Sky Has Big Shoes to Fill as Amazon’s U.S. Open Coverage Ends

By Lee Stanley

When Amazon announced it had won the rights to show the U.S. Open on Prime Video, British tennis fans were nervous. They had a right to be, and expectations were confirmed when Prime Video’s 2018 U.S. Open coverage was marred by technical issues and did not include coverage of all courts. The qualifying rounds were ignored completely, and replays and highlights weren’t available until many, many hours after the matches. Sky and BT Sport still held the rights to the ATP and WTA tours respectively, so the additional subscription for two weeks at the end of August alone was also a frustration.

Fast forward to the start of 2020 and almost all of the full tennis calendar was now on Prime Video, the service having secured the rights to show the ATP through to 2023, and WTA to 2024. They’d ironed out technical problems and made replays available within 15 minutes of the end of matches. Behind the scenes they added additional commentary boxes and built a new studio, which they really got their money’s worth out of when COVID put a stop to presenting on site. Eurosport, meanwhile, had cut costs and their grand slam coverage looked amateur in comparison (though it did get better post-COVID).

You’d struggle to find fault with Prime Video’s tennis coverage now. Overall, watching tennis in theĀ UK is much cheaper than it was five years ago, and most of it can be found in one place. With the addition of the British grass court season in 2022, and the introduction of new, younger commentators among the experienced pundits, viewers in the UK have never had it better. Channel 4 paid a seven-figure sum to simulcast the 2021 U.S. Open final, which became instantly famous for Emma Raducanu’s historic victory. Amazon exploited the opportunity to run a three-hour long advert for itself — primetime on Saturday night — and pledged to reinvest the fee into British tennis. The accessibility of coverage and success of Raducanu combined have helped to bring new fans to tennis in the UK. More people are watching, more people are playing, and more talent is emerging.

This week it was confirmed that the U.S. Open will be returning to Sky in 2023, and the concerns of five years ago are back in the minds of tennis fans. It had been reported earlier in the year that Raducanu’s popularity has reignited Sky’s interest in tennis, and they are rumoured to be looking at the WTA and ATP when they come up for renewal too. It makes sense. With the careers of the Williams sisters and the Big Four coming to an end, there are new superstars emerging on the tours and dozens of British players finding success week-in-week-out on the Challenger and ITF circuits.

Photo: Wikipedia

Sky offers its sports channels through several means including its own satellite system, via cable, IPTV through Sky Glass and streaming on Now TV. A lot has changed since Sky last covered a grand slam and, while they have invested in new technology, there will need to be further improvements needed on all platforms to enable Sky to offer the same level of multi-court coverage that others do now.

There hasn’t been an official announcement yet, so we have no details on what Sky’s U.S. Open coverage will look like, including who will present it and who will commentate on it. The majority of people working in tennis do so on a freelance basis. Many of those currently at Prime Video worked for Sky’s tennis coverage in the past and it should be expected that Sky’s coverage will include familiar faces and voices.

We also don’t yet know the pricing structure, and this will be the biggest issue for fans. The increasing cost of living is showing no sign of slowing ahead of next year, and it will be no comfort for fans to pay for yet another subscription next summer. Price it too high or offer an inferior product, and viewers who only want the tennis will look elsewhere for streams that are dodgy at best. Some will try to follow on the radio — there is some fantastic radio coverage, by the way, from the tournament’s own station and the BBC — and some won’t bother at all.

There are a lot of questions that can only be answered with time, but Sky has a hard act to follow. They’ve got a year to work on getting this right. If they don’t, they could undo all the good work that its predecessor has done in making tennis and its coverage more accessible in the UK than it ever has been.

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