WTA TV blackout coming in U.S.

In a not-unexpected step following the transfer of the WTA Tour U.S. broadcast rights from beIN Sports to Tennis Channel, the network will become the only option to watch women’s tennis in 2019.

WTA TV sent out a notice to American subscribers Friday.

The exclusive women’s tennis streaming service advised them that as of Dec. 30, fans in the U.S. will be under blackout.

Instead, they will have to subscribe to Tennis Channel Plus “as the Tennis Channel becomes the official media ‘home’ of WTA Tennis in the United States.”

Nothing changes with the WTA TV service on the rest of the planet (except China).

New season a month away

The lack of coordination between all parties is fairly noticeable.

blackoutThe new season begins in exactly a month. But Tennis Channel still has no 2019 tentative WTA schedule on its website.

The original press release indicates coverage of most of the Premier-level events as well as 30 International-level tournaments – including Shenzhen and Auckland to open the season.

At the moment, there is TC Plus 1, TC Plus 2 and “The T”, which appears to run mostly pre-taped, feature-type programming. As the new era debuts, there will be three WTA tournaments the first week – plus Tennis Channel staple Hopman Cup. And any ATP Tour events they’re carrying.

And all the events are roughly in the same time zone.

With Serena Williams set to star in Perth at Hopman Cup, you have to theorize she will get the lion’s share of the broadcast time. That’s a lot of simultaneous content to handle if the network is sincere about providing the same level of WTA coverage.

But that’s their problem to work out.

Granted, all of this came up rather suddenly last month – at least publicly. 

Blackout pluses and minuses

Despite some of the quality issues with WTA TV, the vast majority of singles (and many doubles) matches on all of the match courts at tournaments, all season, have been available.

On the downside, the service is not compatible with services like Apple TV or Roku. Therefore it’s not easily accessible on your bigger-screen TV.

blackoutAnother plus: most of the matches are subsequently available on demand.

The cost in the U.S. has been $9.99 for a month, $74.99 for an annual subscription.

Conversely, the Tennis Channel Plus subscription currently costs $99 a year. There is no monthly option.

At that rate in 2018, you didn’t get any WTA coverage at all beyond select tournaments. (Charleston, for example, is aired along with matches from the big U.S. joint events).

So this is value added for 2019.

Notably, the TC Plus service does not guarantee you access to the main Tennis Channel broadcast. If your cable or satellite provider does not carry Tennis Channel or you don’t pay for the service tier that does carry it, you can’t watch it. And that’s true even if you pay the Tennis Channel Plus subscription.

No price increase

Given the huge volume of additional content TC Plus will be offering, you would expect a price increase to go along with it.

But a Tennis Channel spokesperson told tennis.life there were no current plans to change the subscription rate.

Regarding match coverage, “although the upcoming season’s programming schedule hasn’t been finalized, Tennis Channel plans on having WTA matches on the linear network as well as on Tennis Channel Plus,” the spokesperson said.

Adding the WTA content is a significant uptick in volume. In many cases throughout the season, there are more than half a dozen matches available simultaneously.

So we still don’t know if the entirety of the WTA TV streaming content will be available on Tennis Channel and online in 2019.

Another good question will be how many of the more sought-after women’s matches will be available on the streaming service. That’s a key issue because the broadcast channel isn’t available to everyone.

So will fans be missing out on the best matches available, if they don’t have it? And how will the men’s matches in Brisbane and Hopman Cup, for example, be prioritized with the new programming.

The original press release indicated TC Plus would stream “additional WTA matches that are not available on television,” without adding any detail.

What about Rewind?

Still to be determined, in addition to the availability of the vast majority of matches on demand, will be the availability of a Rewind feature.

All of the singles finals from 2018 currently are available on WTA TV.

Also available are various player interviews, beginning from the San Jose tournament in early August through to the end of the season.

Another issue is that while you can stream TC Plus on more than one device, you can’t do it on more than one device at the same time.

