06/01/20: Tennis Channel President discusses how the channel dealt with the pandemic

 

Medias First Morning Read
Monday June 1, 2020

With tennis’ top prizes being delayed or cancelled as a result of the pandemic, programmers at Tennis Channel have had to get creative with their content, especially as the network launches Tennis Channel International in April, making use of the sport’s international popularity and delivering some live events once again as early as May 1. Cynopsis asked Ken Solomon, President of Tennis Channel, about dealing with the difficulties behind the scenes and how changes to the schedule will impact the platform.

Solomon on tournaments closing down: Everything happened so fast. You have to remember that tennis was the first sport to cancel, on March 8, and it was a huge one that was quickly followed by everything else in sports days later. We were on the grounds, planning to produce the upcoming BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California – the world’s largest non-Grand Slam tournament – on Saturday night, to there being no event at all by Sunday. Our entire supply chain vanished overnight. Behind the scenes we were instantly re-organizing our whole company to do something completely different than what we do – both in terms of content that we create and deliver to our audiences and as far as more than 98-percent of our team working at home days later, all without ever missing a beat.

Our parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, was a super early mover in getting all non-essential personnel immediately provisioned to continue their jobs from home. Tennis Channel had completely reconfigured our narrative development, production, sales, promo and marketing workflows; stayed in live production the entire time; established a robust videoconferencing infrastructure to remain fully connected 24/7; implemented early electrostatic cleaning and top tier-safety protocols for those who remained in our studio; and developed a new on-air strategy the week before stay-at-home orders were officially mandated in California, Chicago and New York where we work.

On staff: We’ve always known we have an incredibly resilient team at Tennis Channel. We’re built for uncertainty; we’re problem solvers. In covering live tennis, we’re used to living on the road 24/7 across the entire globe. We deal daily with last-minute schedule changes, uncertain match lengths, rain delays, fires, players “pulling out” due to injury, transistor blowouts, floods, power outages and political interference – you name it. It’s always been a part of our world to make instantaneous, often major adjustments, and the team didn’t skip a beat in early March when the pandemic completely changed everyone’s lives and livelihoods. Our staff doubled down and found a way to excel and prosper differently, despite the pause in the men’s and women’s tours.

On audiences: We’ve learned something that we always assumed: that tennis represents a wider look into the world and people’s lives in so many different ways, and that our sport isn’t defined solely by the professional game. Without a question. For millions in our country and around the globe tennis has held a dominant, deep-rooted position in their lives, and you’ve seen that on full display during the pro tours’ suspension. The tennis community has truly come together through this time of adversity. We’ve had an explosion in user-generated content and social media, whether it’s Roger Federer or Serena Williams hitting tennis balls at home or countless fans coming up with clever ways to practice and stay in shape and sane while sheltering in place

On players returning: They want it and we’re facilitating it in a big way. Tennis is leading sports’ safe return to the field, and we just completed covering two socially distanced events in Florida that we developed with our partner Universal Tennis Rating (UTR), which featured top-ranked players, men and women who compete at Wimbledon and the US Open. Both events were held in a way that put the safety of everyone involved at the very top of the priority list. We had no fans, no ball boys or ball girls, and only the players were allowed to handle their own cans of tennis balls and towels. There were racquet taps instead of handshakes after matches and we took our prior years of learning and devised a whole new production approach, complete with drones, improvised 27-foot jibs cameras cantilevered into the court, fixed remote controlled cameras and many other new advanced features that will live well beyond this moment.

On new dates: We’re definitely looking forward to the return of the pro circuit and the majors along with everyone else whenever they are ready, but in the meantime we’re going to keep producing and delivering as much live pro tennis competition on air as we can. The (RE)Open Tour is a bridge that can exist indefinitely until that undetermined moment returns, and we’ve already generated sponsorships with the first of these events. We have a big event in Charleston next month with the largest player field of any of these so far and stars who have won majors. Jamie and Andy Murray – major champions themselves – just announced an event this summer that we’ll show as well and, like I said, there are many more to come with the world’s top players in discussions with us now. The beauty for us is, yes it will be great when the real tours return, but right now Tennis Channel’s team still is delivering audiences, sponsors, and world-class, live pro tennis for all to enjoy.

