Category Archives: Media

TennisTV Has Arrived On the Web

Having trouble finding a broadcast feed of your favorite tournament? Take heart, maybe it’s one of the many events will broadcast online this year.

There’s so much going on at the moment that I can barely figure out where to direct my attention. Tomorrow the US will swear in its first black president. My local village – meaning the eclectic group of people who live up under the Hollywood sign – will drag out a large TV and gather in front of the village grocery store to watch the swearing in. As the event announcement said, it’s not something to watch alone.

Then there’s the Australian Open which started on Sunday Aussie time/Saturday US time. A slimmer Andy Roddick is through the first round, a taller Juan Martin del Potro is also through, Gilles Muller beat Feliciano Lopez 16-14 in the fifth set (that adds up to 30 games by the way), and I’m gearing up to see if young Aussie Bernard Tomic can possibly emerge from the tennis-mad media blitz down under with his psyche intact. As far as I can tell, his first ever professional match was the qualifying event for last year’s Aussie Open and this year they gave him a wild card into the main draw. Oy, what are doing to this boy?

I will get to all that in the next few days but first I want to look at the state of tennis broadcasting by looking at, a new internet channel that will broadcast 35 ATP and WTA tournaments in 2009 and even more in 2010. (Here’s a list of this year’s tournaments.) No longer will I have to stay up until 2am watching camel racing in Dubai so I can track down an illegal feed of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships and then, when I find it, strain my aging eyes looking at a grainy postage stamp-sized screen trying to figure out if the ball was in or out since, for some reason or other, I never found time to learn Arabic and thus do not understand a word the commentators say.

No, I can just pay $129.95 for a year’s subscription and watch the ATP Masters 1000 events, both the women’s and men’s year-end championships, and a number of other events in between. Or I can pay $84.95 to watch just the men’s events or $69.95 to watch just the women’s events. There are lots of issues to look at here and in this day and age, first and foremost is economics.

I already pay a premium to get the Tennis Channel from my satellite provider and now I’ll have to pay more. Then there’s the technology. If I watch a match on my satellite TV feed, I can record it on my digital video recorder. I can’t do that on the web. Yet. There are a number of programs that will record directly off a computer screen but they frequently freeze up and, in any case, you’d have to get up in the middle of the night and start the recording mechanically because their scheduling features don’t work yet.

I don’t know about TennisTV yet because its season doesn’t start until early February with the WTA event in Paris and the ATP event in Rotterdam, but the ATP Masters Series TV website charged an extra fee to watch past events when it was broadcasting the Masters events online.

Having said that, I sometimes pay a fee to watch a web feed for one of the many, many events I can’t find on TV and those events are more likely to turn up on TennisTV. And that’s how I think this will all work out.

Sooner rather than later, we’ll be watching every tennis match online. Sporting events, and broadcasting in general, are migrating to the internet. If you missed an episode of the Simpsons you can point your computer at and catch up. Or you can take your iPod out of your pocket and indulge in Entourage on Itunes. Rather than having to pay for hunting shows on the Versus channel so you can get the sports package which has the Tennis Channel, you’ll be able to pay for tennis matches only online.

And that’s a good thing because, currently, satellite and cable providers have too much power. I recently had to sign up for a new two year contract just because I upgraded to HD. I liked watching the summer Olympics online at my leisure and I’m going to enjoy watching tennis online.

Oh yeah, and speaking of the Aussie Open, rather than switching back and forth and picking up points here and there in matches featuring, mostly, US tennis players on ESPN2 and the Tennis Channel, I can sit down with my computer and pick a match and watch every point from beginning to end. How cool is that?

2007 Tennis Wayback Machine

In no particular order, here is the first installment of notable events from the year 2007.

Bad Tennis Predictions

I went on the Sports Talk Cleveland radio show early in the year and participated in a serpentine draft for their tennis fantasy league. In a serpentine draft, whoever picks first in one round picks last in the next round. After I won the right to take the first pick in the draft and learned that I’d get the last pick in the second round, I blurted out, “Does that mean I have to take Serena?” Silly me. Serena Williams dropped in to the Australian Open and rolled into the final where she gobsmacked Sharapova 6-1, 6-2. Roger Federer won the men’s title but, then, you knew that.

