Live From Roland Garros: Bob Whyley, Tennis Channel Proud of Expanded Coverage
‘We’re on the air 24 hours a day. We just don’t go off the air.’
Tennis Channel this year is offering its most comprehensive coverage of the French Open ever, with 10-hour match windows, late-night encore presentations, and seven days of exclusive Tennis Channel-only coverage in the U.S. Most important for both tennis fans and Tennis Channel is that live match coverage will be nearly double last year’s, jumping to 110 hours (vs. 65 hours). For Bob Whyley, SVP, production/executive producer, Tennis Channel, and everyone else at the network, it’s a bit of a dream coming true.
“This is our 10th year here, and, today, we’re the only place in the U.S. where you can see the French Open. And, if the four slams are the Super Bowls of our sports, I can’t think of a single-sport network like the Tennis Channel that has exclusive coverage of one of their Super Bowls. So it’s a really proud day as we’re on the air 24 hours a day. We just don’t go off the air.”
Coverage this year will run from the first point of Opening Day through the men’s and women’s singles semifinals and mixed-doubles championship — expanding to include the singles quarterfinals. Also new, Tennis Channel will add outer-court matches to its encore lineup.
Tennis Channel and Eurosport are sharing tennis content and technical expertise (most notably with the VER engineering team supplying gear and handling below-the-line needs for Eurosport).
“Eurosport really appreciates what we do for tennis, and we appreciate their tremendous presence in Europe so it just made sense to partner up,” says Whyley. “They allow us to expand our mission and help give millions more people a better tennis experience.”
For the average sports fan, the French Open signals the beginning of a four-month Majors swing that includes Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open. But, for the Tennis Channel team and the hardcore tennis fan who calls Tennis Channel home, this is week 25 of a season that began at the Australian Open in January. The production team is well-versed in how to bounce from one match to the next: during the past 25 weeks, it has spent plenty of time bouncing from one ATP tournament to the next. Whyley says the network’s goal remains the same although it is on a bigger stage this week: tell the story of tennis.
Serving Knowledgable Viewers
“We really talk up to our viewers and appreciate that the people who watch our network also play tennis as well, so they are following the sport year round and [are] in the loop and in the know,” says Whyley. “Plus our coverage was the genesis for the network, so we really nailed down the balance of when to stay with a match or go to a match and the peaks and lows of the event. Because that is all we do.”
One of the tools available to the Tennis Channel on-air team is analytics tracked by the Hawk-Eye system and available to the network because it is a rightsholder of the ATP tour.
“Hawk-Eye aggregates all of the material year after year, and we have access to it,” says Whyley. An example of what the team can do with the data: it can show where a player stands on the baseline or the spin on the ball for any match against any player (or all matches to show broader trends).
“It’s a great tool for tennis fans and our analysts in telling the story,” he adds.
Digital Adds 450 Hours of Coverage
The network’s Tennis Channel Plus digital subscription service will offer live and on-demand matches during Roland Garros, adding another 450 hours to Tennis Channel’s on-air coverage. Subscribers will be able to choose among five courts on the first Sunday through the second Monday of the event, four courts on both Tuesday and Wednesday of the second week, and three each on the second Thursday and Friday of the competition. All Tennis Channel Plus matches will be available for on-demand viewing following their conclusion, in addition to both singles championships.
“If the viewer doesn’t want to watch the way we give it to them on the channel, they can watch Tennis Channel Plus and coverage of five different courts,” adds Whyley. “So they can watch from the first ball to the last of one match or one court all day long.”
Knowing that viewers have that ultimate freedom to find the tennis action they want also gives the Tennis Channel production team more freedom.
“It gives us more freedom to start bouncing,” says Whyley, “because there is so much going on, with seven main TV courts and nine smart production courts with Hawk-Eye. So the more and more options we can give the viewers the better.”
Also helping make sure those options make it out to viewers properly is the team from VER, which is supplying the technical and below-the-line production personnel for Tennis Channel, NBC Sports (which broadcasts weekend coverage), and ESPN International. VER began working with Tennis Channel on the French Open three years ago.
“VER has done a great job, and they have great state-of-the-art equipment,” says Whyley. “But it’s all about the people. They have great engineering talent and producers, and the third time really is the charm.”