ESPN Execs Explain Network's Australian Open Coverage [Archive] - MensTennisForums.com

ESPN Execs Explain Network's Australian Open Coverage

MisterQ
01-23-2004, 11:06 PM
This is really interesting ---- I wonder if it is brought about in response to some of our complaints!

from TennisWeek: (I have also copied the links to the interviews down at the bottom!)

Tuning In To Tennis: ESPN Execs Explain Network's Australian Open Coverage

Photo By Cynthia Lum By Richard Pagliaro
01/25/2004
At the Australian Open, where a retractable roof can completely shroud the sky, American viewers can always see the stars shine with a television rather than telescope providing the perfect view.



Tennis fans tuning into ESPN's nearly 80 hours of Australian Open coverage may see a sight that resembles planetarium-produced programming — the stars are always out no matter when you tune in. Though the men's and women's draws began with a combined collection of 256 players, the number of players appearing in prime-time American television are about as large as the cast of a television sitcom.



Part of ESPN's programming decisions take into account the alarming time difference between Australia and the United Sates: Melbourne is 16 hours ahead of the East Coast and 19 hours ahead of the West Coast. ESPN execs assert that repeating the matches of some players, such as top-ranked Andy Roddick, in both their live evening coverage and tape-delayed afternoon coverage is due to the network's dual obligation to provide West Coast prime-time viewers the most popular players as well as giving those on the East Coast who can't live every weekday night as if it were New Year's Eve the chance to see the players they missed in the mid-afternoon tape-delay telecast. As a result, the Oz Open may appear to offer a less varied view than ESPN's coverage of Roland Garros or Wimbledon, but part of that may be due to the fact that the window of air time for the season's first Slam is slightly smaller than the subsequent Slams, while the competition from other traditionally popular American events — the NFL playoffs, NBA season and the conclusion of the college football season and start of college basketball season — provides a tougher test to capture the interest of potential viewers.

In addition, a depleted women's draw saw such prominent players such as defending champion Serena Williams, two-time champion Jennifer Capriati, former winners Monica Seles and Mary Pierce all withdraw from the tournament before a single shot was struck leaving ESPN without the presence of some of the game's most popular players in a women's field that already lacks the depth of the men's side. For those reasons, ESPN insists part of its programming plans are based on its desire to establish the story lines fans will follow throughout this Melbourne fortnight as well as the rest of the year.

Tennis fans who attend matches are accustomed to taking a seat and watching a drama unfold where points are the plot line propelling the story to the inevitable climax that culminates with match point. One match can be an exciting episode enjoyed in its entirety. ESPN seems to approach its coverage of a match as a single show in a two-week mini-series with unseeded players sometimes relegated to the roles of character actors in the ongoing saga of the stars.

In those instances, the coverage can seem like a made-for-tennis television version of "Waiting for Godot" with Roddick playing the lead role and the network essentially directing its show while "waiting for Roddick" to take the stage. The star power of Agassi, Roddick and the Williams sisters is undeniable, but hard-core tennis fans who can tire of the feeling they are force-fed the same match menu at the expense of sampling the appealing variety inherent in a 128-player Grand Slam draw.

In that sense it seems as if ESPN is basically operating under the assumption that it can count on its core audience — those die-hard fans who will stay up past midnight to watch tennis even if the match they're watching is about as competitive as Steffi Graf's obliteration of Natasha Zvereva in the 1988 Roland Garros final — to tune in regardless of the matches it televises. Critics take the network to task for emphasizing the same cast of Americans in an attempt to cater to the casual tennis fan or the general sports fan, who is aware of Andre, Andy, Venus and Serena on a first-name basis, but may wonder if Smashnova-Pistolesi is a new brand of jackhammer or Vodka.

Some fans of foreign players feel their favorites are too often overshadowed in the ESPN star system. But can you really blame the network that has invested millions of dollars in securing rights fees to three of the four Slams — the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon — and plans to telecast 525 hours of tennis coverage this year, including the U.S. Davis Cup ties, Indian Wells, the Nasdaq-100 Open, the Tennis Masters Cup and WTA Tour Championships, for trying to grow the game's television audience?

On the other hand, repetitive telecasts of the same, name players may be good for ratings, but are they good for the growth of the game? And does ESPN really care about tennis' future anyway or is it merely trying to maximize its investment in a niche sport that sometimes seems to struggle to match the viewership of late-night infomercials?

