The US Open kicks off on ESPN on Monday for a two-week run, and for the first time the network will air all live matches exclusively. Tennis Channel has sublicensed select live coverage since the event moved to cable in 2009. This year, the indie net opted out of a sublicensing agreement for live matches and instead will re-air matches beyond live windows and air shoulder programming. The tournament runs August 31 – September 13 and spans approximately 130 hours.
From ESPN’s perspective, it’s an opportunity to create a consistent product from both a stylistic and production standpoint—“from first ball all the way through final ball,” SVP, programming and Global X Scott Guglielmino told reporters last week. “In the current media landscape with all of the different platforms that consumers take in content… To be able to do it from a live perspective across our platforms… it allows us to really get into a rhythm and cadence of the tournament, and also to be able to tell the various stories,” he said.
The introduction of new technology is a significant part of the coverage this year, execs explained. FreeD replay technology, which freezes the action and allows viewers to see the play from other angles, is being used at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. It’s been used in baseball, NBA and football previously. Meanwhile, a SpiderCam will fly above the matches and offer a birds-eye view, and a RailCam will provide ground-level look at a higher level than a static camera.
Will this new advanced tech influence officials’ calls? We witnessed the use of goal-line technology in the Women’s World Cup this past summer, for instance. Production VP Jamie Reynolds hopes “the sport, the audience, the athletes, embrace the technology and recognize that it’s a benefit to help convey the game.” But on whether it will be used as an official tool, “I would leave that to those that manage the tournament and the sport itself,” he said. For now it’s more “to help stimulate the presentation.”
A challenge to coverage from a creative standpoint will be “stylizing it for a ESPN audience,” Reynolds said, while at the same time producing an event in a venue that is technically under renovations. The $500 million facelift—most ostensibly being spent on a roof for the Arthur Ashe Stadium—will not be finished until the 2016 US Open. “It’s everything from laying cable to finding new camera positions to working with the existing infrastructure on-site to trying to do right by the sport,” Reynolds said. Yet this all will be done knowing that the stadium will undergo more changes at the close of this year’s tourney. “It’s making all of those decisions, making smart investments on capital improvements to the venue, buying the right technology, dressing it up so the event looks magical…and then be ready to tear it down again and get out of the way so the venue can continue its facelift.”
ESPN is in it for the long haul, though. Until 2026, to be precise. And with this tourney ESPN aims to set a precedent. “I would say that the look that you will see this year, the way that’s set up, I think that is certainly a long-term vision for us,” Guglielmino said.