On a somewhat related note, a spokesperson for ESPN tells Tennis.Life that all the changes don’t in any way affect the rights the sports network holds, and continues to hold.

Refund not automatic

Note that WTA TV will be issuing pro-rated refunds for ongoing U.S. subscriptions.

But it won’t be automatic.

And all refund requests must be made by March 1, 2019.

The notice indicates that Tennis Channel will offer a 25 per cent discount on its TC Plus service to WTA TV subscribers. 

Given TC Plus does not currently offer a monthly subscription rate, you’ll have to commit up front to the whole annual rate.

WTA Tour Finals: an event at a crossroads

As the finals in Moscow and Luxembourg played out on Saturday, the 2018 WTA Tour regular season came to an end.

Only the WTA Finals in Singapore (and the second-tier WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, China the following week) remain.

The withdrawal of world No. 1 Simona Halep from Singapore due to the herniated disc in her back is definitely a blow.

The Romanian might not have the marquee value among non-diehard fans that, say, Serena or Venus Williams or Maria Sharapova still have.

But she’s the best in the world – the WTA Tour Player of the Year.

And she’s not playing.

Simona Halep out of Singapore

And this will be the fourth straight season the most famous female tennis player in the world, arguably the best of all time, has not played the Tour Finals.

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The last time the GOAT of women’s tennis played Singapore she won it all. The problem is that she hasn’t played it in four years. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

As the final edition in Singapore gets under way Sunday, here’s a rundown of some of the issues and challenges it’s facing.

The WTA Tour Finals seem to be at a crossroads.

The years in Singapore have featured multiple changes in format. The event itself has been downsized significantly from its original mission to be a large-scale women’s tennis festival.

At the start, there were Futures Stars, and legends, and a full round-robin format for the doubles competition as the ATP Tour has in London.

So it seems it’s not quite sure of which direction it’s headed in. Given the Tour Finals bear the burden of generating a big chunk of the WTA’s annual revenues, this isn’t an insignificant thing.

A new 10-year home in Shenzhen

The fairy-tale offer from Shenzhen, China reportedly will double the available prize money to $14 million per year.

It also will come with a brand-new building.

But we’ve all seen how the offer from the Piqué Group to the ITF for the revamped Davis Cup finals has perhaps turned out to be too good to be true.

The Gemdale Corporation, billed as one of China’s largest property developers in the WTA Tour’s announcement last January, committed to building a 12,000-seat, $450 million, state-of-the-art venue in Shenzhen’s downtown area as part of the deal.

That, reportedly, is the first glitch.

Temporary home for 2019

Sports Business Journal’s Daniel Kaplan reported this week that the venue will not be ready until 2020. WTA Tour president Micky Lawler told Kaplan there always was “a likelihood” it wouldn’t be ready for the big premiere.

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Shenzhen Bay Sports Center, where the WTA Tour Finals will be held on a one-off in 2019.

Lawler said that red tape involving existing businesses on the site, which will need to be razed to make way for the new building, is delaying things.

So in 2019, the Tour Finals will be held in the indoor arena at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center.

The capacity isn’t much different. But the venue, built in 2011, is a half-hour by car and an hour by public transport, west of the downtown core.

So that’s not a good start as you try to build a new, permanent tradition.

And it also begs the question of why a new $450 million venue is needed (especially as the WTA Tour won’t own it). The Shenzhen Bay arena looks spectacular.

But beyond that, the event seems to lack much out-of-the-box, creative thinking about how to stage it, how to draw attention to it via innovation, bells and whistles.

It’s business as usual, even if the lighting inside the Singapore Indoor Arena gives the tournament more ambiance than the average WTA Tour stop.

But beyond that? Even assuming the eight singles qualifiers were all high-profile, marquee attractions (and that’s a very debatable point), we’re in 2018.

And the prevailing sentiment seems to be that quality tennis isn’t enough these days, when you’re trying to sell a big, multi-session event.

But the challenge in bringing it to a wider audience is that the bells and whistles that might engage North America, or Europe, likely are a much harder sell in China. It’s just a different market.

