WTA Serves Its Fans a Subscription Service of Their Own
The offering launched less than a year after the decision to create it
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is the latest sports organization to launch an OTT streaming subscription service. Fans of power serves and order on the court can visit WTATV.com to subscribe for $9.99 per month, $74.99 per year. Launched on July 31 with the Bank of the West Classic series in Stanford, CA, WTA TV offers 2,000 live and on-demand matches yearly from WTA premier events. Fans can watch through any web browser.
The organization has been on a major video kick since last fall, deepening fan engagement with online video. It posted match highlights quickly and used social media to build engagement on multiple platforms. According to COO Matt Cenedella, it was looking forward to a 2017 full of experimentation.
Well, Cenedella and his team get points for speed. In less than a year, they decided to create a subscription service, worked with a partner, and launched a fully operational offering for fans around the globe.
“Historically, women’s sport has had less distribution than other sports,” Cenedella notes, “so it became imperative for us to have a streaming service available for our fans to be able to engage with our product that travels the world. Working with our partners at Perform Media Group, who are our live-broadcast-rights partner through our association called WTA Media, we used their resources and skills in building an infrastructure for WTA TV.”
Perform did the hard lifting of creating the infrastructure for WTA TV. The goal was to launch with browser access first, making the service available to the widest number of people, and fill in native apps later. WTA has worked with Perform as a live-broadcast partner since 2013, and Perform held live rights for global distribution of WTA matches (everywhere except China) through 2016. It not only created the service’s infrastructure and handles customer-relationship management but is taking the lead on service improvements, such as creating apps for connected-TV devices and mobile platforms.
The WTA’s streaming experience tops what tennis fans can get on TV. First of all, it offers a library of on-demand content going back to when the service launched, a catalog that will grow over time. When watching live matches, viewers can pause the stream and jump back to watch a moment over again. They can also choose a split-screen view that shows four streams from different courts when possible — perfect for when matches are being played concurrently.
Look for more to come from WTA TV in the near future. Social elements that add to the experience will debut by the end of the third quarter, but what exactly that will entail Cenedella can’t yet say. The WTA will also begin producing original content that provides data and context for matches.
“We want to have a home for the live matches that is complemented by the corresponding content of those players and the tournaments but also eventually make sure that we’re providing the appropriate level of data around the match to create a real holistic experience for a fan,” he explains. “That obviously takes a lot of time, and so we’re working on it bit by bit.”
As for the free-video strategy, it’s still in place. The approach is actually two-pronged: building fan engagement, with snackable clips on the WTA’s site and social platforms, and giving true fans a deeper experience via the paid service.
The WTA is doubling down on its free strategy, creating more quick clips than ever, often with associated text. The strategy is working: Facebook views are up, and Instagram views have rocketed dramatically. The goal isn’t just increasing views, though, but getting tennis fans invested in matches they wouldn’t normally pay attention to. Snackable videos help show the drama of matches and introduce less–well-known players. Naturally, the WTA tries to drive views to matches aired by its traditional broadcast partners as well.
The WTA’s video strategy is still new, but the organization’s passion to experiment and innovate will continue. Look for the players themselves to take more of a role in the future.
“Fans will continue to see a series of improvements in the viewing experience in following, tracking, and planning their viewing according to what’s available on the site,” Cenedella says. “We are not a single match-of-the-day at a specific time. We are a multitude of matches with varying start times on various courts and, quite often, two tournaments going concurrently.
“What you’ll see,” he continues, “is a further integration of our social-media efforts via the players, with players helping, for instance, [by saying], ‘This match is on in an hour on WTA TV and this broadcaster; please tune in.’ I think we have to make the tune-in experience globally much better for our fans.”