April 25th, 2017

Game Changer Blog: Women’s Tennis Rolls Dice on beIN TV Coverage, Digital Future

General News Pro Tennis

Coming off Tennis Channel’s extensive coverage of men’s and women’s matches at Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston, everything may seem copacetic in the tennis-viewing world.

But you’d be mistaken.

Women’s tennis on TV is about to become somewhat of an endangered find-it-if-you-can species. The WTA is taking a short-term gamble in exchange for a potentially-lucrative long-term return.

Can you name the network that will broadcast the most women’s tennis events in 2017?

It’s beIN.

Last year the WTA signed a five-year deal with beIN, covering the U.S. and roughly 30 territories worldwide. Last week’s coverage of WTA events in Switzerland and Colombia was only to be found on beIN.

With my cable subscriber it isn’t easy to find beIN SPORTS, buried among the “other sports” channels in the 600s. Once you find it, and find tennis (it oftentimes seems to show soccer under the TV listings, even when tennis is on), it’s not shown in HD. According to beIN, it’s offered in HD to my cable provider, my cable provider just don’t choose to show it in HD.

Another problem: WTA matches are frequently delayed, not shown live. Two weeks ago ALL coverage from the two WTA events (Bogota and Switzerland) was on delay — UNLESS you subscribed to the additional-pay channel beIN CONNECT ($18/month unless you’re a beIN satellite subscriber), where you could then watch live.

Fans aren’t too happy about the set-up, where outside of the Grand Slams (ESPN and Tennis Channel) and a few select events that Tennis Channel can still show, everything else women’s tennis will be on beIN — which is the U.S. has roughly only one-third the households of Tennis Channel.


The beIN partnership, and aggregating other distribution networks such as SONY in South America, FOX Sports and DigiSport in Europe, and iQiyi in China to name a few, are part of the WTA taking control of its own house.

The WTA broke from its partnership with the ATP-owned digital streaming platform TennisTV, and is expected to announce its own streaming service in the coming months. Unfortunately for fans who received both men’s and women’s tennis through TennisTV, now there will be another streaming bill to catch both.

The WTA’s new digital partner is Perform, a sports content and media group that will receive $525 million over 10 years from the women’s tour to help create WTA Media, a media arm that will allow the WTA to control all tournament broadcasts and content over multiple channels.

No longer “renting” digital help from the ATP, WTA CEO Steve Simon says the pain of fans adjusting to new landscape will pay off in future years.

“We’re embarking this year on an initiative that is a long time coming, and that is taking control and acting like any other professional league,” Simon told the New York Times. “We’re taking care of our broadcast — and I’m using that as a broad term — in a manner where we now have more control over it, rather than tagging along…The WTA had the foresight to pool all of its international rights. The domestic rights are still controlled by the local tournaments.”


beIN and the WTA hope Maria Sharapova making her 2017 debut in April will get some eyeballs on the network

beIN is a multi-sport network, which the WTA hopes will bring in a new fan base. While it has a limited number of households in the U.S., beIN is generally available in the basic tier of cable offerings. The end goal is for the WTA to broadcast every singles match at every tournament, offering fans unprecedented access to women’s tennis.

The price for that, between your cable bill and additional streaming service costs, has yet to be determined.

This month the WTA and beIN are hoping for a big TV draw for the return of Maria Sharapova to the women’s tour at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, only on beIN, and not available yet on another streaming service.

“It has been so difficult to track how to watch tennis that a person started a blog called Tennis Watchers just to tell fans of women’s tennis,” wrote OverheadSpin.com, a blog about the coverage of women’s tennis. “Particularly those in the U.S., where they can watch tennis.”

The WTA’s Simon isn’t afraid to push the envelope. He has expanded the tour’s data partnership with SAP and is supplying coaches mid-match data they can share with players during matches. He supports the WTA’s controversial on-court coaching, and even wants to expand it to allow coaches to coach from the stands. 

Simon describes the transition as “short-term pain for long-term gain.” beIN, if you can find it on your TV, will show approximately 50 WTA tournaments and 2,000 matches this year. The remaining months of 2017 will reveal how the pain-to-gain ratio plays out, and if the WTA can avoid women tennis fans getting left behind.