From this week's mailbag:
Once again, Fox Sports (Comcast Sports Network) in the SF Bay
Area is pre-empting or abbreviating coverage of the IW Masters. No
Nadal/Nalbandian Wed. night, nor Federer/Verdasco. The 2009 coverage
[stinks] as bad as 2008. At least Tennis Channel wouldn't pre-empt
coverage to air a 2008 rerun or a hockey game. Please let Charlie
-- Annette, Oakland, Calif.
• Amen. In a word, this situation is unacceptable. Indian Wells is a world-class event with record attendance and a top-tier sponsor.....and television coverage unfit for a high school jiu-jitsu tournament. How do you call your tournament the "Fifth Slam" and have your coverage get pre-empted for fishing? This is like owning a sweet new Macbook and then having dial-up internet access. You may as well cut bait entirely and stream matches on-line with streaming video than alienate fans like this.
I see this from the tournament's perspective. ESPN was unwilling to give them enough hours of coverage. And much as we all love Tennis Channel, it's still --thanks, Dolans! -- unavailable in so many markets. It also bears mentioning that the international coverage draws high marks. If you want it straight from the directors' mouths, click here.
Still, the current situation is untenable and here's what I don't get: in recent years, the USTA was negotiating with ESPN for broadcast rights of the U.S. Open and, presumably, negotiating from a position of some strength. Why not say, "As part of the deal, you have to guarantee X hours of coverage of the Indian Wells and Key Biscayne events. Our organization, after all, is based on promoting and growing tennis in the U.S. and when the second and third biggest Americans event are, for all intents, not televised, it's a real problem. What's that? The ratings would rival those for Bull Riding and Bass Fishing? Fine, throw it on ESPN Classic or ESPNU or ESPN Reject Bin. Just somewhere so there's a distinct time and place and the viewers can watch without having to worry that the matches will be pre-empted for the saltwater taffy pull." Then the USTA could either turn around and charge a fee to IW and KB for using its leverage, or even get some sort of equity stake. Anything to avoid the current situation, which has the effect of chilling interest in the sport.
God, I wish there *was* ESPN Reject Bin. That's probably where all the shit I like to watch would be.