Among ESPN's staff of about 85 people working in Melbourne include its primary announcing team — Cliff Drysdale, Mary Joe Fernandez, Patrick McEnroe, Pam Shriver, MaliVai Washington and Mary Carillo— who have all competed in Grand Slams during the course of their playing careers. That experienced crew is complemented by studio host Chris Fowler, play-by-play announcer Tim Ryan and Brad Gilbert, who will appear as an ESPN analyst when it doesn't conflict with his primary job of coaching Andy Roddick.

The network has invested both time and money to transform the way tennis is televised with its Emmy Award-winning ShotSpot technology that not only provides clear views of close calls, but is also used to help measure stroke speed.

The network's numbers — ratings — can serve as both evidence that the American stars draw viewers and support ESPN's assertion that its American player-based programming is simply a product of the network giving people precisely what they tune in to see. And the fact is many Americans undoubtedly do tune it to follow the familiar faces creating compelling story lines: Roddick's run to a potential second straight Grand Slam championship, the ageless Agassi asserting his authority over players a decade or more younger as he stretches his victory streak in Melbourne to 24 matches in seeking his fifth career Australian crown, the long-awaited return to tournament tennis of designing diva Venus Williams as she strives to sew up her first major title since the 2001 U.S. Open championship.

In the bottom-line business of television, numbers play a primary part in programming, and the ratings rise when American stars — particularly Agassi, Roddick and the Williams sisters — play. The ratings from the 2003 Roland Garros and U.S. Open women's finals, which aired on other networks, support the statement that American players produce higher ratings in this country. The all-Belgian final between Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters in both the 2003 Roland Garros and U.S. Open finals drew a significantly lower rating than the 2002 finals featuring the Williams sisters. Jennifer Capriati's consecutive conquests of Martina Hingis in the Australian Open finals in 2001 and 2002 were among the highest-rated women's tennis matches in ESPN history.

History helps shape the future of how tennis is televised in the United States.

During the tennis boon of the 1970s, a cast of compelling characters consistently contending for Grand Slam championships — Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors on the men's side and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova in the women's game — gave tennis a constellation of charismatic competitors whose star power drew fans to the game like the sun draws fans of tans.

Ratings have declined in recent years and ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe attributes this to a number of factors including the undeniable passion that made those past champions so appealing and identifiable to fans as well as the apathetic approach some young players have that makes the simple act of running after a crosscourt shot seem as daunting as swimming the English Channel.

"We could basically predict my brother, Connors and Borg would be in the semis of majors so people knew them just because of that," McEnroe said told Tennis Week.com in a past interview. "Obviously, they had unbelievable personalities and they cared about winning more than anything else. A lot of the young players I see today don't put their asses on the line every time they go out there and that disturbs me. Not just in tennis, but in every sport. In tennis, you have to earn it every week, so it shouldn't be much of a problem. I think the word is passion. These guys had a passion for the sport, for winning and for competing."

Passion has not been confined to the court.

Some viewers posting on Internet bulletin boards, including Tennis Week.com's message board, have slammed ESPN for its programming decisions and occasionally opting to forsake a live match between lesser players for a taped telecast of a higher seeds. Whether you view ESPN's coverage as redundant or revealing may well depend on where your rooting interest lies, but there's no question that in trying to track the progress of every popular player in an effort to fulfill every fan's desires, the network faces a task as arduous as an astronomer identifying every single start in the sky.

Tennis Week touched on the programming issues and production values present in ESPN's coverage of the Australian Open in an interview with two leading members of ESPN's tennis team: Dennis Deninger, ESPN Coordinating Producer, Remote Production and Len DeLuca, the network's senior vice president of programming strategy.

Both men rose early in the Australian morning to participate in this interview conducted in a conference call. In the first half of the interview, DeLuca details the factors that play a part in ESPN's programming decisions at the Australian Open. To read it, please click DeLuca Interview.

In the second half of the interview, Deninger discusses some of the production aspects present in ESPN's coverage from Melbourne. To read it, please click Deninger Interview.

For a complete listing of ESPN's Australian Open schedule, please visit the ESPN Australian Open web site page.

DeLuca Interview (http://www.sportsmediainc.com/tennisweek/index.cfm?func=showarticle&newsid=10316)

Deninger Interview (http://www.sportsmediainc.com/tennisweek/index.cfm?func=showarticle&newsid=10317)

Deboogle!.
01-23-2004, 11:10 PM
WOW thank you Q for posting (though I'm sure I would've found it myself soon ;) ) anyway.... at least they're explaining themselves. It's pretty much what I thought/said all along but yeah... too bad our complaints don't hold much weight.

Leo
01-24-2004, 12:22 AM
Crap excuses.

