Saturday, January 2, 2016

THE REARVIEW MIRROR & THE WINDSHIELD

by Karen 





As I sit here looking back at my notes over the past year, (many of which makes absolutely no sense to me right now), to put down my thoughts on the year that was women’s tennis, I have abandoned that particular project half way and instead am reflecting somewhat on the challenges facing the sport as we head into 2016.  




One question that I keep pondering is: Are tennis players pricing themselves out of the market? Did their recent demands for pay increases and a slice of the pie have a negative impact on broadcasting rights for the sport to fans around the world? I ask this due to two recent events that have taken place that has been met with little or no fanfare by tennis media and indeed by tennis fans.  The first piece of news from earlier in the year concerned ESPN's decision deciding that it was no longer financially feasible to continue to broadcast the year’s second Major, the French Open.  Now, news has come that the BBC will no longer be broadcasting the Australian Open.  

While there are many who will poo poo this news because Tennis Channel in the US and Sky and Eurosport are picking up where both ESPN and the BBC have fallen off, I don't believe that this does bodes well for tennis and in particular women’s tennis.  While many will say that ESPN’s decision to no longer broadcast the French Open stems in part from a drop in earnings, so much so that they are making whole departments redundant, the fact remains that at the present, tennis is not drawing in the numbers in ratings nor in advertising dollars.  




ESPN, which for years has touted itself as the world leader in sports has been going through what can only be called a financial crisis. An article written in the middle of last year provided an analysis of the drop in subscribers and the decisions that ESPN has taken and will be taking to boost revenue.  While tennis is not specifically mentioned in the article, powerhouse sports like football and basketball are being mentioned and when those sports are causing ESPN issues, then what about tennis, a sport that does not garner the ratings that basketball and football generate?

Why are these things important and how will the decision by ESPN and the BBC to no longer broadcast the French and Australian Opens respectively impact women’s tennis? Women’s tennis and in particular Serena Williams drove traffic towards tennis this year with her quest to be the first player to win the Calendar Year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf did so in 1988.  While she was not successful in this endeavour, the fact that even mainstream media covered her attempt made everyone want to be a part of tennis for a few months. While no one knows what will happen in 2016, for a moment in time, women’s tennis ruled the roost.  With the continuing rise in prize money for players and as players clamouring for even more of the pie, tournaments are going to find it increasingly difficult to meet the demands of players. Media are going to be hesitant about paying big money in order to broadcast tournaments which fail to attract advertisers. Fans are going to have to be satisfied with barely getting any coverage on their tv.  In such a scenario it will be the women’s game that suffers.  

The narrative that drives tennis has always been that the men’s game is more popular than the women’s game.  Already the Australian Open has taken the view that court assignments and the cost of tickets will be based on the popularity of a particular player.  To that end, look for most of the women’s matches to be played on either outside courts away from the cameras or played at a time of day when most people are not interested in sitting in the hot sun to watch a match.  




I don’t know what the solution to this problem will be, but maybe the time has come for players to start playing a more integral role in their sport. The women's game has already started to do this by ensuring that their players are available to do media, and the various activities that the women take part in to ensure that the game is being promoted more and more.  While some of the younger generation are not as media savvy and/or media friendly as those who have gone before, they are, with the help of the WTA making an effort in promoting the sport.  However, is there more that can be done, not only by the WTA, but by the women themselves?  I don't really know the answer to this question, but one thing I have always been advocating is that the women need a tv deal of their own.  While the Perform deal has brought more women's tennis to online viewers, in terms of tennis on tv, the quantity and sometimes the quality is still too low. 


The Rear View Mirror

It has been a phenomenal year for the WTA. The marketing blitz that accompanied Serena Williams’ quest to achieve the Calendar Year Grand Slam.  While Serena was not successful, the stories that surrounded her quest put women’s tennis on the spotlight in a way that the WTA could not pay.  Below are some of the more seminal events that took place in 2015:

Stacey Allaster

After heading up the WTA since 2009, Stacey Allaster abruptly tendered her resignation from the WTA citing wanting to spend more time with her family.  Quicker than you could say what, her replacement was found and confirmed [insert name of replacement].  The first order of business of the new head of the WTA seems to be moving away from the Tour’s move into Asia and bringing the Tour back to Europe.  It remains to be seen how this pans out.

Breakout – WTA Rising Stars Rising

2015 saw the full thrust of the WTA’s Rising Star promotion.  Belinda Bencic, Anna Schmiedlova, Sloane Stephens (who has risen, fallen and is apparently rising again), Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova gave the WTA new life and hope.  Their play over the year made many people stand up and take notice.

The Stars

The stars of the WTA, led by Serena continued their leadership roles.  Maria Sharapova lost her crown in Stuttgart.  However, players such as Venus Williams, Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, the resurgent queen of Asia that is Jelena Jankovic really stepped up to the plate.


There were some stars who did disappearing acts over the 2015 season, namely Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic who either seemed to be burnt out or played with injury.  One hopes that these two women will put their health before anything else. 

From Whom Much is Expected

Simona Halep is someone from whom much is expected.  For whatever reason Simona does not seem to have the same mind set as the rest of us.  While she won her biggest title to date at Indian Wells, her play at the Majors has been nothing short of dismal.  One hopes that she not only finds the right coaching situation but that her mind becomes more focused.  The same can also be said of Angelique Kerber who seems to fall apart at the first sign as does her countrywoman Sabine Lisicki.

Bouchard and the USTA


No year end review could be given without talking about Eugenie Bouchard and her lawsuit against the USTA for negligence.  As that matter is still before the Court, we will refrain from discussing it at this time. Suffice it to say that both parties have come out with guns blazing and from where I am sitting this is definitely not a good look for the sport.

Scandals, Scandals and More Scandals

Donna Vekic was at the center of a firestorm between 2 ATP players (or is 3).  While many of us thought it was a storm in a teacup, feminist tennis media were up in arms over this.  Where I come from I have a different take but seeing as Ms. Vekic got her man I will make no further comment.  I wish her happiness, but as we say in my side of the world “the same knife that stick sheep stick goat”.



THE WINDSHIELD

While writing this, the tennis season has already begun.  Qualifying play is going on in Brisbane where the top seed is Simona Halep.  The draw is a very good one and I am hoping to see some great tennis as the season starts.  Auckland's qualifying draw has also begun and Venus Willliams is back to defend her title.  

Hopman Cup is also poised to start on Monday our time and Serena Williams is pairing up with Jack Sock for the USA. 

Sloane Stephens announced recently that she is no longer working with Nick Saviano. As of the time of writing no new coach has been announced. 

The Realz Tennis Fans podcast will be back on Sunday. Remember to send us any questions by tweeting us @realtennisfanz 


2 comments:

Tennis Mate said...

I too have been thinking about the challenges the sport continues to experience, so I appreciate your analysis.

I hope the players direct attention to the four organizations that lead the sport, for they are responsible for the sport's challenges. It would be unfortunate if tennis players lost the gains they have made in prize money. The sport is far too top or management heavy, but as is customary, I do agree with you that the WTA will likely be the ones to suffer in the end.

Check out my thoughts on this http://tinyurl.com/TennisChallenges

Diane said...

My stand is the same that it has always been: Until the WTA openly, directly and continually confronts the sexism of the sports media (and the ATP), the women's game will suffer. And, in the words of Vika Azarenka--Good luck with that.