World Cup of Tennis begins Monday – but can you watch?

We can only hope that once the tennis actually gets under way at the inaugural Piqué Cup, things will run like clockwork.

But for the moment, the situation on the broadcast and streaming sides is about as confusing and frustrating as it could be.

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We’ve spent the entire morning trying to decipher exactly how tennis fans can watch the Davis Cup finals.

And, more specifically, how they can watch ties that don’t involve their home country.

The press release announces that the Davis Cup finals will be broadcast on “41 television channels around the world reaching more than 171 countries”.

But … it’s complicated.

With 18 nations involved, there’s potentially a smorgasbord of tennis on tap this week. But if people can’t find it, or have access to it, is it really happening?

Ticket sales woeful in Madrid for Davis Cup finals

U.S. fans must look long and hard

The USTA only announced the broadcast details for the Piqué Cup on Friday afternoon even if the press release above, from Nov. 6, announced it would air on “Fox” in the U.S.

Most fans would have assumed it was on Tennis Channel, given its mandate to … broadcast tennis, its multi-stream capability, and its coverage of Davis Cup in the past.

Oh, and the fact that there really is no other top-level live tennis going on next week.

But that is not the case.

We’d love to give you a better idea of the Davis Cup Finals schedule on Fox Sports. But they’re not being helpful at the moment).

Instead, the ties involving the U.S. will be broadcast on … Fox Sports 2.

From a Kosmos spokesperson: 

“Tennis Channel indeed owned the rights for Davis Cup in the past, but expired last year. When Kosmos took over the rights starting 2019, we decided to change the broadcaster in the U.S. Tennis Channel was at some point interested, as others, but we decided to go with a mixed formula of Rakuten Sports OTT + Fox.”

We’re trying to remember the last time we watched tennis on Fox Sports (the second channel, not even the main Fox Sports channel). We came up empty. It’s hard to know how many tennis fans actually subscribe to it, if it’s not on the main grid. Or how many would try to add it to their packages for the week.

Americans, meet Rakuten Sports

Now, if you’re a tennis fan who wants to watch Novak Djokovic and Serbia, or Rafael Nadal and Spain, or Khachanov and Medvedev and the Russians, you have to turn to … Rakuten Sports.

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What is Rakuten Sports, you ask? Well, it’s a new streaming service that started up in June. At this point, it appears the only programming is episodes of something called “Iniesta TV” – a reality show about Spanish soccer star Andrés Iniesta, who plays for a team in Kobe, Japan.

Rakuten also happens to be a presenting sponsor for 2019 and 2020 of the new Piqué Cup, which then became the “Davis Cup by Rakuten”.

Notably, per Kosmos, the U.S. is the only country that will have access to the Davis Cup programming. It promises behind-the-scenes access, press conferences, all the fun stuff.

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We just signed up for it. At $4.99 US, it looks to be a great value. But that’s as long as you have a VPN, or another way to trick them into thinking you’re in the U.S., if you live anywhere else.

The stream doesn’t have something that most fans would have enjoyed watching on the weekend. There appear to be no live streams from the stadiums as the teams go through their practice paces.

But it does have a collection of 52-minute highlight packages from Davis Cup finals, going back to 2010.

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Highlights of the Spain vs. Argentina finals from 2010 are available on the Rakuten Sports streaming site.

Canada has Sportsnet1 – and the ITF streams

Over the border, Canada appears to be slightly better served by the Davis Cup rights holder, Sportsnet. Maybe?

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Sportsnet1 – and the network’s streaming service – will have the Canadian ties from Madrid.

The Canada ties (the first of which is against Italy on Monday, starting at 10 a.m. EST) will be aired.

But that won’t be on the main Sportsnet channels. Instead, as often is the case for Davis Cup ties (previously held on weekends), it will air on Sportsnet 1. That’s a channel not everyone gets.

The main Sportsnet channels will be taken up with … darts and poker. And reruns of hockey games.

But on Wednesday, for example, when Canada does not play, there is no Davis Cup on the schedule.

We’re efforting to find out from the network if it plans to add any additional ties – at least on its streaming service, SportsnetNow. (You can access that streaming service by signing in through your cable television provider. We can’t confirm if you can watch it online if you don’t have Sportsnet 1 as part of your cable package. We think that’s the case. If any of our Canadian readers can confirm that, we’ll add the information here).

On the plus side, Canadians can avail themselves of the Davis Cup/ITF streaming service, which will have all of the ties. But not, it appears, the behind-the-scenes and press-conference material Rakuten is to offer in the U.S.

If you aren’t already subscribed, it appears a package is available for the week.

But what that is, remains unclear. More on that below.