Come on, now. No casual sports fan will staying up past midnight to watch tennis. Most of the viewers who tune it that late to watch are the die-hard tennis fans and we should be rewarded with a variety of matches featuring players of all styles, nationalities, and personalities, and, most importantly, matches featuring good, competitive tennis.

Tryphon
01-24-2004, 12:34 AM
and first of all live matches. Taped matches are a joke in the internet era.

star
01-24-2004, 12:47 AM
Thanks Q!!

:)

jmp
01-24-2004, 12:56 AM
Thanks for posting this article, MisterQ. It's interesting that TennisWeek thought enough of the subject matter to do such an in depth report AND include ESPN exec interviews. The author didn't really offer an opinion one way or the other. I don't know if that's objective reporting or cowardice.

While I appreciate that ESPNs AO programming decisions were addressed, their explanations really don't pass muster. The casual fan is NOT watching early round action at midnight or in the middle of their busy work/family hours in the afternoon. Puhleeeeze! :rolleyes: As much as I absolutely LOVE watching professional tennis, I wouldn't be watching the late night coverage without the aid of a VCR.

I usually write the networks about programming. I've written as many good emails as bad. But, I didn't even bother for this tournament because I realized during the first daytime slot that they had locked in their schedule to feature Andy and Andre period. The night coverage has featured a lot more variety. So, if this is the only way I can get the AO, I'll take it.

Scotso
01-24-2004, 01:04 AM
I agree, Leo. I wonder what they'll show tonight/tomorrow :mad:

They better show Lleyton and Ferrero.

Deboogle!.
01-24-2004, 01:28 AM
They're showing Lleyton tomorrow afternoon, they said that today. I wouldn't count on seeing Ferrero.

Chloe le Bopper
01-24-2004, 01:32 AM
I'm not sure that ESPN has heard of Ferrero yet. ;)

Deboogle!.
01-24-2004, 01:35 AM
I'm not sure either.... we haven't seen one point of any of his matches, I don't believe.

Tennis Fool
01-24-2004, 01:59 AM
I'm not sure that ESPN has heard of Ferrero yet. ;)

No. His name is Ferrari.

Leo
01-24-2004, 01:59 AM
I'm not sure either.... we haven't seen one point of any of his matches, I don't believe.

Actually 6 or so if you count highlights. ;) I also saw him get his back stretched and his elbow rubbed, which is almost as good as watching him play actual tennis. Almost.

Tennis Fool
01-24-2004, 02:03 AM
Tennis is an international sport with big international stars. ESPN needs to get with the program, not the other way around.

liS@
01-24-2004, 02:09 AM
mwahaha I agree, Ferrero, or is it Ferrari?! :p getting a rub down made up for some of his absence. but on the 3rd day of coverag, ESPN did show 2 pts from his 1st Rd. match during T-Jo vs. Flip's match. Sorry if you missed it, b/c Ferrero hit a winner off Montane's overhead!!

oh yes, your sig, Leo ;)--I heard today the Tennis Channel has announced they will broadcast AUS's and ESP's 1st Rd. DC ties live!! *jealous*

oh and the DeLuca interview is pretty interesting. The reporter brings up good pts to debate, like why broadcast Henin in a spanking over Guga struggling in a 5-setter. But I'm not so sure about DeLuca's answers...

Leo
01-24-2004, 02:28 AM
mwahaha I agree, Ferrero, or is it Ferrari?! :p getting a rub down made up for some of his absence. but on the 3rd day of coverag, ESPN did show 2 pts from his 1st Rd. match during T-Jo vs. Flip's match. Sorry if you missed it, b/c Ferrero hit a winner off Montane's overhead!!

oh yes, your sig, Leo ;)--I heard today the Tennis Channel has announced they will broadcast AUS's and ESP's 1st Rd. DC ties live!! *jealous*

Oh yeah, that was a funny point against Montanes. Ferrero kept retrieving the overheads before finally crushing the backhand up the line, right in the corner.

Awww, wow! The TC really rocks, but of course a total of 5 people in the US actually get it.

Lee
01-24-2004, 06:05 AM
I read DeLuca's interview and my understanding is:

ESPN viewers are so dumb, they won't be able to figure which players are good or bad? What matches worth watching? Their research department will determine which players worth watching and no matter they just rolled over other players and provide a totally boring match, we, as viewers are going to stick with what garbage ESPN feed us.