“Red” and “White” groups

There’s an opportunity here for the WTA Tour to pay more than lip service to its long history, by taking a page out of a successful exhibition event.

One of the big pluses with the Laver Cup is that the “Team World” squad is captain by John McEnroe. And the “Team Europe” squad is helmed by McEnroe’s longtime rival Bjorn Borg.

The high-profile involvement of legends McEnroe and Borg adds some significant star power to the Laver Cup. Why doesn’t the WTA Tour take a page out of that book, and give Evert and Navratilova a much bigger role to play? (Photo: Amazon Prime screenshot)

It’s more than just an official designation; the two are active captains, on court for all the matches and very present in the marketing and selling of the very successful event.

“Chrissie Group” and “Martina Group”

How great would it be, instead of calling the two round-robin groups the “Red” and “White” groups (those don’t even match the WTA colors, for crying out loud), they called them the “Chrissie” and “Martina” groups?

Navratilova and Evert have been in attendance for all five editions in Singapore. You’d think they’d want to put them to better use than just chatting up the media and sponsors and maybe taking the occasionalmik turn on TV commentary.

There are a lot more matches during the Tour Finals than the Laver Cup, of course.  So how about Evert and an assistant captain – say, Kim Clijsters – splitting the on-court coaching duties for one group. And Navratilova and – say, Jennifer Capriati, who is in Singapore this year – splitting duties for the other?

Better yet, why not hold a draw where eight legends can each choose a player to coach/mentor during the week? You could have them sit courtside with their players during matches, miked up for television.

Talk about value-added, and promoting interest with the non-hardcore tennis fans who have trouble distinguishing Kiki Bertens from Elina Svitolina.

Not to mention – the great optics of having these fabulous female athletes being coached by other women.

No doubt, it would take away some screen time from the players’ regular coaches, who also deserve credit for making it to Singapore. And perhaps it affects the performances a little (although that’s an arguable point). And yes, we know it’s not an exhibition.

But you could argue the point is to sell the event, which began with terrific attendance in for the debut in Singapore in 2014, but has not set the world on fire since then. Plus, the attendance by international tennis media beyond those from the countries represented (and even then, not every country) has been weak. 

At left, the official, Photoshopped, shiny Singapore selfie. At right, the actual selfie.

The death of the “Rising Stars”

At the start of the WTA Tour’s five-year stint in Singapore, it held a “Future Stars” event as part of the tournament.

The first winner was Monica Puig. The 2015 winner was … Naomi Osaka, who defeated Caroline Garcia.

Those two tuned out pretty well.

We’ll grant you, the definition of “Rising Stars” was fairly elastic; Garcia had qualified for the same event in doubles.

Still, it offered a welcome glimpse of the future.

Now, the event has a far smaller scope, and renamed “Future Stars”. The under-14 and under-16 players come only from the Asian region, and it’s relegated to the sidelines. Only the final will be played in the stadium.

They’re calling it “an engagement platform aimed at encouraging young boys and girls throughout Asia-Pacific to live a better life through sport.”

But it doesn’t resonate much.

Doubles? What doubles?

When the WTA Tour first moved to Singapore, the doubles qualifiers had the same opportunity as the singles stars. The teams could win their way through the same round-robin format to get to the semifinals and finals.

After the first two years, the doubles went back to a straight elimination format in 2016. With eight teams, that meant just three victories needed to win the event.

Not only that, it meant that after working all season to qualify for the Tour Finals and traveling all the way to Singapore, a doubles team could be eliminated in an hour.

The change also meant marginalization of the doubles matches. Singapore had been a rare opportunity on Tour for the best players in that discipline to shine.

The doubles event doesn’t even start until Day 5.

Last year, they streamed the doubles matches on Facebook. No word on whether they’ll do that again this time around.

No more legends on court

While the WTA Finals website lists a full dozen former players as “WTA Finals Legend Ambassadors” – none of them will take the court to actually play.

