During Busy June, ESPN Expands Digital Coverage of Wimbledon
June is a busy month in the sports world, and, accordingly, ESPN is stretched to its platform limits to make sure all of the action finds a home. While the World Cup is going strong on ESPN and ESPN2, beginning on Monday, Wimbledon will volley between ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN3.com, with particular emphasis on the newly rebranded broadband platform, ESPN3.
“Our digital growth on ESPN3 has been enormous, and that’s where we take advantage of the time changes,” says Len DeLuca, SVP of programming and acquisitions for ESPN. “Fans want it live, and we want to deliver it to them live in any time zone. When we’re not on television, we deliver it on broadband.”
A Digital Slam
In a shift from earlier Wimbledon presentations, this year’s ESPN coverage will emphasize the digital side. More than 600 hours of live coverage will be delivered on broadband, via ESPN3.com, while ESPN’s primary networks are busy showcasing World Cup matches. From June 22 to 25, the network will be particularly busy.
“For that Tuesday through Friday, we will be on ESPN2 and ESPN3.com, and we’ll be shifting back and forth because we will have three great events happening at the same time: the World Cup from two sites simultaneously and Wimbledon,” DeLuca says. “We will be navigating viewers all over the place.”
Following the lead of how ESPN directs viewers among channels during the college football and basketball season, all of ESPN’s networks will use bottom lines that tell viewers what they are watching and where to go for World Cup (ESPN and ESPN2) and tennis (ESPN2 and ESPN3.com), depending on the time of day. ESPN’s talent in both South Africa and the UK will also help direct viewers to the right channels to find what they are looking for.
“It’s an embarrassment of riches,” DeLuca says of the multinetwork strategy. “I don’t know any other network that has this problem, and I’m very proud to be dealing with it.”
Right on Time
Wimbledon, the third tennis Grand Slam event of the year, provides ESPN with far more production flexibility than the previous event, the French Open. Instead of having to work backwards, tape-delaying matches, and struggling with an odd timing schedule, ESPN can work with a linear timeline and present every Wimbledon match live.
“The French Open was tough because every day was upside down,” explains Jamie Reynolds, VP of event production for ESPN. “We taped a lot of matches and rounded up our [broadcast] window with a tape of matches that many people already knew the results of. The beauty of Wimbledon is, we take control of the network at 11:30 a.m. or noon ET on the day and we own it until the conclusion of play, which is terrific.”
Adds DeLuca, “Tennis fans demand Wimbledon and the Grand Slams live. When anyone tries to not deliver the great action live and hold it back for whatever business reasons, it is a disservice to the fans, and it is definitely not 21st century tennis.”
21st Century Tennis
ESPN’s Wimbledon coverage, by contrast, will definitively be 21st century. Unlike at the French Open, where ESPN was at the mercy of the host feed, the network has the flexibility to jump around among all the televised courts, which Reynolds and his team expect will help fans feel that they are on-site.
“Now that we on the production side are truly in the linear timeline of the day, that makes our jobs infinitely easier,” Reynolds says. “One of the hallmarks of what ESPN does is that we give the experience of being an on-site spectator. We try to navigate our viewers around the grounds as efficiently as possible to all nine televised courts, to open up all of the stories. That’s our philosophy: to help everybody enjoy what is happening in real time, concurrently.”
Those stories will be enhanced by ESPN’s now-standard arsenal of production assets, including Orad telestration devices to deconstruct points.
“All of those technical assets will be with us to amplify the experience of what this event offers,” Reynolds says. “Our team has learned skills in terms of deconstructing a match and giving the context around it, and the chemistry is now terrific with everyone. We take this event and give it the noble nature that it requires.”