Why Serena Williams is Sports Illustrated’s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year https://t.co/TD76u9mgHM pic.twitter.com/I9kti7Fr6u
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 23, 2015
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.
So happy. Thx for the support thru up and down this year. I am so lucky to have the best fans. This one is for you 🏆 pic.twitter.com/VAhjzTTryR
— Aga Radwanska (@ARadwanska) November 1, 2015
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.
Still smiling after 27 hours of travel @Simona_Halep. Welcome to @BrisbaneTennis pic.twitter.com/DYHAKmdqZs
— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) December 29, 2015
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.
Desearles a todos un FELIZ AÑO NUEVO desde #Brisbane Wish you all a happy NEW YEAR from #Brisbane #2016 🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/3MPFGS4TkE
— Garbiñe Muguruza (@GarbiMuguruza) January 1, 2016
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.
Ahhh how much I love this Holiday! Merry Christmas everyone! pic.twitter.com/mqVcavQM9K
— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) December 26, 2015
Eugenie Bouchard 2015 U.S. Open Tennis Tournament in New York City 3rd Round https://t.co/VOlmJ2lZdZ #EugenieBouchard
— Miami Celebs (@CeceNopper) January 2, 2016
Happy new year!!! First flight of 2016! ✈️🎉🎊🎆🍾😄🇨🇳 pic.twitter.com/Cxi9Woypvw
— Donna Vekic (@DonnaVekic) December 31, 2015
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