It started about 6 or 7 years ago and billed itself as the USO Series… The Greatest Road Trip in Sports. It offered millions of dollars in prize money and promised fans that they would get the best in tennis that the ATP and WTA had to offer. It starts in July and ends at the US Open with the winner of the Series getting a chance to double their prize money if they win the Series and win the US Open. Since the start of the Series we have 2 players who have won the Series and won the Open. They are Kim Clijsters in 2005 and Roger Federer in 2009.
One of the worst things about the USO Series is the lack of coverage that fans have to put up with. This is not only true of the Series but really of most tournaments held in the US. What is the use of having a channel that is solely dedicated to tennis when most of the tennis that is occuring is blacked out because a major network (ESPN2) decides when and what time fans should get to see matches and even worse, picks and chooses which matches fans want to watch.
A case in point. Yesterday was semifinal day at the Toronto and Montreal events. Most of us who rely on American television for our tennis were disappointed when a really good match featuring Radwanska and Stosur was not aired anywhere in the US. Fans in Europe and elsewhere were able to see this match. For people like me who tried to watch the match on a livestream, it was extremely frustrating as the stream would die right in the middle of a rally and then commence once the players were at the service line or at the changeover. I checked in on ESPN2 and Tennis Channel and neither channel was broadcasting this match.
However as soon as the Fish v. Tipsaravic semifinal was on ESPN2 was ready to do its broadcast. Because that match finished quite early, we were then treated to the last 3 games in the women’s semi played earlier. Later in the day we got the second women’s semi featuring Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka and later that night the Djokovic v. Tsonga semifinal.
Today is the start of main draw play from Cincinatti, another combined event. As I am writing this, Tennis Channel is showing a Fed Cup match between Russia and Italy to be followed by a fan’s guide to the US Open. Coverage of Cincinatti does not begin until Monday afternoon on Tennis Channel and of course ESPN2 will perhaps not come online until about quarter-final day, at which point all we will get are selected matches featuring only the top players.
Why can it not be a case of ESPN2 and Tennis Channel sharing the coverage of these combined events. It could be that one could do the men and another network the women, or they could share which matches they cover. If ESPN2 wants only the marquee players, Tennis Channel could, of course, take those matches that feature lesser known players, but who have reached the quarter-final of these events.
We saw earlier this year at Wimbledon when only matches featuring marquee players were featured on tv. Turns out that it was a player that was hardly featured on either ESPN2 or Tennis Channel who ended up winning the Ladies Singles title.
I cannot imagine why Tennis Channel makes such a hue and cry about getting equal access to cable providers in the US. It could be said that it is a chicken and egg situation. If we had more markets, we would make more money and therefore able to carry more live events, or if we covered more events, we would be able to say that we have a wider audience clamouring for our channel and therefore deserve to be treated on par with Golf Channel etc.
I don’t know what the solution is to this problem, but it cannot be that every time tennis gets to the US, the visibility of the sport dies a natural death.