J. Corwin
01-24-2004, 10:02 AM
thanks for the interesting article

Conchon
01-24-2004, 02:07 PM
:bs: Espn sucks.

tangerine_dream
01-24-2004, 06:09 PM
Some fans of foreign players feel their favorites are too often overshadowed in the ESPN star system. But can you really blame the network that has invested millions of dollars in securing rights fees to three of the four Slams — the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon — and plans to telecast 525 hours of tennis coverage this year, including the U.S. Davis Cup ties, Indian Wells, the Nasdaq-100 Open, the Tennis Masters Cup and WTA Tour Championships, for trying to grow the game's television audience?

This is a no-brainer. They can grow the game's audience if they quit putting all their eggs (Agassi, Roddick, Venus, etc.) in one basket and start promoting/hyping other players like Hewitt, Federer, Ferrero, etc. who are good-looking, have fans worldwide, are great players, and will be around as long as the American players will be.

If Roger Federer got half as much free ink as Andy Roddick has been getting here in the US, he could easily be the next Patrick Rafter or Boris Becker, in terms of star power and getting big ratings from the "casual sports" fans here in the US.

Scotso
01-24-2004, 06:12 PM
I want the tennis channel :(

jmp
01-24-2004, 06:38 PM
Originally posted by Tennis Fool
No. His name is Ferrari.

:devil: :lol: :devil: :haha:

:wavey: Hi, Tennis Fool. You've still got it! :worship:

Originally posted by tangerine_dream
This is a no-brainer. They can grow the game's audience if they quit putting all their eggs (Agassi, Roddick, Venus, etc.) in one basket and start promoting/hyping other players like Hewitt, Federer, Ferrero, etc. who are good-looking, have fans worldwide, are great players, and will be around as long as the American players will be.

If Roger Federer got half as much free ink as Andy Roddick has been getting here in the US, he could easily be the next Patrick Rafter or Boris Becker, in terms of star power and getting big ratings from the "casual sports" fans here in the US.

I think you are 100% correct, tangerine_dream. There's got to be some serious U.S. financial reason why ESPN won't employ this strategy. :mad:


I finally got TTC in my area in mid Nov '03. But, I'm NOT going to pay the HDTV cable rate to see it. Why in the world would they offer it to such a limited audience?!? The average American has just so many entertainment dollars and I'm the only tennis fan among my huge extended family and circle of acquaintances. I'm not impressed with TTCs debut.

Deboogle!.
01-24-2004, 06:40 PM
jmp, for a new channel, TTC is actually doing quite well.

Vass
01-24-2004, 06:43 PM
In europe the matches come at night too, but eurosport showed variety of them.

jmp
01-24-2004, 07:34 PM
bunk, I understand that TTCs programming has been good. I would like to see it!! My point goes more to affordable availability.

Tricky_Forehand
01-24-2004, 08:01 PM
I guess I read this at a good time :mad: . The interview with Deluca had so much bullshit in it I was suprised that I got through it. I got pretty much the same thing out of it that another poster mentioned. According to this guy, we (American tennis fans) must be a bunch of idiots. What's really sad is that more often than not I've been cheering points on a scoreboard rather than caring about what's being shown. What I find funny, in a way, is that just because someone's TV may be on a channel doesn't necessarily mean that they are watching it. I have my TV on ESPN/2 during coverage but most of my attention is on the Internet scoreboard.

What really got me this morning is that we were told by ESPN that we would see Rafael vs. Lleyton. But what did we see?? Venus AGAIN. It added insult because last night with 15 minutes left and after promising to show some of Flip they showed the tiebreak AGAIN, only an hour after they showed it the first time. Yesterday's match may have been the biggest upset but it sure as hell wasn't the best match.

That title belongs to Andrei vs. Jiri, Guillermo vs. Tim, & Rafael vs. Lleyton (even though it was a straight setter).

:fiery: :banghead: :fiery: :banghead:

Shy
01-24-2004, 08:03 PM
Tennis is an international sport with big international stars. ESPN needs to get with the program, not the other way around.
I don't think that Espn know what the word international mean.I don''t get if if a player ain't american , they don't have star power. I don't think that American audience are that shallow and dump. It must suck for espn when it is RG open.They better show the Hewitt anf Federer match.

federerfan7465
01-24-2004, 08:16 PM
Exclusivr Pictures of these ESPN execs from the interview:
Deluca:

federerfan7465
01-24-2004, 08:17 PM
Deninger:

Deboogle!.
01-24-2004, 08:24 PM
bunk, I understand that TTCs programming has been good. I would like to see it!! My point goes more to affordable availability.

I know what you meant. I meant that the channel is actually spreading and being picked up quite well and quite quickly for a new channel of its type. We're impatient so we're like why doesn't anyone have it, I want it now, but the reality of new independent tv stations is that TTC in comparison is actually doing well.

