Singapore’s WTA Finals Drenched with Drama, Missed by Millions
With one of tennis’ legends playing a popular contender in the WTA Finals on Sunday, more eyes should have been on the match.
By Jane Voigt
Updated: Oct. 30, 2017 • 1:16 PM ET
Caroline Wozniacki won the biggest match of her career on Sunday.
Caroline Wozniacki won her biggest title on Sunday at the Women’s Tennis Association’s year-end finals in Singapore. But what tennis fans worldwide missed was the second-place charge from 37-year-old Venus Williams, the oldest player ever to make this prestigious tournament final and second only to Serena Williams in global celebrity power. That tragedy rests squarely on the shoulders of the WTA, the tour’s managing body.
Here’s a little background. Last September, the WTA cut ties with TennisTV, an online subscription live-streaming service owned by the Association of Tennis Players (aka the men’s tour). Next, the WTA signed a five-year contract with beIN SPORTS, an international sports network that leans heavily towards soccer. It outbid Tennis Channel for licensing rights on tournaments outside the United States.
Although the WTA expected to launch its branded live-streaming subscription service, WTA TV, and marketing division, WTA Networks, last October, nothing went off as planned until late July this year. Granted, fans could have purchased TCPlus, an app from Tennis Channel, to keep their eyes on women’s matches. But the selection was spotty at best. Or, fans could’ve risked their electronic device by linking to obscure streaming sites, which could implant a chorus of harms.
Yet, let’s be honest. It didn’t have to be this way.
The WTA had to have known that viewership on beIN was way below that of Tennis Channel, and a far cry from anything ESPN provided during Grand Slams. The WTA should have calculated that the extra cash Tennis Channel wanted would have earned extra viewers because that’s what the real choice had to have been based on: the number of people tuned in.
So how did the WTA make its decision? A fateful one for women’s tennis we can speculate.
Maybe the WTA tracked ratings. But that’s tricky unless your organization and sport have money to burn on payments to Nielsen. And before March of this year, it wasn’t tracking anything from beIN. However, here’s where the WTA is in luck. As of March, “beIN SPORTS becomes one of the first sports networks to be certified for Nielsen’s Digital in TV Ratings measurement, Nielsen reported on its website.
So, now the WTA can look at how badly it fared. And if those stats don’t prove their contract decision was incompetent, the WTA should take a look at the tweets posted by disgruntled fans, especially from Sunday when Williams and Wozniacki, two women who’d made multiple finals this year but never broke through, were laying it all out on the court in Singapore.
WTA Sports Marketer Jocelyn Davie:
Yet even with social media complaints and a sports network that pales in the face of Tennis Channel, the WTA’s choice still baffles; unless, you take a look at overall trends in traditional TV viewing, which mind you, rarely includes sports, let alone tennis.
“The year-over-year decline in traditional TV viewing among the 18-24 population was the largest since Q3 2015, narrowly edging declines seen in Q1 2016 and Q4 2015,” Marketing Charts reported in July. “In sum, between 2011 and 2017, first quarter traditional TV viewing by 18-24-year-olds dropped by almost 12 hours a week, or by roughly 1 hour and 40 minutes per day.”
Furthermore, the same trends were true for these age groups: Older Millennials (25-34); Gen Xers (35-49); adults aged 50-64 and adults aged 65 and older.
Does this mean viewers are watching less on other sources: smart phones, tablets, laptops?
“Millennials (18-34 in this case) as a whole spend more time accessing apps and the web on smartphones than they do watching traditional TV,” Marketing Charts revealed in the same report.
Bingo. Perhaps the WTA reasoned that it’s live-streaming service would satisfy vast numbers of youngish viewers, who it must have considered its target audience. And during the five-year stint with beIN, it could reckon spending more on its own WTA Networks, thereby controlling viewership.
Venus Williams has experienced a remarkable resurgence this year.
Nonetheless, the WTA erred because it short-changed fans on Sunday. They missed the tennis legend, Venus Williams, challenge the younger generation for a top title. They missed her near total comeback, down 6-4, 5-0 to Caroline, only to lose 6-4, 6-4. They missed Venus’ quarterfinal and semifinal wins that amounted to two consecutive victories over two 2017 Grand Slam champions: French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko and Garbine Muguruza, who defeated Venus at Wimbledon.
Fans missed Venus’s angled shots, athleticism, thoughtful strategy and tactics, her sprints and scrambles left and right on a court slower than mud to win point after point. They missed her humble and self-deprecating humor.
"I didn't seem to come up with my best tennis until it was too late," Williams said during the awards ceremony. "I'll try to play a little better earlier next time. That might be a good plan."
After defeating Muguruza, Williams said, "I use a lot of sun protection, sunscreen. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. That's been the key to my success."
Fans missed Venus, who turned pro in 1994 and won this event in 2008, tell the stuffed Singapore Indoor Stadium, “I love being here, it’s an honor. Only eight people get to be here and I hope to return.”
At 37 years old, Williams cannot be sure if she will return, and that’s the biggest tragedy the WTA should ponder. That it chose to save money and spin a controlling network of unproven marketing avenues, rather than consider the players, the most important one being Venus Williams.
The WTA could counter with an argument such as, who was to know that 2017 would be throw-back tennis with Venus in hot pursuit? She ended 2016 ranked No 17 in the world. Yet, that would be a shameful display of ineptitude pilled on top of an already heaping pile. The woman played in her 20th Wimbledon this year. She never once hinted of retirement. She loves her job.
What else was missed? Wozniacki’s win. It was her first over Venus in seven meetings, her 27th title and biggest win in 50 final appearances. She’ll end the year at No. 3, having come into Singapore ranked No. 6. However, Williams will end her year at No. 5, her best finish to a season since 2010.