Megamerger Multimedia Disease Attacks Tennis

IMG bought Tennis Week, the venerable tennis publication started by the late, great Gene Scott 32 years ago. Not such a big deal until you realize that IMG also represents Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer (and Nick Bolletieri’s tennis academy). Is this yet another nail in the coffin of independent media? There is hope I suppose. The New York Times owns part of the Boston Red Sox and they still trash the Sox regularly. But it does make you wonder if Tennis Week would get interference from the head IMG guy if they trashed Sharapova for pulling out of Toronto because she stubbed her toe.

The Interview That Wasn’t

The P.R. firm for a wine that Jim Courier endorses offered me an interview with Courier. It started off as a telephone interview, then it was demoted to an email interview, and then it turned into nothing because Courier never answered my email. And that was after I spoke to my friend Bob Blumer, star of the Food Network show Glutton for Punishment, so I could get up to speed on old world wine versus new world wine. That was also after I picked Courier to be Richard Gasquet’s new coach because I thought Gasquet needed one. Gasquet didn’t need a new coach. He made it to the year end championships just fine thank you.

Pregnancy, Cocaine, and the Comeback Mommy of the Year

Anastasia Myskina and Kim Clijsters are both pregnant. That’s a better way to leave the tour than testing positive for cocaine. I’m sure Martina Hingis might have been happier if her engagement to Radek Stepanek had ended in marriage and she was taking a pregnancy test instead of a hair test to prove that she never touched the white stuff. Lindsay Davenport gave birth in June and returned to the tour three months later. So much for retirement. She went 13-1 in her comeback and plans to play in three slams in 2008.

The Media Wars

At the same time that Sports Illustrated laid off 298 employees, it paid $20 million for, sports information and fan blogger site. The timing of these transactions made it look like S.I. was exchanging paid writers for unpaid fan bloggers, but the reality is a bit more complex. S.I. was trying to beef up its online presence and narrow the gap between and the hugely popular S.I. even poached ESPN radio personality Dan Patrick, but that must have pissed off ESPN because they turned around and stole S.I.’s back page columnist, Rick Reilly, with an unbelievable $3 million per year offer. Hey guys, I’m available and I’d take a lot less than $3 mil.

Back to Back to Back to Back

By the time I reached Indian Wells on Sunday afternoon in early March, Guillermo Canas had already beaten Federer for his biggest win since coming off a 15 month suspension for using a banned substance. He beat Federer again two weeks later in Miami and if that wasn’t bad enough, David Nalbandian raised himself from the dead, or at least from his lethargy, and beat Federer in consecutive meetings at the last two Masters Series events of the year, Madrid and Paris. And Nalbandian had never won a Masters Series event before! Not only that, but because I didn’t pick Nalbandian for my fantasy team in Paris, I dropped out of the top 100 in the ATP Fantasy Tennis Season for the first time all year and lost my subleague title. Serves me right for not believing in the guy.

To be continued…

Teddy Awards

Please go over to the poll on the right side of the page and vote for the player who is in most need of a new coach. I skipped Female Centerfold of the Year because Ana Ivanovic was the only player nominated.

Does Tennis Need a Commissioner?

Three tennis experts think that tennis needs a commissioner, but I’m not so sure.

John Feinstein, columnist for the Washington Post and author of numerous books about sports, sat in for Jim Rome on his sports talk show for a few days last week. Feinstein thinks that there are a number of problems with tennis these days but he talked about two problems in particular and wow was it great to hear tennis on national sports radio, at least for a few days.

Feinstein interviewed Patrick McEnroe and introduced the first problem by asking him the following question: “What’s the biggest problem in tennis?” McEnroe’s answer? He thinks the biggest problem is the lack of a leader, or commissioner, who has enough power to change the tennis calendar.

