Fans around the world will have unprecedented opportunity to follow their favourite WTA players throughout tournaments from 2017 thanks to WTA Media’s commitment to producing 2,000 matches per season, made available through broadcast and digital channels. Here WTA Media managing director John Learing and executive VP Bruno Rocha explain what lies behind the new strategy, what it means for fans and how it will power the growth of the game.
Why has the WTA adopted a fresh media strategy?
JL: “The change was driven by the desire to give the fans what they want. That meant finding a way of ensuring that all matches were produced for TV and digital distribution so that fans could watch their favourite players from the first ball of the season to the last. In the past, 60 per cent of our content had been left unproduced which meant that the focus was generally on the top players. That meant the only time fans could be sure of seeing local heroes and future stars was at local tournaments. Now they can watch every match they play.”
BR: “On the distribution side, the general impression was that the ecosystem was confusing to broadcasters and fans. Multiple parties were selling rights to different tournaments and, as a result, broadcasters didn’t know who to speak to show certain events and fans didn’t know where to go to watch their favourite players. Thus, we thought it was important to improve that.”
What are the key changes?
JL: “It’s all about the centralisation of all 55 events and our commitment to producing all main draw singles matches and doubles from the semi-finals.”
BR: “I would add two points: higher production quality and a single party managing the content delivery. WTA Media is making a significant investment to take production to a whole new level and the new structure managed by one company is much simpler for our broadcast partners.”
What’s the role of WTA Media?
JL: “Put simply our role is to ensure we produce premium quality coverage of WTA tennis for broadcast and digital platforms week-to-week.”
BR: “I also say our role is to determine the optimal approaches to the distribution and monetisation of content across television, web, mobile, social and other platforms. In other words, to navigate the complex sports media landscape to deliver maximum value and exposure to the WTA.”
What is the role of Perform?
JL: “Perform has been the WTA’s broadcast rights holder since 2013. When the WTA went back to the marketplace for the new rights cycle beginning in 2017, Perform really came to the negotiating table, first and foremost to listen. They heard the grand vision for the future of WTA tennis and put together a rights package to meet expectations. They also became one half of the WTA Media partnership, a joint venture between the WTA and Perform Group.”
How will screening every singles match impact on the sport in the long term?
JL: “It will ensure exposure of players to fans which has not been available in the past. Unless a player has performed well enough to get to the quarter-finals – or even semi-finals – of a tournament their matches fell outside the standard broadcast window. That meant it was difficult to promote players to the TV audience. Now most of our new broadcast partners are committing to airing more content. They can do that because they all have digital platforms in addition to their TV platforms, where there is limited shelf space and more content means more opportunities for the fans to find new favourites.”
All players will be more visible but how else will they be promoted?
JL: “The WTA is working with rights holders to promote their broadcast of our matches as well as leveraging our own channels to cross-promote.”
Which matches will be on TV?
JL: “WTA Media is committed to making 800 matches played on show courts available to broadcasters through its World Feed. In addition, if a particular broadcaster wants to have an additional match – not on a show court that may feature a player of particular interest to them – WTA Media will work with them to make that happen. However all 2,000 singles matches will be made available to be aired across digital platforms.”
How will we get to see games not on TV?
BR: “The content will be available through new digital partners and the OTT platforms of most of our TV partners.”
Will viewers have to pay more to see their choice of matches?
BR: “That’s a matter entirely for individual broadcasters – we don’t mandate any of those decisions.”
What is the role of social media in the new tennis media world – live streaming?
JL: “TV Everywhere is a reality and means you can take your favourite programming with you, wherever you are and use whatever platform is available for you to watch. That means live streaming of matches and an opportunity to stretch the moment and engage on social media before, during and after live events.”
Won’t it cost a lot more to cover so many games?
JL: “Yes…it’s a huge commitment that WTA Media is undertaking.”
How do you get return on investment?
JL: “We’re producing more content and ensuring premium quality to increase rights fees. In short, WTA tennis is becoming more and more valuable with more engaging content.”
What do the changes mean for sponsors?
JL: “More matches mean more opportunities for brand exposure and awareness – tennis court real estate just became significantly more valuable!”
Will the coverage start to look different?
JL: “Yes, and no! Tennis is the most traditionally televised sport in the world and camera placements have not changed for 40 years. So we will be respectful of tradition while looking to innovate and deliver content that speaks to a new viewer.”
What new technology and graphics will be used?
JL: “Data is becoming increasingly important in this space and we will use graphics which tell the story of a match every bit as much as the pictures do.”
With such a big coverage commitment, how do you approach issues like commentary in different languages?
JL: “WTA Media is committed to providing English language commentary across every singles match. Naturally broadcasters can use that as a guide track for translation to their native language.”
How will you measure the success of the new media strategy?
JL: “Inevitably that comes down to audience and broadcaster demand. The two are inter-linked so it’s all about getting more people watching WTA tennis.”
In what regions and territories do you expect to see the biggest growth in viewing?
JL: “We will see a global uplift but expect particular growth in Latin America – where we have tripled our audience – and in Asia-Pacific.”