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Wimbledon 2011: NBC Fails Tennis Fans During Men's and Women's Semifinals

JA AllenSenior Writer IJuly 1, 2011

How frustrating to be a U.S. tennis fan. With simply superlative matches being played live in London, NBC continued to show “Jeopardy,” plus local programming instead of airing some of the finest tennis of the 2011 Wimbledon tournament.

On Thursday and Friday the men’s and women’s semifinal contests started at 1 p.m. London time, 8 a.m. ET.  ESPN2 showed the first match of the day, but then could show no more because of contractual obligations with NBC. 

Eventually, NBC Sports programming geniuses aired the second matches, after they were history and the outcomes had been determined. Meanwhile, those of us who had waited all tournament long for these critical matches scrambled, watching scores of the matches blink into view on computer screens while, if you were really smart, listening to Radio Wimbledon. Their on-air coverage was first-rate. Kudos to the Brits!

Isn’t it remarkable that with all the modern methods of accessing any event any where in the world, tennis fans are sent back in the time machine to 1985 for the kind of coverage NBC used to roll out––tape delay. How wonderful that radio has not faded away as a method of following sports because without the radio, we would have no play by play––just scores flashing up at least 30 seconds after the point was over.

Yesterday, we in America got to watch as Petra Kvitova defeated Victoria Azarenka in three high-quality sets. But then the following match between Maria Sharapova and the big-serving German Sabine Lisicki was ruled off-limit. 

It was as if the NBC executives thought U.S. fans deserved no more than tape delay––that because it was only tennis, we would wait patiently until they decided it was time to show the match.

Today, the same thing. We were privileged to watch Novak Djokovic dispatch Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four entertaining, high-quality sets, only to be denied the chance to watch Andy Murray take the first set from Rafael Nadal live.

Eventually, NBC came on the air at 1 p.m. ET to pick up action in the second set. In the meantime, even taking into account that it was pro-Murray BBC commentary, the Scot was obviously playing a brilliant match. Too bad, we could not see it.

This situation just highlights the continual frustration U.S. tennis fans encounter. With the evolution of The Tennis Channel, we had hoped for more live coverage. This has happened, at least in the Masters events and some of the more prominent smaller tournaments.

It would seem that whenever the big networks, NBC or CBS get in the mix, however, these embargoes work to the disadvantage of the people who really want to watch tennis.

Here is a thought––if the network does not wish to show the match live when it is happening, then they should not forbid a network who does the opportunity to do so. I say that NBC gets a big resounding “F” for their choices regarding semifinal coverage at this year’s Wimbledon.

Let us, as tennis fans, insist upon 21st century coverage for tennis events! While I realize tennis is not the most important of sporting events in the United States, would NBC even consider a tape-delay of a baseball game, a football game or a hockey match? I think not.

Tennis has also moved into century No. 21. We wish to be treated the same as other sports fans with live coverage of major matches.  NBC failed big time for us during the Wimbledon semifinals.

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