PROGRAMMING

The NBA is reportedly mulling four possibly plans for a return in July, with ESPN writing that owners are expected to vote on the way forward on Thursday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported the four competition scenarios for restart: 16 teams going directly to playoffs; or 20 with group/stage play; 22 with games to determine seeding, play-in tournament for final seed(s); and 30 with a 72-game regular season as well as a play-in tourney.

ESPN will nationally televise the 2020 MLB Draft on June 10 and 11, with the first round set to air starting at 7p on ESPN while the second round through fifth round will air the next day from 5-11p on ESPN2. In total, ESPN platforms will carry nearly 10 hours of live MLB Draft coverage. The event will also stream via the ESPN App. In addition, ESPN Deportes will exclusively televise day one of the 2020 MLB Draft in Spanish from 7-10:30 p.m. ET on June 10. Karl Ravech will host ESPN’s coverage of the MLB Draft at ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. studios alongside Kiley McDaniel.

The Boston Marathon announced that this year’s event is officially cancelled as a result of the coronavirus. In lieu of honoring runners as they cross the finish line, officials are allowing participants to complete a 26.2-mile run on their own in order to receive any Marathon-related items and the the B.A.A. will offer a series of virtual events & activities throughout September’s Marathon Week to bring the Boston Marathon experience to the world. This will be the first time in 124 years that the Boston Marathon has been canceled.

In ratings news, Thursday saw Chase Elliott take the checkered flag in the NASCAR Cup race from Charlotte that was rained out Wednesday and excluding the subsequent weather delay on Thursday, the telecast scored 1,508,000 viewers. Preceding the race, NASCAR Race Hub posted 286,000 viewers, up 204% compared to its Thursday average last May.

Speaking of which, Kurt Busch and younger brother and reigning champion, Kyle Busch, will have the call for the NASCAR XFINITY Series race from Bristol Motor Speedway tonight at 7p on FS1. The Busch brothers and FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer Adam Alexander call the action from the FOX Sports studios in Charlotte with at-track reporting by Regan Smith.

Amid the protests from the weekend that resulted from the killing of George Floyd, the NFL was the only league to release a formal statement about his death and the subsequent protests, although it drew a mixed reception. In the statement, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote that “The NFL family is greatly saddened by the tragic events across our country. The protesters’ reactions to these incidents reflect the pain, anger and frustration that so many of us feel. Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Mr. George Floyd and to those who have lost loved ones, including the families of Ms. Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and Mr. Ahmaud Arbery, the cousin of Tracy Walker of the Detroit Lions. As current events dramatically underscore, there remains much more to do as a country and as a league. These tragedies inform the NFL’s commitment and our ongoing efforts. There remains an urgent need for action. We recognize the power of our platform in communities and as part of the fabric of American society. We embrace that responsibility and are committed to continuing the important work to address these systemic issues together with our players, clubs and partners.”

It’s Time To Prepare For Success In A Post-Covid-19 World
The Great Sports Disruption: A Virtual Event Presented By Cynopsis
June 9 | 1PM – 5PM

Register for this conference and take a close look at an unprecedented year in collegiate sports with Pac-12, see visions for the future of esports with Riot Games, check out professional leagues’ new approach to competitive play with Athletes Unlimited and NBC Sports Group, learn from New Balance’s take on positive brand messaging, glimpse the future of the Olympics with the USOC and more.

SPONSORSHIP & PROMOTION

Commissioners from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC sent a letter to congressional leaders on Friday
, outlining their goals to expedite plans on name, image and likeness in collegiate sports in order to not have to “wait for the NCAA process.” NIL rules are expected to be written by Oct. 31, with a vote occurring no later than Jan. 31, 2021. Last month, the NCAA’s Board of Governors signed off on recommendations that would make it permissible for college athletes to make money for personal endorsements, appearances and sponsorship deals that are currently against the rules. The Power 5 commissioners said the letter was written in a move to make sure lawmakers “hear directly from us, as any NIL changes will have the greatest impact upon the (autonomy) 5 conferences and our member institutions.”

