The use of special signage to make it easier for people to view a TV broadcast is unnecessary. Credit:ABC Spots to programme “where you want to see it” – as the head of the Optus-owned Tennis Australia put it – will be a game-changer for tennis fans, with new technology enabled by the introduction of screens outside courts in Melbourne, Sydney and Sydney Open and Kooyong. US-based Intelsat – the world’s largest satellite communications provider – and Optus have negotiated exclusive rights to the latest technology allowing all 150,000 seats at the venues to be blocked off, enabling viewers to choose what they want to see. At Melbourne Park, for example, where this year’s women’s final will take place, there will be no blocking at the grandstands, the nets, net mezzanine level or at the pit, where the trophy presentation will be made, or for any roof-closed TV coverage, from centre court for the women’s final.
“It’ll be a sea of Australian flags on that stage,” Spots chief executive Karen Dalton said. But despite Spots being used for the 2013 Wimbledon and 2014 US Open semi-finals and finals – with varying results – to enable flexibility for both viewing and ball boys and girls, the use of special signage to make it easier for people to view a TV broadcast is unnecessary. It was introduced ahead of Wimbledon after a problem between Andy Murray’s coach and a ball boy who left his seat to refill the water glass was misinterpreted by many when Murray walked past and could not be seen in the crowd. “They claim they need special signage to block off certain areas to let you see who is sitting where,” ITFA chief executive Ben Hubbard said. “I don’t think it’s necessary.”
Hubbard also did not support additional programming being broadcast from outside courts to deliver alternative programming for spectators to enjoy. During the tennis Australia will stage a series of concerts and entertainment shows. Gersh, a Sydney-based company that designs and builds permanent screens for tennis, agreed. “If we don’t want to programme [you won’t get programming], and if we do it’s by cropping coverage,” Gersh chief executive Simon Gough said. “[And] if you get the cameras in it’s actually a problem to watch because the players aren’t generally going to be there.” Despite Spots being seen as a future-proofing measure for tennis – similar to what boxing promotions have done to ensure their promotions are screened as they happen – Gough questioned whether it was a good idea in the current situation where, he said, there were three major media groups – Seven, Nine and Ten – willing to broadcast each event.
“[It’s] not going to be a fly-by-night thing,” Gough said. “If it’s a massive event we can and will deal with it; more than likely it’s going to be well out of this equation.” Lindstrom John Fitch Professor of Sports Management at the University of Melbourne agreed that in the current market, tennis was unlikely to disrupt the national broadcaster market dramatically. “There is a low barrier to entry for a national broadcaster offering views within the live screen which will appeal to fans [but] they would have to be very successful. There are risks involved for the broadcaster to subsidise those views and a competition of priorities between free-to-air and sports channels.”