Instead, per the website, the “WTA Finals Legend Ambassadors will support the 10-day tennis festival through a comprehensive program of sponsor, media and community engagement activities.”

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It feels as though all that “community engagement” work is a fairly moot point this year, since the tournament will depart Singapore for good in 10 days.

And, we should ask, where are Asian legends Kimiko Date and Li Na?

We want to take nothing away from the attending legends. But Date and Li are without a doubt the two most iconic Asian players in women’s tennis history. And they’re not there.

Also – the group skews heavily American. Six of the 12 are from the U.S. What about Gabriela Sabatini, to include South America? Maybe even Cara Black, to represent Africa? Elena Dementieva (Russia) or Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) to represent Eastern Europe?

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Ivanovic, who played in the 2014 event, also graciously gave her time to a press conference about the new SAP comprehensive statistics rollout (Whatever happened to that, anyway?) Wouldn’t it be great if she were one of the legends ambassadors at the Tour Finals, given her popularity and name recognition? (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

With the move to Shenzhen next year, Li Na’s attendance would be all the more compelling.

This wasn’t the case for the first edition in 2014, when the legends took part in three of the weekday sessions. Among those playing were Navratilova, Iva Majoli, and Marion Bartoli.

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Navratilova played in the legends component of the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore in 2014. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Fan engagement and streaming

When the WTA first arrived in Singapore, the singles draw was an event open to the public. And it was streamed live on various social media as well as on the Tour’s website.

Fast forward to 2018.

The singles draw is no longer a public event. It’s by invitation only.

They streamed it at the event plaza at the players’ hotel, the Marina Bay Sands.

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If you had tickets for the WTA Finals, you got 10 per cent off food and beverages at the streaming event. (Photo: WTA Finals Facebook page)

But the stream could not be found on the WTA’s website.

It was uniquely a Facebook event. And these days, a lot of people have issues with Facebook.

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Only a very brief highlights package is available on the website.

beIN not big on the live

If you have WTATV, you’re set for streaming of the event from the first serve on Sunday evening in Singapore (5 a.m. EDT back in North America).

Beyond that, you really have to make a solid effort to figure out where you can watch it. And many prefer to watch on television rather than on their laptops or mobile devices, or don’t want to pay for the WTA’s proprietary streaming service.

There is absolutely nothing on the dedicated WTA Finals website about where you can watch on TV.

On the regular WTA Tour site, under the “watch” tab, there’s a generic list of the networks in each country where you can watch the women’s Tour.

They don’t make it easy – especially in North America.

Hopefully that will all change in the U.S. next season, when the Tennis Channel takes over rights to broadcast the WTA Tour from beIN Sports.

But for now, beIN it is.

Day sessions? You’re on your own

From what we can see on the beIN network’s online schedule, it plans to be live on the main network at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning (7:30 p.m. in Singapore) for the match between Caroline Wozniacki and Karolina Pliskova.

But, at 5 a.m., for the Petra Kvitova vs. Elina Svitolina clash, the network is scheduled to run an infomercial called “Amazing Abs”.

For the biggest event of the WTA Tour’s season, this isn’t close to satisfactory. It’s not as though beIN has any live programming to conflict with it at 5 am. (2 a.m. PDT).

On Monday, with the start in Singapore at 7:30 p.m., the highly-anticipated matchup between Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens, then Angelique Kerber vs. Kiki Bertens, should both be live.

The day sessions – at least on Thursday and Friday, which have a 1:30 a.m. EDT/10:30 p.m. PDT start, look to be live.

Hard to find in Canada

In Canada, the English-language rights are held by DAZN (this isn’t listed on the WTA Tour site, so you’ll have to trust us on that one).

On the plus side, DAZN’s online schedule has it going live at 5 a.m. for the first matches. They have the day sessions going live at 1:30 a.m. all three days. But on those days, they don’t have the night session matches listed (although that could well just be a glitch – it’s not the most user-friendly site ever).

On the down side, who even has DAZN? Well, probably soccer fans do.

On the French-language side, TVA Sports has the WTA Tour rights.

