Monday, March 21, 2011

Watching tennis on TV can be infuriating

I just watched Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 to win the 2011 BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Gardens, California, and the experience reminded me (and made me think) about the differences between watching our sport vs. other sports on television.

First the positives!  The event was televised and, unlike other sports, for the most part, tennis controls the timing and agenda.  In other words, the matches are held at times that make sense for the players, the local tournament and its fans; they aren’t scheduled for times that would be convenient for the television audience but inconvenient for players and fans.  Plus, during matches, the amount of time given players between games, sets and even serves are governed by the sport’s rules, not TV producers.  For example, when one attends an NFL or college football game, the time taken for commercial breaks can vary based upon how much advertising there is to sell; it can be very frustrating to be at a game and have to wait, in the hot sun or pouring rain, for the guy with the red sleeves to give the signal to resume play.  In tennis, the number of advertisements that can be squeezed in between breaks is more or less determined by the rules, which the referee ‘strictly’ enforces for the benefit of the players, but also for the fans that are attending the event.  Of course, watching tennis on TV sometimes means that one might miss the first point or two of some games – so that they can show that Michelle Obama ad for fitness for the twentieth time – which can frustrate the viewer watching at home.  At least the priorities in tennis are the players and the fans at the actual event, whereas in other sports (like football) the priority is the almighty advertiser.

Unfortunately, and perhaps because of the above listed positives, there are a lot of negatives associated with watching tennis on television.  Firstly, matches aren’t always shown live, especially when the event is halfway around the world.  In other words, a lot of tennis on television is shown tape-delayed, even the premier Grand Slam tournaments, and this is unconscionable.  Other than the Olympic Games, I can think of no other major sporting events that aren’t aired live; even golf’s Ryder Cup was aired live last fall from Newport, Wales!  Second, TV schedulers frequently misjudge the amount of air time to allocate to matches.  Yesterday, for example, ABC set aside only 4 hours for the women’s and men’s finals; since it took Caroline Wozniacki a little longer than anticipated to beat Marion Bartoli, they had to switch the men’s final from ABC to ESPN midway through the second set.  What if you didn’t have cable?  You’d have missed the drama of the second set, which ended with Djokovic’s hold after four straight breaks of serve and the decisive third set, which included the rarest of events:  a Nadal meltdown (he started to spray errors as his first serve vanished)!  Then, of course, ESPN producers gave priority to their precious SportsCenter by quickly cutting away after the match ended without showing the awards ceremony.  If you DVRed the final, oh well, guess you missed nearly half of the men’s final, and all of its best parts.  (I will assume that the freezes in the action that occurred at least twice during the match were anomalies).

Watching tennis on television can be infuriating since TV producers have priorities other than tennis fans, which makes one wonder why they bother to air the programming at all sometimes.

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