I’m going to take a page from my broski and look at this year’s Wimbledon coverage in a Good, Bad, & Ugly sort of way. If you’ve been watching the last couple days with the insanely confusing what, when, and where of trying to watch live tennis, you may have missed some of the better aspects of Wimbledon coverage this year. With all due respect to the US Open, Wimbledon is the marquee tennis tournament of the year, and we’re here to break it down.
The broadcast talent at Wimbledon and in tennis as a whole is vastly underrated. At NBC, John McEnroe is one of the best analysts in all of sports, period. Mary Carillo is also widely praised although I’m not as high on her as most. Where the depth of announcers really shine though is ESPN. They made a fantastic decision to bring back a favorite of mine, Chris Evert, to the booth and her pairing with the retiring Dick Enberg has been pleasant.
ESPN finds its strength in the amount of platforms available to televise live sports. In contrast with NBC (more on that in a bit), this ability is only more appreciated. The sheer amount of live tennis on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3.com and other sources is impressive. To fill that time, ESPN has to employ a lot of on-air personalities to present the coverage. You can go up and down the ESPN roster and find solid contributions from each television commentator. Mary Jo Fernandez, Darren Cahill, Cliff Drysdale, and Chris Fowler are just a few of the cast of thousands that do well with the Wimbledon coverage. Unlike ESPN’s other properties (see: NFL), the bluster and fake laughter is kept to a minimum and it’s the tennis that takes center stage. What a novel concept.
The pair for me that stood out in particular was Patrick McEnroe and Brad Gilbert. In the early rounds, the pair would skip through several matches happening at the same time and were always entertaining and informative. It was much like the old days of the NCAA Tournament, going to different courts at key moments in various matches. I found their commentary during the great Tsonga-Dimitrov 2nd Round match to be very good. P-Mac isn’t as well known as his brother, but he can fill both pbp and analyst positions and Gilbert brings (eccentric) energy and strong knowledge. Like the World Cup, Wimbledon coverage shows that televised sports is at its best when the focus is left on what we came to watch in the first place, sports.
Dick Enberg is a broadcasting legend and this is his last Wimbledon. Going out of the national broadcasting scene at Wimbledon is a fitting end for Enberg’s classy career. ESPN has given him plenty of time to honor his broadcasting career and Wimbledon memories and he deserves all the plaudits that come his way. But, we have to relive his “bloody blue balls” highlight from earlier in the Championships. The reaction of Chris Evert was absolutely priceless.
The complicated television partnership between Wimby, ESPN, and NBC led to some confusing times throughout the fortnight (again, more in a sec). It is really too hard to try and figure out which match is showing when on what channel and sometimes, both networks were even showing the same match at the same time. But, that scenario is more preferable then what has unfortunately become the norm…
And here is where Wimbledon’s coverage falls apart, namely NBC’s refusal to air live matches. The way the coverage breaks down between ESPN and NBC is actually quite confusing, if not impossible to understand. USA Today attempted to explain the process earlier in the week, but I still haven’t got it down. Basically, the gist of the criticism is that NBC protects The Today Show at all costs. Live tennis coverage during the weekdays starts at a certain time in the morning on the East Coast and then rolls over throughout the country. Therefore, folks in time zones outside the East are neglected. In the end, it’s a giant middle finger to West Coast tennis fans. In a sense, I can understand NBC’s need to put the highly rated Today show as its top priority, however, it turns their live Wimbledon coverage into something that I’m not totally comfortable printing, but it rhymes with blusterduck.
We asked on Twitter for your thoughts on NBC’s tape delay strategy and here were some of your responses on the subject…
fangsbites @awfulannouncing Bad. Bad. Bad. Bad.
dthomas2003 @awfulannouncing Crap
cvelardi @awfulannouncing An “Olympic-sized Failure”… see what I did there?
bigpaulyb @awfulannouncing Two words: old world.
mrxsports @fangsbites @awfulannouncing imagine if NBC did this crap for Sunday Night Football there would be riots
TJPlayingThru How bout “Typical & Asinine?!”
johnbreech @awfulannouncing “I thought NBC handled it well,” – Rep. Weiner
Smoore1117 @awfulannouncing my real question is, how does #Wimbledon let this happen? Make live coverage a must to whoever buys rights.
GregGraziano @awfulannouncing I can’t watch live Wimbledon coverage, but I can see Casey Anthony’s trial live?#GoFigure #Booooo
Let’s take today for instance. NBC aired the Maria Sharapova vs Sabine Lasicki semifinal on tape delay in every time zone. This is simply an unacceptable and antiquated strategy in 2011 when almost all sports fans will have already known the result. Over on ESPN, they were showing the Tsonga-Federer quarterfinal for seemingly the third time. After the Sharapova match, the other ladies semi between Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka was being shown on NBC AFTER already being shown live on ESPN. NBC’s plans for tomorrow’s men’s semis are even more ridiculous. NBC will begin showing the Nadal-Murray match live at noon everywhere. But, NBC will not make coverage available online until you can start watching on TV in your time zone. Not showing live sports has become the m.o. of NBC, with their save everything for primetime Olympic mantra hopefully coming to an end facing mounting criticism. I’ve written the bloody paragraph and even I don’t totally understand NBC’s philosophy with this! Hopefully the insanity ends next year with a new network TV contract coming for Wimbledon coverage.