Unfortunately, the only tennis scheduled for Sunday on either TVASports or TVASports 2 is … a rerun of the Moscow singles final at 11:30 a.m.

The news is fairly grim on this front. There appears to be no Singapore scheduled until … Friday. 

From what we can tell, the second quarterfinal will be live, at 9:30 a.m. on the main channel, while the first would be on tape delay at 1 p.m.

The first quarterfinal looks to be live at 7:30 a.m. on TVA Sports 2, with a repeat of both matches from 6-10 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday look to be live broadcasts, both at 7:30 a.m., on the main network.

The day sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday are nowhere to be found, with the half-hour sports news broadcast set on repeat through the night.

From the looks of it, the one Canadian in the event – doubles star Gabriela Dabrowski – will struggle to get any air time at all at home.

A lame-duck event

The inaugural edition in Singapore in 2014 had impressive attendance. It’s a big event for that part of the world, and course there was the novelty factor. 

Attendance was announced at 129,000 over 10 days the first year, 130,000 over 11 days the second year. The Straits Times reported that no attendance figures were made available for 2016.

There also were more day sessions to help in the overall count.

Since then, though, it hasn’t been nearly as good. The mood lighting in Singapore Indoor Stadium means you can’t really see the stands. And that’s a good thing.

It’s a great event, so that’s disappointing.

So, what about this year, in the final year before the move to China?

It is, to put it gently, a lame-duck event. And that’s been true for a year. At last year’s Tour Finals, during a very lengthy “state of the WTA” press conference, CEO Steve Simon impressed upon the media the amount of fabulous interest the Tour had received from other cities to lure the event away from Singapore.

It was a little tone-deaf.

The announcement ended up being made right at the beginning of the 2018 season, not in April. So Singapore has known all year that they were not considered for an extension, and that this would be the final year.

It makes it harder to build any momentum.

Plenty of good seats available

There are multiple sections (dark pink and purple) in which tickets are available for Sunday night’s final, although more of them are in “limited availability” mode than is the case earlier in the week. Tix for the final are priced at $141 and $239 (Singapore dollars).

It’s hard to calculate exact numbers of seats.

But as we examined the online availability for each of the 11 sessions beginning Sunday night, it’s clear that there are a lot of empty seats – at least as of Saturday night.

We’ve separated the available sections into four: the higher-priced Category A seats (courtside and second tier), the second-tier Category B seats, and the Category B seats in smaller sections atop the east, north and west stands.

That last category seem to have mostly sold out, even if the lower-tier seats are at the same price point.

Below, a chart of the sections where seats are still available. While the majority of the sections show “available”, there are some sections that are marked as “selling fast” or with “limited availability”. 

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Ticket prices are as follows:

Thursday and Friday day sessions: $27 (A) and $65 (B)
Weeknight night sessions: $65 and $109
Semis – Day session: $95 and $159
Semis – Night session: $110 and $195
Finals: $141 and $239

(Prices in Singapore dollars, which are worth about 73 cents U.S.)

Costly Racquet Club seats all but gone

There are five sections – located in the second tier on the south side – that are designated as “Racquet Club” seats.

Those offer food and beverage, but they’re costly.

The cheapest are for the two weekday day sessions ($529.65). The night sessions cost $743.65, the semifinal sessions $1337.50, and one ticket for finals day will set you back … $2140.

There are approximately 850 seats in that section. Other than a rogue few in one section for all but the Friday night session, they’re sold out.

Check out the ticketing site for more comprehensive information.

Serena drama means high ratings for ESPN

NEW YORK – The women’s singles final at the US Open might not have ended the way many hoped, or expected.

But the high level of drama meant that the overnight ratings on host broadcaster ESPN went (by tennis standards), through the roof.

The Williams vs. Naomi Osaka match checked in with the second-highest overnight ratings in ESPN’s history with the event. ESPN took over the non-weekend broadcast rights from the USA network in 2009 and has had the exclusive rights since CBS exited the picture in 2015.

