Michael Emmett: “Sportsnet Fumbles London Event”

From what I hear, the match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the last ATP event of the year was one for the ages. I say that because I didn’t see a point – the match didn’t come onto local airways until 10:27pm. But it could have been shown live at 3pm Toronto time. As a result of poor programming, I had to wait through a boring triple overtime game between the dreadful Toronto Raptors and the Utah Jazz.

Written by: Michael Emmett

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***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs.  He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet.  Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada.  Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s.  Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***

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From what I hear, the match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in the last ATP event of the year was one for the ages. I say that because I didn’t see a point – the match didn’t come onto local airways until 10:27pm. But it could have been shown live at 3pm Toronto time. As a result of poor programming, I had to wait through a boring triple overtime game between the dreadful Toronto Raptors and the Utah Jazz. And by then, it was way past my bedtime. Whoever made this decision to put the tennis match on so late after an abysmal basketball game should be fired. For those who stayed up well past midnight to watch this instant classic, they said it was magnificent tennis and will be a match that goes down as one of the best ever played in the London arena. Too bad most Torontonians were in a similar boat and missed a spectacular match with shot-making never seen before.

Rogers Sportsnet, a company I used to work for back in the 90s, should be forbidden to ever show tennis again. How is it possible that this match wasn’t shown live? 3pm Eastern time in Toronto (8pm in London), on a Monday afternoon, is a dead time on most sports channels in Canada. Sportsnet has five channels to choose from – SN-1, SN-Ontario, SN – East, SN – West, SN – Pacific. Would it not have been possible to put the final match on the ATP calendar – between the top two male players in the world – on live TV on one of these five channels? The answer is obviously YES.

A simple flip of a switch and we could have seen this wonderful match live without losing out on precious sleep time. I’m sure it would not have cost Sportsnet a nickel to wipe out the three-month old POKER that aired on four of their five channels and put on a tennis match that would have created tons of interest. So many people expected this match to be on live television. And, like me, most were in shock to find out it wasn’t going to be on the tube until much later in the evening.

I have had numerous tennis members come up to me today and discuss this very subject. It is a ridiculous decision that makes no sense. I emailed one of the executives at Sportsnet to get an answer, but needless to say I received no response. And really there is nothing they could say that would explain things – simply put, they made a colossal error and should be reprimanded in a serious way.

This is as black and white as it gets, this match had to be on Live HD television. Final matches must be aired as they happen – and for the most part we are very lucky in this regard. ESPN 2 showed the match live in the USA. Sky Sports showed the match live in England. Tennis 7 showed the match live in Australia. RDS showed the match live in Quebec. I could go on and on but I won’t. Folks in English speaking Canada got screwed – not only was it scheduled at 9:30pm (six and half hours later than it was played) but that start time, as mentioned above, was delayed too because of the three and half hour Raptors game. All in all, it was one mistake after another by the suits at Sportsnet. Let’s just hope, in future, this kind of neglect doesn’t happen again.

As far as I’m concerned, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back – Sportsnet should be forced to give up their rights to both tours until they prove they can get it right.

Considering the entire event was broadcast live for eight straight days – it would only make sense to show the BIGGEST match live and NOT be put on tape delay almost eight hours after the fact. As a tennis fan, Sportsnet has come to the rescue many times in recent months, and should be complimented for doing a great job of showing many, many matches across both the WTA and ATP tours. But this time they dropped the ball in a huge way. It was an error that should cost them the contract when it comes up for renewal.

There are roughly 11 events that matter on the ATP tour. The four Grand Slam finals + Toronto, Cincinnati, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Indian Wells and the ATP finals in November. All of these events, including the finals, were broadcast live in this country, except for Mondays Grand Finale.

3pm is a perfect time for these networks to put on events that are broadcast in prime time across the Atlantic in England. But for some reason, with five channels to pick from, they overlooked one of the biggest matches of the year. They delivered every match leading up to the finals live. And they teased us with the two biggest names in the sport going head-to-head.

Imagine a major network airing a movie and cutting out 15 minutes before the end. This would not happen. What Sportsnet did is similar in the fact that they showed us all the meaningless matches live and then when it came to the decisive match they decided to air it late at night on a channel that had a live game on preceding the marquee match-up. They made the match insignificant and downplayed the importance of the event by showing it tape delayed.

We are now in an era of technology – no match – especially one of this magnitude should be played on a delayed basis. Fans want to watch events live – all the time. That’s why we have so many sports channels. If you can’t show it live, pass it on to TSN or THE SCORE – I’m sure they would have found the space to present it as it happened.

If Sportsnet wants to be known as the TENNIS channel across this great country of ours they will have to do a better job of transmitting the biggest matches on the ATP tour. This mistake is unforgivable, but in reflection, I guess everybody deserves a second chance.

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