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Jun 4th, 2003, 11:00 PM
Tune In Tomorrow: ESPN To Telecast Roland Garros Semis Live

By Richard Pagliaro

If every picture tells a story, the images emanating from television screens across the country the last couple of days have presented a perplexing picture for tennis fans tuning into ESPN's coverage of Roland Garros.

By the time the final title trophy is raised on the red clay this weekend, ESPN will have telecast a total of at least 77 hours from the French Open. Yet as the draw has proceeded into the later rounds the network has sometimes opted to telecast matches on tape delay rather than broadcasting matches live.

As a result, viewers tuning in to ESPN2 yesterday morning to see Serena Williams' highly-anticipated quarterfinal clash with fifth-seeded French woman Amelie Mauresmo the last woman to beat the top-ranked Williams this year were greeted with a tape-delay telecast of Kim Clijsters' victory over Conchita Martinez.

And immediately after that match was finished, ESPN2 presented Williams' crushing conquest of Mauresmo on tape-delay rather than going live to the quarterfinal match between second-seeded Andre Agassi and seventh-seeded Guillermo Coria.

Part of the challenge ESPN faces is the significant time difference between Paris and the major markets in the United States there is a six-hour time difference between Paris and New York and the City of Light is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles.

The lack of immediacy in the network's recent telecasts has frustrated some fans, but according to Len DeLuca, ESPN's senior vice president of programming, the network's sets its schedule striving to telecast the most compelling matches to the widest audience.

"We're trying to paint the most dramatic story of the matches that are of most interest to American fans in the window that will reach the most viewers," DeLuca told Tennis Week. "The bottom line is what we're trying to do is show the tennis players most interesting to the American audience and show most of their action to try to maximize the tennis fans' enjoyment of the French Open as well as maximize our audience. And as we've done in the past, most notably with Andy Roddick's Australian Open quarterfinal win over Younes El Aynaoui, we will go live when there is a dramatic match or story to be told. Our advantage as a sport network is we can do that."

Just as the final score serves as the ultimate statement of a tennis player's success on court, the ratings reveal a network's success in reaching its intended audience. With ESPN2's coverage commencing at 8 a.m. Eastern time, which is 5 a.m. on the west coast, the network's decision to present popular American players matches on tape delay later in the day is an effort to generate a rise in the ratings. Asked why the network didn't pick up the live feed of some late-round matches and then rebroadcast them in their entirety later in the day, DeLuca said simultaneous action on adjacent courts forces a programming decision.

"It's not unlike covering the Olympics in Europe," DeLuca said. "In the Olympics you'll see events on tape delay when more than one important event is going on simultaneously. Similarly what we're trying to do is build to the best moment and when we can give our viewers the best moment live we've done so in many cases. We telecast (the fourth round match between) Costa and Clement live and then Kuerten and Robredo took us off the air. They were happening simultaneously on different courts so in order to best serve the viewer we showed one live and went to the other match afterward."

American tennis fans who enjoyed ESPN's live coverage of matches for much of the first week of play were hoping for similar live scheduling in the second week. ESPN2 continued the tape-delay trend today in its telecast of both men's quarterfinals.

The decision has dimmed the drama from the City of Light for some fans. Unable to tune into live television coverage, fans have turned on their computers where the immediacy of the Internet has illuminated the unfolding drama.

"There are no formulas, the key is what is in the best interest of the tennis viewers," DeLuca said. "Yes, fans can go get a score off the Internet, but we think the American tennis fans are intelligent enough to want to see these matches as well as some of the outstanding features our production team has produced. This is nothing new. It is the same way tennis and the Olympics have been covered in the past."

American fans can tune into ESPN's live tournament coverage of the women's semifinals beginning at 8 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow (Thursday) with a repeat of the women's semis set for rebroadcast at 1 p.m. Eastern time tomorrow. On Friday, ESPN will telecast one men's semifinal from 1-4 p.m. with men's semifinal highlights shown from 7:30-9:30 p.m.

When Roland Garros ends, ESPN will move on to London to begin preparations for its Wimbledon coverage. ESPN and ESPN2 will offer nearly 120 original hours of programming of the 2003 Wimbledon Championships the most dedicated to the event by any American network in history. Coverage will be highlighted by one men's and one women's semifinal match.

The addition of Wimbledon means ESPN, for the first time, will telecast three of the four Grand Slam events. In 2003, ESPN will program more than 500 hours of tennis coverage (an increase of 18 percent over 2002 and 45 percent over 2001).

Jun 4th, 2003, 11:15 PM
That is good. Semis live...At least I won't have to get up at 5am...Damn ESPN...the non tennis fan is probably thinking Petrova is getting a bye through the semi-finals since they didn't show the other quarterfinal match. I mean they showed three out of four. What would've happened if Venus and Jen had won?

Martian KC
Jun 4th, 2003, 11:32 PM
Finally some live matches!! And I get a break from school to see it! I am happy.

Jun 4th, 2003, 11:37 PM
I'll be at work unfortunately but I'm taping it and I'll peek in periodically at the French Open site for scores.

Go Kim!

Jun 4th, 2003, 11:59 PM
I am not watching serena cos she loses when I watch so I am just gonna tape it and follow it at 1pm.....

Jun 5th, 2003, 12:05 AM
Live matches :eek:. how do I handle these shocking news :eek: ;)
the explanation given by ESPN's senior vice president of programming is shit. shit. shit. shit. I am still mad. Why don't they show NBA or NHL or BASEBALL tape delayed? Yes, it is in the same country, but there are still differences in time, as in United States time zones of Lons Angeles, and New York city are wide.

Jun 5th, 2003, 04:39 AM
"Asked why the network didn't pick up the live feed of some late-round matches and then rebroadcast them in their entirety later in the day, DeLuca said simultaneous action on adjacent courts forces a programming decision."

"Programming decision" my ass!
They just know that a taped telecast will allow them to place in a bunch of pre match ads and to squeeze in one extra high priced commercial at all of the changeovers.

Bastards! :(