DIGITAL, DATA & TECH

NASCAR unveiled a partnership with Facebook to become the first partner for Venue, a new iOS and Android app from the company designed to enhance the live event experience by bringing fans and expert commentators together in an interactive way. Fans will be able to interact with the expert commentators, such as well-known personalities like journalists, current or former athletes or aspiring “fan-analysts,” who will host a venue for each race. During the race, those commentators will provide commentary, pose interactive questions and polls and open up short chats around specific moments of the event. “As NASCAR makes its return to action over the coming weeks, Venue will provide users with a unique and exciting way to connect with fellow race fans from around the globe — all from the safety and comfort of their own homes,” said Tim Clark, SVP and Chief Digital Officer at NASCAR. “NASCAR was built on innovation, and we couldn’t be more excited to help a great partner like Facebook’s New Product Experimentation team innovate around new platforms.”

DraftKings is serving up live streaming sports coverage through its mobile app as DraftKings Sportsbook geolocated customers will be able to stream competition from the Korea Baseball Organisation and football’s German Bundesliga across all jurisdictions, with the exception of Iowa.

ESPORTS

Turner Sports’ ELEAGUE and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment are teaming up to create a new esports competition series for NetherRealm Studios’ Mortal Kombat 11. Live event coverage begins June 7 at noon on Twitch with players from both North America and Europe able to sign up via Battlefy and compete for cash prizes as well as the opportunity to advance to the final stage of the Showdown. This final stage will be a MMA-style “Fight Card” event held Sunday, July 5, with live coverage also distributed on Twitch. Live matches will continue weekly on Sundays, with each week devoted to a different open qualifier.

BLAST is expanding its Betway partnership to add sponsorship of its online DoTa 2 tournament – BLAST Bounty Hunt. According to the announcement, the new partnership “means that Betway will take advantage of the numerous branding opportunities that will come off the back of the significant viewing numbers BLAST Bounty Hunt is expected to generate in June, across a wide range of territories and channels” and includes sponsorship of the draft.

INDUSTRY & ROSTER MOVES

Jeff Krolik, President of the Sinclair’s RSNs announced his retirement, effective August 30. Krolik managed the RSNs for nearly 15 years, and led the group during the sale from FOX to Disney and the subsequent sale from Disney to Sinclair. “Jeff has the well-deserved reputation as both an outstanding executive and a proven leader,” said Chris Ripley, Sinclair CEO. “He and his team have built an extraordinarily successful enterprise, and all of us congratulate him on his many accomplishments and wish him only the best in his retirement.”

The Cynopsis Adtech Awards
Final Deadline: June 10
During a time when in-person events have been cancelled, the adtech community is stepping up. They’re helping to guarantee marketers upfront inventory and preserve revenue for media owners by using breakthrough approaches and solutions. Adtech providers are a group that lives on the cutting edge of innovation, which is why we are celebrating their platforms, campaigns, and strategies.

GET STARTED ON YOUR ENTRY

On this Day
1988: John Madden Football, the first incarnation of the video game franchise, is released for the Commodore 64 and Apple II.

In the Know
In 1995, which MLB team drafted Tom Brady (18th round)? (Email [email protected] with your answer and be sure to include your name, company and city).

Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question
How many stages are there in the Tour de France? Answer: 21. Kudos: Aymon DeMauro-ADM Media & Marketing/NY; Tom Buffolano-LTN Global/NY; Christian Matthews-Washington Redskins/DC; Joe Lyons-ESPN/Dallas; Kathryn Kieser-Haworth Marketing and Media/Minneapolis; Tom Moore-Kalt Productions/LA; David Westberg-SAG•AFTRA Credit Union/Burbank

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