WTA coverage, not enough tournament coverage period), it provides virtual non-stop tennis programming for the tennis addict. Its special features and original series are not to be missed. You get in-depth interviews of players past and present on Center Court with Chris Myers. Open Access takes a monthly look at everything that takes place during the most anticipated events in professional tennis. No Strings spends a day in the life of today's tennis stars, getting an inside look at their lifestyles and loves when they're not on the court. Match Makers shines the spotlight on the people who work behind the scenes to create the multifaceted, worldwide tennis industry we know today. And my favorite Tennis Insiders is a unique monthly series that features a spirited discussion between today's leading tennis pundits on current issues affecting the game.

And then there are the specials, the Net Films, and the instructional programming that gives players at any level all sorts of tips to improve their games.

TTC's biggest problem, however, is that it has struggled to develop much traction and it was rumored to be about to file for bankruptcy. But the USTA recently announced it will invest millions of dollars in the network. This is good news and will perhaps increase the amount of coverage in the States. Perhaps TTC will even air US Open matches not slated for coverage on USA network. As it is, TTC will broadcast Roland Garros in 2007.

But their biggest challenge is marketing the product to cable companies. I'm lucky enough to live in a market that includes TTC as part of a not-so-premium programming package. But I had to call my local provider almost every day for nearly a year to get it. Perhaps the USTA's backing will enable other providers to include the network in its cable lineup in the near future.

We can only hope.


Vladimir said...

Hey Craig, since TTC will broadcast RG, does that mean that ESPN won't show it? That would suck for those of us who don't have TTC.

Craig Hickman said...

Vladimir, I don't think ESPN will show it. Yes, that sucks for those without TTC. Perhaps RG will provide some Internet broadcasts like Wimbledon did.

If nothing else, you can always come here for live commentary of the featured matches.

Provided I'm not cooking breakfast for B&B guests.