Euros better off

On the plus side, the countries where Eurosport has the broadcast rights – or even anywhere you can sign up for the Eurosport player – are much better off.

According to this, that means UK, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland.

Get a monthly subscription, which is the minimum. For £6,99 ($12 CAN, $9 US, 8 Euros), it appears you can see every tie on the player.

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The Davis Cup/ITF streaming service

If it appears that the ITF and the Kosmos people are a collaborative effort for this revamped Davis Cup event, that definitely doesn’t trickle down to the streaming availabilities.

While a Kosmos spokesperson confirmed the Davis Cup site would have the ties available for Canada, it referred any other questions to … the ITF, which “controls that feed, not Kosmos.”

Well, allrighty then.

When we first began looking into this on Sunday morning, there was literally nothing on the site about the Davis Cup Finals.

This is what we saw.

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Slowly, over the last hour or so – remember, this all begins … tomorrow morning … the various matches began showing up on the schedule.

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If you were already subscribed to the annual Davis/Fed Cup streaming service (at £39,99 a year it used to be a tremendous value, with four rounds of Davis Cup ties but now is a complete waste of money), you’re already good for this.

Two package options – eventually

For the rest, there appear to be two options: a “round package” for 7,99 Euros, and an “individual tie” option.

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Except … at the moment, the “tie package” option can’t be clicked on. And, if you go to another match, it doesn’t say “tie package”; rather, it seems to have an individual match.

(We reiterate – this whole thing starts in less than 24 hours).

UPDATE: Eventually, after going through a period where the second option was an annual subscription (also inactive), they now have it to the point where the second option is live.

It’s called a “tie package”. And it allows you to purchase ONE three-match tie of your choice for 4,99 Euros.

We’re still not quite sure what is included in the 7,99 Euro “round package”.  

Just to make this even more challenging, there’s a list of 15 countries – including many major tennis nations – whose fans are out of luck.

Austria, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Great Britain and … Sint Maarten (a small island in the Caribbean which is a Dutch protectorate).

Hopefully, those fans will have streaming options for the other ties (or any ties, in case of Finland or Switzerland or China) provided by their broadcast rights holder.

Hard to find – anywhere

So what’s the bottom line?

As challenging as it generally is for tennis fans to … actually watch tennis at the best of times, this inaugural event looks like it’s going to set new records for frustration.

It also may create a minor stampede towards … alternate viewing options. We all know what they are.

And that will only deprive the ITF and Kosmos (which has promised a megaton of money to the ITF for the privilege of running this) of even more revenue. 

It all seems last-minute, and haphazard, and disorganized – and above all, feels like two separate entities are each running their show … inside the same show.

We hear a lot of rumblings about the situation in the U.S. From which we can only deduce that the price Kosmos was setting for the rights to broadcast this one-week tennis festival were … rather ambitious.

The Kosmos people, you would think, would be highly motivated to do everything they can to establish the “new” event as must-see tennis at the end of a long season.

The reaction among tennis fans to the complete restructuring of it to eliminate home and away ties beyond the preliminary round early in the year was already, for the most part, negative. 

So they had an even bigger mountain to climb. 

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On this graphic (which has a rather Federer-looking homage on the left – and, of course, he’s not playing – used on the Davis Cup Finals Twitter page, you can barely see the words “Davis Cup”. But of course, this is no longer truly the Davis Cup.

Last-minute scrambling a frustration

You would think they would attempt to get their new and very costly acquisition in front of the largest number of eyeballs possible – either by offering some free packages, or at least getting the word out in comprehensive fashion.

Instead, there has been nothing. Nothing on either the Davis Cup Finals or Davis Cup proper Twitter accounts.

There is no link on the Davis Cup Finals website to any streaming options. Anywhere. No page outlining what network fans can watch on in the various countries (despite what was promised in the press release). 

There are only links to buying tickets. And that has also proven to be a challenge.

With less than 24 hours to go (did we mention that?), the only matches that are sold out are the two group-stage ties involving host country Spain. And that includes the semis and finals.

The content on the official site makes it feel as though promoting tourism in Madrid (which is an “institutional partner”) is a bigger priority than having people be able to watch. (You can get discounts to various things if you visit the city. But it’s all in Spanish, so good luck).

On the Davis Cup site proper, the information about buying a package is still the old information, from when there were multiple rounds of home-and-away ties.

But if you’re not in one of the blacked-out countries, and want to sign up for the streaming, the link is here

Good luck. You’ll need it.

“To tell you the truth, I’m a bit nervous. … “We hope the fans can have a good time and that the competition is exciting for everyone,” Gerard Piqué, the Barcelona soccer star and Kosmos group founder, told the Associated Press on Friday.

It feels like he has reason to be a bit nervous, as the event is about to get under way.

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