Leo
01-24-2004, 08:26 PM
fedfan, that is soooooooooo wrong! :unsure: :scared: :lol:

qliz2000
01-24-2004, 10:09 PM
Pathetic excuses. My bad - explanation

undomiele
02-13-2004, 02:56 AM
wow I just read the deluca interview. Made me want to vomit several times. Its definitely worth a read if you want to know how these programming butt monkeys think. At LEAST they respond to pressure, we should email them a generic email everyday and make em pay.

Action Jackson
02-13-2004, 06:27 AM
My deepest sympathies to the people who have to put up with the imbelic, narrow-minded and poor TV coverage that ESPN offer, the AO sounded like the Agassi/Roddick show with a few other bit players in there just for the sake of it.

Angle Queen
02-17-2005, 04:21 PM
Here's a little more follow up...also from Tennis Week

exerpt from
The Deuce is Wild
ESPN2's coverage of the Australian Open surprises and delights
by Lawrence Jeziak

published 15FEB05 Tennis Week

...

The 180 degree turn from programming strategies at previous Grand Slam tournaments (where matches were consistently taped and repeated as many as three times, even while live action was in progress) made this TV tennis junkie question his sense. Did the coverage just seem better? Was this coverage just more fun because of a new projection television?

It was, after all, only six weeks earlier that Len DeLuca, ESPN’s senior vice-president of programming strategy, emphatically told this critic that the network’s presentations of tennis (including tape-delaying the United States versus Spain Davis Cup Final from Seville) are good for tennis and good for viewers. ESPN’s TV tennis strategies would not change, he said.

But, thank heavens, they did.

What happened? Did ESPN’s executive office undergo a Dickensian epiphany? Had ESPN’s complaint line grown so overheated that previous TV tennis strategies were declared obsolete? How else can one explain a near 50 percent increase in broadcast hours over ESPN’s announced schedule – from 71 hours to more than 100? Was it the absence of professional hockey due to the NHL lockout?

According to ESPN, nothing happened. In a conference call during the second week of the tournament, DeLuca said, “It’s not a change at all in the philosophy of coverage. It’s more the ability to be totally on ESPN2, where we do not have SportsCenter issues at 11 o’clock, 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock. That allows us to expand our coverage and, therefore, allows our production guys to go live from match to match. And, knock on wood, the weather and venue has been perfect and everything has been going as we planned it.” When asked if the network was considering a live presentation of the men’s final, DeLuca said, “We look at each match as we go forward, making decisions as prudently as possible.”

Months earlier, ESPN had announced it would not show the men’s final live because it had been moved from Sunday afternoon to Sunday evening in Melbourne (translating to 3:30 Sunday morning on the East Coast of the United States). Yet ESPN reconsidered, first presenting Lleyton Hewitt’s semifinal with Andy Roddick (also an evening match in Australia) and then the men’s final live. Replays followed in the afternoon.

When this critic and other suggested this very approach in 2004, ESPN rejected the idea. According to the network, the audience for a live broadcast at that hour would be “miniscule.” Perhaps by the final weekend of the 2005 Australian Open, when it discovered a 25 percent increase over 2004 Australian Open ratings, ESPN’s decision-makers chose to reassess their “miniscule” audience. [sic]

But even with the excitement of Uncel Ebenezer’s metamorphosis, this TV tennis junkie is apprehensive. Will live tennis continue with the Roland Garros and Wimbledon coverage? Will ESPN, as the Slam Network, remain Grand? Or will it return to the dark days of Grand Slams past and tell us once again that nothing has changed? Will Uncle Ebenezer go back to his old “humbug” self? Or will it still be Christmas in July?DeLuca is still wearing his hat of corporate deniability. But I'm glad they changed their mind and showed the final live.

Leena
02-17-2005, 05:45 PM
This DeLuca is seriously incompetent...

1) AO coverage has always been on ESPN2, except for the finals. ESPN2 has never shown 50 unnecessary repeats of Sportscenter. This is not a revelation we just learned in mid-January 2005.

2) "Everything has been going as we planned it." Lies. During the 1st week, practically every Andy/Andre/Venus/Serena match was heavily delayed due to earlier 5-set marathons. I highly doubt ESPN wanted to give us 3 sets of Fat Dave/Ferrer before Venus could pummel another poor girl in the 1st round. There's the biggest reason for the big increase in hours of coverage.

Will live tennis continue with the Roland Garros and Wimbledon coverage?

No. There's much less chance of it because ESPN starts their coverage when it's mid-afternoon in Europe. Plus, no night matches. It will be much tape-delayed Andy/Andre/Serena/Venus/Maria.