ESPN gives up on tennis fans early Sunday morning

You’re getting a super fresh Beside the Point today. As you were making your coffee this morning, this week’s topic was literally unfolding in front of me.

I was awoken this morning to the repeated buzzing of my cellphone. It was like my phone’s alarm was going off, but it was repeated texting between my wife and daughter who just watched Rafael Nadal win his 21st major tennis championship.

Now that’s not much to most, other than maybe Dean Hogan, but my wife is a tennis freak. A rubber bouncing, fuzzy ball, no-talking-in-the-point, everybody’s-got-a-nickname, head swinging tennis guru. In her former life she could have been Suzanne Lenglen…. look it up.

But here’s where things got off the rails After close to six hours of tennis, and if you’re a fan of true, TRUE athleticism and endurance and will-of-heart and spirit, and you don’t watch tennis – you do not get it, ESPN cut the program for a replay of the BYU-Pacific basketball game.

Tennis is a game where there is no coaching during competition, very brief breaks, it’s one-on-one, simply are you better than the person across from you.

Rafael Nadal has won 21 grand slam titles. He stands alone with the largest number of grand slams, and earned that this morning in Australia. Only slightly arguably the best men’s tennis player ever.

Lee says he joins Andre Agassi as the only men to have a Golden Slam. Yeah, that’s a thing, where you win all the Grand Slams, French Open, Australian Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon…and an Olympic gold medal in singles competition.

There you go. You learned something from Beside the Point.

And I can guarantee you this. People say they can’t watch tennis, it’s too boring. If you were to sit and watch that epic grand slam championship, you would be hooked. You have to consider contributions from Chris Fowler and the wonderful, wonderful commentary of Patrick and John McEnroe, who are one of the very few sports broadcasters that I can say are 100% objective analysts despite their connections to American tennis development efforts.

These guys just want great tennis. Wherever and whomever. And if a match is getting one-sided they want the underdog to regroup, refocus because “we want more tennis”.

But here’s where dollars get in the way of substance and integrity of product.

ESPN dumped coverage of the title match right as Nadal was taking the podium. So people with your regular basic cable or worse couldn’t watch this champion’s remarks to the tennis world.

They switched to a REPLAY of a college basketball game.

I didn’t stay up for the match, my wife and daughter did. I came down in the morning right after the match was over. But even I was blown away sitting waiting for Rafa to have a chance to address fans only to watch them jump coverage and Lee about to start crying.

We have ESPN+ streaming so she quickly flipped over and caught the comments which were brief, poignant, and typical to Rafa’s persona, emotional and humble. This man who came from being two sets down to win in five sets, had to take a chair as the Australian Open heads took up all the remaining coverage moments.

Kia, a corporate sponsor of the Australian Open and a sponsor of Rafa Nadal, should be furious that Nadal, who thanks KIA personally in his speech, was cut off from ESPN viewers. If I had a corporate seat at KIA, that would hit ESPN in the wallet. I’d pressure the ATP, ESPN, the USTA and other influential advocates to make sure the players’ comments at least are carried to completion.

To me this says, and it’s not a theme regulated to tennis coverage, but the product and services we pay for. Customers have taken a back seat to profit margins. ESPN just sent a message to all its tennis fans, that its commitment to them and their sport is limited to a clock.

I get that they just offered six hours of unbroken coverage, but they probably made a crap ton of cash with the sponsorships of the program. And then to cut it off literally eight minutes before it wrapped so they could get to a replay of a second-tier NCAA men’s game is atrocious.

Now..it’s not about the sport that’s created this trilion dollar mega-network. It’s totally about the money – unabashed, literally in your face. Sorry folks, we gotta go.

Yes, there are contract obligations, I get it, but sometimes you just make a decision. I think the NCAA or the West Coast Conference would understand and more importantly forgive, an eight minute delay in replaying the Saturday game. They are, after all, sports fans.

Let’s not forget we are fans first. We choose to purchase a ticket or watch a game or buy a blanket or a new Vikings outfit for your stuffed bear for Christmas.

They market to us and they should, but sometimes integrity has to overcome the cha-ching. It’s not even a cha-ching anymore, but a transition of digital 1s and 0s from one computer to another. It’s silent. The fleecing of the consumer has no sound.

But on this Sunday morning from Melbourne, Rafa Nadal had sound to give. A message from one of the greatest champions of any sport. And in one quick moment ESPN silenced this freak of nature and told all tennis fans giving eyeballs to ESPN’s produce – it’s about us first, and about you when it’s convenient.

For the first time in a long time I took a seat at a Bloodhound basketball game instead of roaming one baseline or another. I sat next to Kent and Wendy Bailey for the second half of the No. 1 Bloodhound boys basketball game and took notes.

“Is that your own system for notes,” Wendy asked watching my scribbling as the game progressed.

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” I said.

But about 1/3 of the stands on the other side of the gym were empty and this is the No. 1 team in the state and unanimous at that. No other team in FMHS history has held that lofty status. It’s time to pack the gym. This is an exciting team to watch. Dayton Davis is a freak under the basket and brings excitement to almost every play. Miles Dear is a floor general, lives on a dime, is clutch, and as tough as they come.

Reiburn Turnbull can get hot at any time and is extremely creative with the ball. Landes Williams is an unheralded lockdown defender on the perimeter, All S-Tate Johnson never gives up on a play and can hit the 3. Phillip Goldie plays four inches bigger than he is and is a rip on a fast-break. Matt Hopper is a bench threat from deep.

Get out and see this squad. This really could be something special, but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at editor@pencitycurrent.com.

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