ESPN: Where Going To A DMV Is More Important Than Tennis Matches
When you're a rabid tennis fan like myself, you get genuinely excited when you see that there is actual live tennis on your television. During the summer, there are many opportunities to watch quality tennis matches, as ESPN has the broadcasting rights to many of the US Open Series events that lead up to the final major of the year, which is shown on CBS. The Tennis Channel also will air select matches from the US Open Series along with lots of action from the US Open.
There were tons of matches from the Rogers Cup on the air this week, as the Tennis Channel showed 10-12 hours of live tennis in the early rounds on Monday through Wednesday, and split their airing time with ESPN late in the week. ESPN carried three out of the four semifinals matches on Saturday, and both the men's and the women's finals on Sunday.
Yet I have a big problem with what ESPN, and to a lesser extent the Tennis Channel, did this weekend with their coverage of the Rogers Cup tennis tournament. Now those of you who have read my blogs in the past or just know me are aware that I have many issues with both ESPN and espn.com. I believe that they only cover the sports that they carry on their networks. They would rather spend ten minutes talking about LeBron James going to jury duty or Tim Tebow running around shirtless in the rain than cover one of the best Stanley Cup Finals in history because they air NFL and NBA games but don't air any NHL games. ESPN knows that sports fans will watch SportsCenter and go to their website to get their sports news because there is no other competition out there, so it seems like they've stopped caring about whether or not they are actually airing anything that people actually care about. And don't get me started on their fantasy baseball game. I bet you didn't know that there's a hotline you can call for ESPN fantasy help? Or that you have to explain to the person "helping" you how fantasy sports actually work? That was 15 minutes of my life I'll never get back.
So after reading that last paragraph it might look like I have a personal vendetta against ESPN and I am just looking for new ways to rip them. I mean they did air five out of the six possible matches at the Rogers Cup this weekend. Which to be honest are five matches more than on a normal weekend.
But let's take a closer look at what happened this weekend. The semifinal matches on the women's side were #1 Serena Williams vs. #3 Agnieszka Radwanska and #4 Li Na vs. Sorana Cirstea. On the men's side it was #11 Milos Raonic vs. Vasek Pospisil (which was two Canadian players in a semi of a tournament played in Canada) and #1 Novak Djokovic vs. #4 Rafael Nadal. Both tournaments chose to have an afternoon and an evening session, and they staggered the start times of each match so that they wouldn't overlap with each other (unless a match went longer than expected). The women's matches were slated to start at 1pm and 6:30pm, and the men's matches were scheduled for 3pm and 8pm. Technically, ESPN could have chosen to show all four matches, and would be inclined to at least show the two matches featuring the two #1 players in the world. So which matches did we get on Saturday? The first ladies match at 1pm was Li Na vs. Cirstea, followed by the first men's match featuring the two Canadians. The second ladies match was not shown on any channel, only to be seen on ESPN's online subscription channel ESPN3 (which you can watch on your computer or smartphone if you have the right cable provider and if you want to pay for it), while the second men's match between two of the best men's players in recent history was aired at 8pm.
Now I do understand that ESPN had no idea who would be in the semifinals or when they would be scheduled to play when they determined that they would only air one of the two matches on Saturday. They took a risk that they would get a quality semifinal, and although the Na/Cirstea match was pretty good, it obviously lacked the draw that a match featuring Serena or Sharapova would garner. I wonder why they just didn't go "all in" on the tournament and show all four semifinals. It wasn't like there was a major sports event that they needed to air at 6pm instead of another tennis match. As cool as Global Rally Cross racing is, did they need to air it live at 6:30pm instead of a match featuring Serena Williams? If they really wanted to air racing then why couldn't the Tennis Channel halt their coverage of an old Davis Cup match or a show giving tennis lessons to air the other semifinal match? I mean if the channel is called the "Tennis Channel" you would think they could air live tennis matches, especially at tournaments that they've aired early round matches at earlier in the week. Would it be too much to ask to get a live tennis match on a channel that I don't have to subscribe to or need a sophisticated computer and/or smartphone to watch it?
The worst part is that the Rally Cross racing probably drew more viewers than a women's tennis match would, because unless you are really into tennis you would have no idea that there was any tennis on the channel this weekend. You want proof? Here's the headlines on espn.com at 7pm on Saturday: Jim Furyk in the lead at the PGA Championship, Alex Rodriguez fined $150,000 by Yankees, Aaron Hernandez' fiancée being searched for evading the investigation (all major stories), Jaguars' Blackmon's sideline fight in preseason game considered not a big deal, Manti Te'o out a week with a foot sprain, Tampa Bay pulls hidden ball trick on Dodgers (none of these are really that important), and Sidney Crosby expedited at the DMV (yes that was really a "story"). If you scroll down there a story on a U.S. Soccer photo shoot that took place in 2002. That's 11 years ago. How is that relevant? In the "Must See" section there's a story on the WNBA, college basketball (that doesn't start for at least two months), baseball, NASCAR, two stories on soccer, and two stories on boxing. Yes I was shocked there were two stories about boxing too. The only way you would know that a tennis match between two of the best men's players of all time is coming on ESPN in an hour is if you played the game "Streak For The Cash", which allows you to try and pick the winner of selected games to try to win prizes.
That's it. No mention of the tournament, no mention of the fact that Serena is playing on ESPN3 right now, no mention of who is winning or still alive in the tournament, no mention of anything tennis whatsoever other than if you like to gamble. So according to their website Sidney Crosby going to a DMV is more important than a pretty big tennis match that is airing on their channel. Or that the best women's player alive playing on their online service. Which I would somewhat understand if they didn't have the match on their own channel. Or if they didn't purchase the rights to air all the Grand Slam events starting next season. Why waste money on the broadcast rights to a sport that you don't bother to promote?
To add to this nonsense, at 8pm I put on ESPN2 thinking I would see Djokovic vs. Nadal as advertised. What did I see? The second set of Serena vs. Radwanska, with the men's match now being aired on ESPN3. So basically they decided that it wasn't important to show the women's match from the start, but it was more important to show half of the second set live than to show the entire men's match (which was advertised - well in the loosest form of the word advertise). It's really hard to get involved in a match that is possibly a quarter over before they even start showing it. I couldn't have been the only one to think, "Well I would have liked to have seen the women's match, but I'm not about to download an app to watch it live, so at least I'll get to see the whole men's match from start to finish live." WRONG! Hey at least at 8:33pm I get to watch Djokovic vs. Nadal. Unless something else preempts its broadcast. Boy I hope LeBron doesn't go back to jury duty or Tim Tebow takes his shirt off somewhere then I'll be stuck going on ESPN3 to watch tennis instead. Nice to see they have their priorities straight.