The only broadcast with higher ratings (out of 225 in total) was the network’s prime-time broadcast on quarterfinals day in 2015, when Williams played her sister Venus.

Up 32% from ’17, 79% from ’16

Last night’s program is tied for second all-time with the 2015 men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

The 2.4 overnight rating is up 32 per cent from last year’s women’s final between Americans Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys. And it is 79 per cent higher than the 2016 women’s final between Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova, two non-Americans.

Not surprisingly, the numbers peaked (at 3.3) during the last 15 minutes of the match – when everything went haywire.

The highest ratings came from the West Palm Beach area (where Williams resides) at a 6.0, Washington, D.C. at 5.5, and Richmond, Virginia at 5.1. New York City checked in at 4.5.

It will be fascinating – although hardly conclusive about any bigger-picture issues – to see how the men’s final between Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro does, in comparison.

(The numbers indicated above are the percentage of households in the U.S., who have the TV turned on, and were watching the tennis. It is obviously a statistical analysis based on sample sizes, and not an exact count).

Mardy Fish joins ESPN for Slams

This news seems to have gone fairly unnoticed over the last week.

But it’s a nice addition to the already king-sized ESPN tennis crew.

American Mardy Fish, who turned 36 Dec. 9, is joining the network’s tennis coverage in 2018, as reported by Vero News.

He will work the four Grand Slams, beginning with the Australian Open next month.

Fish worked a little bit on the Tennis Channel in 2015. But this past summer, stints for ESPN at Wimbledon the US Open led to an offer of an expanded role.

Fish remains close to the game, having retired just two years ago.

“People I know seem to like what I’ve done so far, and they’ve been pushing me to do more of it. And I’ve really enjoyed the TV experiences I’ve had, probably more than I expected,” Fish told VeroNews.com.

“So when I had a chance to work with ESPN again, especially at the four biggest tournaments of the year, I decided to go for it. This is a tremendous opportunity.”

In-studio, hopefully not for long

Mardy
Fish on the practice court at the Australian Open in 2011. He’ll be there in January – except in a suit and tie. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Vero News says Fish is expected to be an in-studio analyst. Hopefully, they can quickly promote him to a live match commentary role. 

It’s a great add for ESPN, which needs to get a little younger and more current.

The fact that Fish has faced most of the players they’ll be featuring on the broadcasts can only be a major plus. In recent months, he also has done some coaching with the USTA, working with up-and-coming pros.

Click on the link for more of a very good interview with Fish.

He talks about how wanting to be a mentor to young American players met with surprising resistance. And he also talks about how his awareness that playing tennis and being a television analyst are separate skill sets means he has already begun preparing for Melbourne.

2017 US Open – by the numbers

With the end of the 2017 edition, the US Open tallied up the numbers on various fronts.

There are a lot of big numbers.

Here’s a list of the main points, as released by the USTA.

 

American Players

  • Four American women reached the singles semifinals at the US Open for the first time since 1981. First-time US Open champion Sloane Stephens, first-time US Open finalist Madison Keys and first-time US Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe joined two-time US Open champion Venus Williams in the semifinals.
  • Eighty five American men and women competed in the US Open main draw and the US Open Qualifying Tournament – an increase of nearly 40 percent since 2013.
  • 2017 also marked the first time there was an all-American women’s singles final and an all-American junior girls’ final since 1981. Sixteen-year old Amanda Anisimova defeated 13-year old Coco Gauff, who was the youngest-ever girls’ singles finalist at the US Open, in the title match.
  • David Wagner won his third US Open quad singles title, his eighth US Open quad doubles title and remained unbeaten in doubles at the US Open.
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“HOW much is that check for? Girl!”

Attendance

  • Twenty of the 24 sessions comprising the US Open sold out.
  • Total attendance for the 2017 US Open was 691,143.
  • More than 100,000 fans visited the first-ever US Open Experience, a two-day recreation of the US Open during US Open Fan Week at the South Street Seaport Historic District in Manhattan.

