Before Wimbledon, ESPN and BBC tennis analyst John McEnroe took over as Milos Raonic’s coach. To avoid any conflicts of interest during the fortnight, ESPN did not assign McEnroe to any of his matches. On Friday, BBC used Johnny Mac on the Raonic semifinal vs. Roger Federer and received some criticism from fans and media. ESPN used McEnroe on the Andy Murray-Tomas Berdych semi while the Worldwide Leader utilized Darren Cahill on the Raonic semi. But for today’s Raonic-Murray final, ESPN will have Johnny Mac in the booth, but in the role as Raonic’s coach.
ESPN will assign John’s brother, Patrick, as the main analyst alongside Chris Fowler. The brothers McEnroe have commentated on the final before with Fowler, but neither were acting as coaches of current players in the tournament. An ESPN executive told the London Guardian that the network will be transparent with viewers on John McEnroe’s relationship with Raonic:
“I’m not trying to put him in a box … and have him be an objective observer of the match and wear two hats,” said Jamie Reynolds, an ESPN vice-president overseeing coverage of the tennis tournament. “I’m having him here as Milos’s coach.”
Reynolds added that ESPN is aware of how any potential conflict would appear to viewers:
“We were sensitive to it because at the end of the day we’re trying to serve the audience,” Reynolds said. “Let the audience decide whether or not John is still John. I think that’s a win, as long as everybody understands what voice he’s bringing into the booth.”
Tennis commentary has been rife with conflicts of interest dating back to the 1980’s. Tennis agent Donald Dell used to be the analyst for NBC while representing players. ESPN’s own crew of Patrick McEnroe, Cahill and Mary Joe Fernandez have other interests in the game either as coaches or being married to a tennis agent, but neither person have been in the situation as John McEnroe as being in the booth for one of his players on the court.
BBC noted that McEnroe was neutral in his commentary on Friday, but with ESPN acknowledging that he’s in the booth as Raonic’s coach today, it will be interesting to hear if any biases or rooting interests come out.