ESPN, NBC: Once Again Ruining a Tennis Grand Slam

Ruchir PandyaCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2009

ATLANTA - NOVEMBER 1: ESPN commentator Chris Fowler talks with coaches before the game between the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the Virginia Tech Hokies on November 1, 2007 at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Hokies beat the Yellow Jackets 27-3.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The 2009 French Open coverage in the United States was abysmal. No television networks showed matches before 12 p.m. EST, and the exciting semifinal matches were both shown at delayed times when anyone who knew anything about tennis already knew the results.

Roger Federer was pushed to five sets by up-and-coming Juan Del Potro, and came up with some great tennis en route to his 14th Grand Slam title. However, NBC, in their wisdom, decided to show Robin Soderling vs. Fernandon Gonzalez, another exciting five-set match.

The problem is, the Soderling match was shown two hours after it started. So, NBC showed two taped matches when it could easily have shown two live matches, or at least one live match. NBC aired the Federer match the next day. What is baffling is they could have shown the Federer match live and then shown the Gonzalez-Soderling match the next day since they were showing it taped anyway!

NBC needs to realize that, in the age of the Internet, there's no point broadcasting a match if you're not broadcasting live. 

Wimbledon coverage has been better, as ESPN has at least been showing the entire day's tennis every day.  However, NBC has shown just one day of live tennis. Instead, they often decide to tape matches that are played earlier in the day, but would draw the highest ratings (i.e. the Williams sisters, or Roger Federer), and show them later in the day.

Why not just buy the rights to show the match live? Again, anyone who cares enough about tennis to watch a match will know the result of the match from the Internet. 

While ESPN has been kind enough to show live matches, their coverage also leaves a great deal to be desired. They spend way too much time "in the studio."  I can understand that, if there are no matches ongoing, ESPN's analysts can offer their opinions. Tennis fans often enjoy this. 

But when there are actual matches being played, I don't want to see Chris Fowler ask Brad Gilbert who is going to win these matches. I want to actually watch tennis! There are a million opinions available on the Internet; I turn on the TV because I actually want to watch sport. 

If you must have these "experts" offer analysis, why can't you just have their voice in the background whilst showing the action onscreen? There have been numerous times where ESPN spends the entire time between commercials with analysis and player interviews instead of match time. 

It's very disappointing. 

Hopefully ESPN will learn from their mistakes. Maybe the suffering economy will force them to cut costs by giving less time to these analysts and more actual tennis time, thereby improving their ratings and reducing overhead. 

I love tennis, and most true fans will find a way to enjoy the sport, particularly in the latter stages. However, ESPN and NBC need to stop messing up coverage. It can really ruin interest, and this is particularly pertinent in a country like the U.S., where tennis is not necessarily the preferred sport. 

If you'd like to boost interest in the sport, show more match time. Maybe that will allow us to get more Americans in the top 50. But if kids don't get a chance to watch tennis, or if every time they go to a channel they see some old guy offering his opinion, their interest in following tennis is not going to increase. 

By maximizing the amount of time that actual live tennis action is on the screen, ESPN and NBC will be doing both the popularity of the sport and their own ratings a huge favor.