Feinstein agrees with McEnroe. He wants a commissioner who will reorganize the tour structure to make it similar to the PGA tour. Smaller tournaments would be relegated to lower levels such as the Nationwide Tour which is second-tier to the PGA.

A commissioner could also establish and enforce a prohibition on appearance fees – money given to players to “appear” at a tournament in addition to prize money. That’s a good idea but even the commissioner of the PGA hasn’t been able to do anything about appearance fees yet.

Pam Shriver turned up at the open media session for the Countrywide Classic last Friday because she was being inducted into the Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame that evening. While we wandered over to a nearby fence so her young son could watch a huge construction crane in action, I asked her about McEnroe’s comments. Here’s what she said:

That’s always been a big criticism, the sport’s not unified enough. And then it’s so political that you just can’t get things moving these days with any momentum in one direction that makes good business sense. So I don’t know if that’s the most serious problem, not having a commissioner, but I would say that unified leadership would certainly be beneficial.

Most major sports have a commissioner and a players’ union and the commissioner is hired by the owners. If the owners are unhappy with the commissioner they get rid of the commissioner. Baseball owners got rid of Fay Vincent because, among other things, he accommodated players too much during the 1990 lockout.

If there was a commissioner of tennis, I’m not sure it would be much different than the current structure. Currently, ATP decisions are made by the board of directors. The CEO, Etienne de Villiers, has one vote, three representatives of tournament directors each have one vote, and three player representatives each have one vote. And only the tournament director representatives and the player representatives vote for the CEO so the players arguably have more power than major sports where the owners hire the CEO.

The problem is that the players don’t exercise their power. If they’re unhappy with the tennis calendar, they withdraw from tournaments. It sends a message to the tournament directors but since there’s no organized work stoppage, it’s not a strong enough message.

I support the idea of a commissioner but only if it’s accompanied by a players’ union with a leader who can organize the players well enough to threaten a work action. Of course, the players would have to vote for that and since they’ve shown no inclination to do that up to now, we might be stuck with what we have for some time to come.

What do you think? Does tennis need a commissioner?

By the way, the second problem Feinstein discussed is the lack of access to players and I’ll get into that later in the week.

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Roger Federer, Tim Duncan and the ESPYs

Roger Federer fails to win the ESPY Best Male Athlete award and has about as much buzz in the U.S. as Tim Duncan

When I spoke to James Blake on Friday he said he’d been to the ESPYs the night before. He mentioned hanging out with his friend Kevin Garnett but refused to say whether K.G. wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers this coming season. Can’t imagine why he wouldn’t tell us.

The ESPYs are the U.S. version of the Laureus World Sports Awards. The award is named after its creator, ESPN. This year Roger Federer was nominated for Best Male Athlete.

Needless to say, Federer did not win. The U.S. doesn’t like giving athlete of the year awards to foreign players. Sports Illustrated has given its Sportsman of the Year award to nine foreign players in its 53 year history and two of those awards were for off-the-field activities.

Last year they gave it to NBA player Dwyane Wade instead of Federer despite the fact that Wade has one NBA title to his name. Wade’s teammate Shaquille O’Neal, who has four NBA titles and is arguably the most dominant center in NBA history, has never won the award. Federer, meanwhile, had just won three of the four slams two years running and was dominating his sport as no other athlete has since his friend Tiger Woods took over the world of golf.

The ESPYs dealt with foreign players by creating a Best International Athlete award in 2006 and gave the award to Albert Pujols, a Dominican-born baseball player. Baseball is the quintessential U.S. sport and Pujols plays for the St. Louis Cardinals in the heartland of the U.S. How much more home grown can you get?

Admittedly ESPN is based in the U.S. and should reward its players but U.S. sports are increasingly international. At the beginning of the 2006 season, 27.4 percent of Major League Baseball players were foreign born. All but two of the ESPY awards were determined by online fan voting. One of those non-fan awards went to a pair of men in Northern Ireland who are helping to heal the Catholic/Protestant divide using the game of basketball.

