2014 ESPN & US Open TV Coverage

Hey Tennis Friends!

Up until this point, my tennis coverage has featured exclusive video highlights, photos, and interviews. Editorializing is not what I am known for, however, if my goal is to entice more fans into the sport of tennis, some of my television production background expertise may be of some value.

I have yet to find anybody who is thrilled with the coverage and/or commentators for this years’ US Open Championships, here in the United States. Of course, we all know that you cannot please all of the people all of the time, but maybe, just maybe, there is a way to please most of the people, most of the time.

Despite the fact that it may adversely affect my opportunities to ever do any work for them, my criticism is of ESPN Networks, or more specifically, the channels ESPN and ESPN2. Why ESPN’s channels? Because they are on the “basic” tier of nearly EVERY cable system, whereas Tennis Channel is not. In fact, Tennis Channel is usually an add on, for an additional charge, and here at GroundsPass.net, we strive for the least expensive way to enjoy this sport.

Yes, there is the online streaming side, ESPN3.com, but not everyone has the luxury of high speed internet and/or handy devices to connect to it. Besides, even when you are viewing a full-screen shot of the on court action, it is difficult to see the subtleties, and therefore less enjoyable to watch on a much smaller screen. You may as well just watch scores changing on a smartphone app.

Quad Split Screen Shot of ESPN3.com feed

Quad Split Screen Shot of ESPN3.com feed

Without getting into too many specifics of this past week’s coverage frustrations, I have come up with a formula for deciding what to cover during US Open television coverage on ESPN:

Criteria #1: Player popularity.
For some, it is clear that they are a popular player, for others, not so much. It is not necessarily based on their ranking. Sure Murray is #9, but instead of baseline tennis, wouldn’t you rather watch the athleticism and character of Tsonga(#10)? Monfils(#24)? Or, even Baghdatis(#86)?

Criteria #2: Nationality.
ESPN is predominantly a North American network. People in the Untied States want to see players from the United States. Featuring players from the United States inspires kids and adults from the United States to keep up with this sport. Are we getting this yet?
I commended ESPN for their decision to feature the entire second round match of upcoming junior CiCi Bellis. THAT was the correct decision. But when the evening broadcast began (continuous from day session) with talking people at the desk, instead of going straight to the Williams sister’s third set of doubles, I was left rubbing my smoothed-out head in disbelief. Maybe I’m mistaken, but for North America, isn’t that a more desirable match to see than the first set of Andy Murray v. Matthias Bachinger?

Criteria #3: Crowd size.
The crowd at Flushing Meadows is a national cross-section as well as an international one. Since the broadcast is driven by “eyes on the screen” for the advertisers (or, should be), there is an easy way to determine what your audience is looking for. The popularity sampling is right there in front of you sitting in the seats. If 300 people are in the stands for one match, and 3,000 are in the stands for another, that is a pretty good indication of where the majority of the television audience’s interest will be for your broadcast. There are regular camera set ups on more than a handful of courts. What better market research than LIVE, real-time, dynamic statistics?

Criteria #4: Drama.
Nothing beats great, live drama on television. Steve Johnson struggling to overcome his debilitating cramps, for me, was much better drama (though painful to watch) than whatever was happening on the other courts at that time. Compelling television, indeed, that was only available via streaming, and not on ESPN or ESPN2. A five second highlight clip down the road did not do justice to the courageous struggle that was coming from America’s fastest rising men’s player.

I am convinced that using this formula, in this order, will net a more engaged viewing audience, and please more people, more of the time. We need the media’s help in keeping tennis “local”, if you will. More people watching equals more people playing, and that helps to build the tennis community in this country.

Tell me what you think, and what you may change, in the comments.

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I’ll see you next time, with more tennis, . . . outside the lines!

– Marcus Tennis

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