You Cannot Be Serious... FSN Again!
November 11, 2008 -- Last spring as azaleas perked up, cool clean breezes rustled dogwood branches, and light lingered into evening, tennis players in many areas of America anticipated the outdoor tennis season. The temperatures in March steadied at 68 degrees on a few of the nicer days. People opened windows that had blocked wintry air for months. Tennis shoes were dusted off and racquets were strung anew.
At the same time in Indian Wells, California, tour players arrived at the Pacific Life Open. The spring hard court season was under way. For fans that meant live television coverage broadcast from a time zone that wasn't halfway around the world. Tennis that came from Asia or Australia had to be recorded at night unless you were heavily into nocturnal living or conducting research on sleeplessness for the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Picture the disappointment when fans discovered that this tournament, the first big-deal tournament of the U. S. season, had contracted Fox Sports Network (FSN) to beam its matches across American. You could imagine the frowns on fans at kitchen tables, on brightly lit faces that flickered with reflections from a computer monitor, by screams that echoed down hallways of tennis clubs. Those people would not see live television from Indian Wells. Nothing was coming their way because FSN doesn't have a national presence.
Fast forward to this week's Tennis Masters Cup (TMC) from Shanghai. Here we have the year-ending championships with eight elite players from the ATP 2008 Race. They are but the few proud and privileged among the thousands who hoped for this special recognition. The tournament is a big deal, with $4.5 million in prizes.
But... we won't see it because the ATP has again contracted FSN to cover the singles matches from Shanghai while Tennis Channel takes on the doubles matches.
Can you imagine the emails going out to Tennis Channel and FSN? Like... what's going on? Have you again taken poison pills? This is what you did for The Pacific Life. Get over yourselves. Think about us... the tennis fans stuck in multiple regions that can't get FSN.
Lisa, a customer service representative in Viewer Response at Tennis Channel, received one such email yesterday from a disheartened tennis fan who wondered if Tennis Channel would only cover men's doubles from Shanghai.
Here is Lisa's response: "According to our contract with ATP regarding the Master Series Shanghai, we do not have the rights to air any single matches. I have found on its site that Fox Sports Network will air the singles matches. I have attached both schedules from the www.atptennis.com website."
Not the news this fan wanted to read, but Lisa tried her best.
According to the Fox Sports web site, it airs to fifteen regions around the country such as Arizona, New England, New York, South, Florida (isn't that "South"?) and the Midwest. If all fifteen regions were laid out on a map of the United States, it would resemble a map that represented people that voted for Ron Paul. Sketchy at best.
Another person tried to email customer service at FSN via its "Contact Us" link. After typing out a polite and reasonable note that asked if FSN would reach her home, she clicked "submit." An error message popped up. She backed out of the site, and tried again. "Error on the page." She didn't have the patience or time to attempt the communication again.
Cox Communications, a large national cable television provider, doesn't offer FSN in the mid-Atlantic region or many other regions of the country, according to its web site. People in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia, no slouches in the sports enthusiasts arena, won't see live singles from Shanghai, even if they were willing to pay extra for a higher tier of programming. Nothing out there for them.
In order to view the matches, avid tennis fans have joined community tennis web sites in the blogoshpere... the technical lifeline of international tennis diehards. There they chat with buddies known by imaginative pseudonyms and discover within minutes the information they crave -- the name of a website that provides a live feed from the Tennis Masters Cup.
One such site is justintv.com. A quick trip there and you find a lineup of feeds in French, Spanish, or English. It may not be the best quality of viewing, as every couple of minutes "buffering" interference stops the action. However, it is the only quality around for many.
Therefore, on top of the ridiculous prices people have paid monthly for cable television they must now tap another source, the Internet, if they want to catch live tennis from the year-ending event. Since Shanghai is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, sitting in front of a computer at 3 and 4 AM isn't very convenient for the large population living in that time zone. People are asleep for the most part and, if not, they are about to rise and go to work. Additionally, these live streaming channels don't archive the matches. So, you can't catch a couple games after work.
So what's a poor tennis fan to do?
Write letters to the ATP. Send more emails to Tennis Channel. Call Fox Sports Network. Let them all know that tennis consumers rule -- "We want our TMC."
The most important indicator of economic health is consumer confidence. When it rises, the system perks along. When it stumbles, as it has very recently, American businesses slow because consumers -- that's us, the crucial ones -- don't buy.
The equation between tennis fans who would like to enjoy tennis in the comfort of their homes in front of their televisions, and the suppliers of the matches from around the globe gets lopsided. With time and feedback from fans, change could be near. Yes we can!
By the way... day three's singles matches from Shanghai were excellent examples of high-performance tennis, if you happened to be hooked up to a live streaming channel or were in a region of the country lucky enough to get FSN. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga was defeated by Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets: 76 76. And, in a three set roller-coaster marathon, #3 seed Novak Djokovic outlasted a mentally fragile Nikolay Davydenko in a thriller: 64 06 75. With his win, Djokovic earned a berth in the semifinals and knocked Tsonga out of contention. Wednesday... The Mighty Federer and more.