Social Media

  • From August 28 to September 10, US Open social channels, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, posted 3.8k pieces of content that generated 18 million interactions and 92 million video views.
  • Across Twitter and Instagram, hashtag #usopen was the most engaged hashtag of the 2017 Grand Slam season, producing 38 billion impressions.
  • Record fan engagement on all social platforms resulted in unparalleled growth for every social channel. Overall interactions were up 625 percent and video views were up 556 percent.

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Digital Platforms

  • For the third straight year, more than 10 million unique visitors engaged with US Open-owned-and-operated digital platforms – usopen.org and the US Open app, produced in partnership with US Open sponsor IBM – throughout the tournament.
  • Those fans consumed more content than ever: 46 million visits (+15 percent vs. 2016), and 366 million page views (+-23 per cent vs. 2016).
  • More than 63 per cent of all page views came from outside the United States.
  • Mobile consumption continues to drive growth, as more than 73 per cent of the total unique audience came via a mobile device.

Television

  • Saturday’s US Open Women’s Championship on ESPN earned a 1.9 overnight rating in the metered markets for the match portion of the three-hour telecast, 36 per cent higher than last year’s women’s final and the highest overnight rating for the match in the three years ESPN has held exclusivity for the U.S.
  • The three components of streaming the match were also significantly higher than previous years. The total number of unique viewers was up 71 per cent, the total minutes watched was up 15 per cent and the average minute audience was up 38 per cent to a new high for 2015-17.
  • ESPN’s Total Average Audience for US Open was up 11 per cent after 11 days.
  • The total average audience for ESPN’s exclusive coverage of the U.S. through Thursday, Sept. 7, was up 11 per cent to 952,000 viewers on average, compared to 856,000 for the first 11 days of last year’s event.  The increase includes a 50 per cent rise in the audience for streaming.

WTA streaming finally live (updated)

Some seven months behind schedule, the WTA announced in a press release Thursday that it will unveil its new subscription streaming service.

The official start date stated is July 31. In actual fact, the streaming is already up and running – currently broadcasting from Bastad and Nanchang.

The first two tournaments on the North American hard-court swing get under way next week – the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, and the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

From the press release:

“An annual subscription to WTA TV will provide access to nearly 2,000 live and on-demand matches from all WTA Premier events and the majority of WTA International tournaments. All singles matches will be streamed along with an array of doubles matches. The new WTA TV will allow you to watch live WTA tennis from around the world. The only exception is China, where our partner, iQIYI, holds exclusive streaming rights and offers an extensive service throughout China.”

And the features:

  • HD streaming
  • Ability to watch multiple matches simultaneously 
  • Multiple camera locations on each court
  • All singles matches will have English commentary
  • Pause and rewind functions

The cost?

According to this on WTATV.com, the cost will be quite reasonable – at least for now.

The cost will be $9.99 US per month, or $74.99 US per year.

It you add it to a Tennis.TV subscription for the ATP Tour matches, of course, it starts getting a little most costly.

On the plus side, it will finally be available, after a long wait.

There doesn’t seem to be a standalone app. But it does work on iPad and iPhone through the Safari browser.

The archives from the beginning of the 2017 season also are already available.

streaming

The question is, will the fans who’ve been finding “alternative” methods all season (if not longer) be willing to lay out the cash? Time will tell.

Good news for U.S. fans – watch Houston livestreams

TennisTV is a great service for men’s tennis fans. But when it comes to the smaller events, it’s more difficult in some countries, including the U.S., because of nation-specific blackouts.

The Houston ATP clay-court event has come to the rescue. You can watch stadium-court matches on their website.

Click here to access it.

For those outside the U.S., subscribe to TennisTV.

Here’s the order of play for Monday. Start is 3 p.m. Houston time.

Center Starts at 3:00 pm
1st Rd Nicolas Kicker VS (Q) View Live Scores H2H
6:00 pm
1st Rd (WC) Reilly Opelka VS (PR) H2H
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1st Rd Juan Monaco VS H2H

 

 

Dabrowski’s biggest career win – and no one saw it

MIAMI – Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski won the biggest tournament of her career last weekend at the Premier Mandatory WTA Tour event in Miami.

