Stefanos Tsitsipas saved a match point on the way to breaking Novak Djokovic in back to back games to take a thrilling third set and extend the match. However, many American fans watching the NBC coverage did not know this happened, as the match was only midway through the second set on NBC. Fans in the Eastern time zone were watching live tennis, while fans in Central, Mountain, or Pacific time were on tape delay.
This hard-to-understand coverage delay highlighted a fortnight of poor, simply unacceptable coverage. Had they been showing the match in prime time to attract more American viewers it would be understandable, but simply showing the match one hour or so later still caused it to end around 3:30 PM Central, 1:30 Pacific. This is really a head-scratcher to what it accomplished aside from frustrating tennis fans who enjoy looking up match statistics and engaging in conversations on message boards or Twitter, who no longer could because they were delayed. It does not help the cause that a day earlier, fans were treated to an all-American semifinal and American Sofia Kenin reached the final, while most fans were hardly able to watch any of her matches.
Inaccessible All Tournament
Unlike the three other Grand Slams that are shown on ESPN, NBC has taken a different, and frankly far worse approach. After showing Day 1 coverage on the first Sunday, Tennis Channel exclusively showed the tournament every day up until the semifinal, save for a few small chunks of coverage on NBC’s new streaming service Peacock. This was problematic for two reasons: the lack of Tennis Channel on a lot of basic cable packages and the absence of a free online stream to watch other courts. Tennis is simply not a mainstream sport in the United States, so it does make sense that Tennis Channel is not on many TV packages. This underlines the problem with them showing a Grand Slam. Many Americans tune into tennis four times a year for the Slams, so they should be able to watch. Casual fans are a big part of the reason that Grand Slams are so huge and produce such large payouts.
ESPN has a great feature on WatchESPN website, where fans can enter their cable subscription password and watch anything on the ESPN networks as well as a selection of other events. ESPN has made this a bit more difficult with the launch of the paid-subscription site ESPN+ which shows a lot of tennis, but generally at least three or four courts are offered for free each day. Tennis Channel offers their Tennis Channel plus subscription, where users can select coverage on multiple courts, but there is no free version of it so fans who are not willing to pay are restricted solely to whatever match the channel decides to show. NBC has their streaming site nbcsports.com/live, which could have been utilized for this tournament but for some reason it was not–other than matches being shown live on NBC. Even fans who do have Tennis Channel are often disappointed as the big names tend to be shown in blowout matches in the early weeks–while competitive, excited battles between lower ranked players never get shown.
NBC, by their lack of available matches, putting a majority of the tournament on tape delay, and showing one of the tournament’s biggest matches on tape delay show that they do not care enough about the French Open to give a good presentation to viewers. An easy solution is to hope ESPN picks up the American broadcast rights, as they have done a pretty good job presenting the other slams. Unfortunately, NBC has a contract through 2024, locking them in to four more years of coverage. To end on an optimistic note, once Peacock gets more polished, it could be a solution to show matches all tournament for anyone with a cable subscription and offer viewers multiple court options. American tennis fans can only hope the coverage will get better so they can enjoy a tournament that the new crop of American women, and to a lesser extent American men, have been finding some recent success.
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