This is a hint to the problem because Federer does not have “buzz” with U.S. fans. If you want to know why that is, all you had to do was to stay tuned to ESPN after the ESPYs broadcast last night and watch a show called Who’s Now: Determine the Ultimate Sports Star. The show pairs athletes off against each other in a bracket format and fans vote for the player with the most “on-field success and off-field buzz”. The eventual winner is the ultimate sports star.

A panel of sports experts debated the current pairing of Tony Parker and Federer. At one point, one of the experts compared Federer to NBA player Tim Duncan in terms on-court charisma and I almost fell off my chair. Duncan is famous for his vacant stare and stone face demeanor. Perhaps these guys never saw Federer break down in tears after winning a slam or scream after a brilliant point.

Duncan is known for a commercial in which he’s stopped by police and stares wordlessly into space during the officer’s interrogation. Federer can be seen in a print ad walking away from his private jet. Earlier this year he was featured in a Men’s Vogue layout shot by Annie Leibovitz. You see him posing in his high rise apartment in Dubai and hanging on to the mast of a speeding boat in the Persian Gulf. This guy is a worldwide celebrity yet that compares favorably to Tim Duncan in the U.S. and unfairly to Tony Parker mainly because Parker is married to Eva Longoria and the best Federer can do is call Tiger Woods his friend.

Who’s Now is a lame made-for-TV show but it makes a good point. Sport is entertainment and buzz is as important as skill. Federer will have to settle for his third straight ESPY as Best Male Tennis player unless he drops his girlfriend and starts dating Paris Hilton.

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What happens when I’m as old as Bud Collins?

On Monday I celebrated my 58th birthday. I passed my eye test at the DMV without needing glasses, a miracle in itself, and went to Staples where they finally found a self-inking rubber stamp I’d ordered in January. That was good news because I was beginning to wonder if I was growing old and losing my mind. No I’m not, I really did order a rubber stamp with my address on it.

All day long I couldn’t help thinking about Bud Collins. This year’s Wimbledon was Bud’s last appearance on NBC’s coverage of the event, he’s been let go after 35 years of interviews and features on tennis broadcasts. Evidently he received the news in a voice message from his boss at NBC, Ken Schanzer.

Bud is 78 years old. That means I have 20 years more to dig my way into the world of tennis before I’m sent out to pasture and shipped off to the professional version of a rest home.

I worked next to Bud at Indian Wells and Davis Cup. He was a friendly, helpful guy and he probably doesn’t remember me that well because he was friendly and helpful to everyone. I remember him, though, because most tennis journalists are too busy figuring out how they can possibly extract anything other than platitudes and clichés from today’s players to worry about a new person in the media center. Not Bud, though, that’s just the way he is.

Bud not only helped new journalists, he also helped tennis players. In 1988, he interviewed eighteen-year-old Natasha Zvereva after she lost the 1988 French Open final to Steffi Graf. Zvereva held her prize money and said that she wished the Russian Tennis Federation would change something, “you know what I mean,” she said. Collins knew what she meant and helped her out by filling in the blanks: “You would like them to pay you the money you’ve just won.” At the time, players had to turn all of their prize money over to the Russian Tennis Federation.

Zvereva held the check up and said: “This $24,000, it’s not money, just the paper.” One of her handlers squirmed uncomfortably in the stands and shook his finger in protest. He wasn’t quite as brave as Zvereva. Shortly after her comments, the Russian Tennis Federation changed its policy to allow players to keep their prize money.

I have no idea how far I’ll go before I’m finished with tennis, but if I manage to make it into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, write a few tennis books including an encyclopedia of tennis, win a Red Smith award for outstanding sports journalism, and become so popular that I can’t walk across Wimbledon without fans stopping me constantly to ask for my autograph and have their pictures taken with me, all of which applies to Bud Collins, I hope my employer will at least show me the respect of delivering my retirement papers in person.

In return for my years of exemplary service, I also hope my boss will give me enough notice of my dismissal that I can make one more round of my favorite haunts and collect some of the praise and admiration I’ve earned. I’ll still be out to pasture but the appreciation might ease the pain and separation of becoming obsolete.

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