No one outside the stadium got to see it.

Dabrowski and Yi-Fan Xu of China, a first-time pairing, won the Miami Open women’s doubles title with a 6-4, 6-3 win over far more experienced No. 3 seeds Sania Mirza and Barbora Strycova. But there weren’t any cameras on court to capture the moment.

Tennis.Life was there, armed with only an iPhone, and managed to grab the very end.

This is one of the under-reported casualties of the WTA’s current streaming woes. Since the break with TennisTV at the end of last season, the Tour has failed to get its tournaments back online, leaving a black hole for fans of women’s tennis.

When it first became apparent that the new service wouldn’t be operational to start 2017, the official line was they hoped it would be in place by April. It’s April. But they can’t pinpoint a date for its return other than they hope it will be by the end of 2017.

It’s bad enough that the fans can’t even watch. But players who are producing great moments on the court have little record of them. As well, too few people are able to watch and enjoy it along with them.

Want to watch women’s tennis? Good luck

The availability of women’s tennis on television is a bit patchy in many countries. For example, in Dabrowski’s home country, you can rarely find it in English, the language of the majority. There is periodic coverage in French on a sports network that’s almost impossible to find outside of the French-speaking province of Quebec.

That’s for singles. Doubles is an even bigger challenge. At least last season you could get the finals of major tournaments on the streaming service. Add to this mix some particular restrictions at the Miami Open (Tennis.Life endeavoured to get more details on this last week, to no avail), and you have … dead air.

It’s a crazy situation. Dabrowski’s Canadian fans could find countrywoman Genie Bouchard’s first-round doubles match in Monterrey, Mexico this week if they went deep enough into the Internet. It was a match at a small International-level tournament. And it wasn’t even on the main stadium court. And still, there was multi-camera coverage.

Fans will be able to get livestreams from the ITF tournament at Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. next week from a thoroughly legitimate source, via the USTA.

If you looked hard enough, you could find Dabrowski and Xu’s first-round upset win over Abigail Spears and Katarina Srebotnik, even though it had just one overhead camera, and the feed froze at match point.

It’s pretty poor quality, and not too dependable. But it’s better than nothing at all.

But fans couldn’t watch the doubles final at a Premier Mandatory – no matter how far they delved into the ‘net.

Here’s a moment that added insult to injury.

As Dabrowski and Xu were in the middle of upsetting the No. 2 seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina earlier in the week on the Grandstand court, workers were busy.

During changeovers, they activated and set up the courtside cameras for the next match, a men’s quarter-final doubles match featuring Dabrowski’s countryman Daniel Nestor.

For the women – no such luck.

We did manage to get some footage of the trophy presentation as well.

And here are Dabrowski and Xu talking about it afterwards.

While in Miami, Tennis.Life tried to get some intel on how things were progressing on the streaming side. But there isn’t much out there; whatever is happening, the higher-ups are playing it very close to the vest.

They were testing out the streaming during the tournament and we were told that on that end, everything seems ready to go. But everything surrounding the actual streams on the production values side remains a work in progress.

It’s a moot point; what seems to be holding everything up are legal issues surrounding the split with Tennis.TV. And, as we all know, those things always take longer than anyone would like.

Maybe by the end of 2017, the WTA says

In the meantime, diehard tennis fans that had been willing to pay for a quality streaming service are being forced to find … other options. The thing is, those options are free. Even if the quality is dodgy and the bells and whistles (like archived matches) are missing, it’s going to be very challenging to get the fans back to paying for the cow, when they’ve been getting the milk gratis.

For Dabrowski and Xu, there is a silver lining. They each earned $192,585 US each for the win; that’s more than Dabrowski earned all of 2016 in singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles at Grand Slams combined.

She also reached a career high women’s doubles ranking of No. 19.

Still, she might want to have some memories to go along with it.