Tennis fans treat The Tennis Channel like most people do public transportation. They use it a lot and appreciate its existence, but enjoy complaining about all the problems and pointing ways it could be better.
Through two days of French Open coverage, TTC has been both a treasure for tennis fans (who else is going to show matches live at 5 a.m. in the east) and a headache (still with this ticker)? This morning, we look at a few of the highlights and lowlights through the early parts of coverage.
? John McEnroe is back in the booth for the Tennis Channel working with Ted Robinson for matches on Court Phillippe Chatrier and Court One. Mac's a polarizing announcer to some, but if you can get past his ego, he's one of the best in the sport. His breakdown of how Del Potro was staying back after returning Ivo Karlovic's second serve and then taking steps to the net as a decoy was the sort of insight that tends to get glossed over by most analysts.
? The highlight of the coverage is the return to tennis for Mary Carillo, who left ESPN last year after she had issues with the network's coverage. Professional, witty and always a solid interviewer, Carillo is a delight.
? Though the network doesn't jump around as much as some might like, TTC has done a nice job thus far of cutting back and forth between courts. As always, folks will complain that networks focus too much on the stars, but that's a necessary evil. You don't lure in viewers by showing the Thomaz Bellucci first-rounder. As long as TTC cuts away from matches involving Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal when there are close battles going on elsewhere, I don't mind the star focus. It's a long-term investment in their coverage.
? The score box.
Note: When the font in the IBM ad on the side of the court is twice the size of the font for the score chyron, said score chyron is way too tiny. All the other graphics on TTC are clean and crisp and appropriately-sized. The score box accomplishes two of those three things. Make it bigger.
See what it says over De Bakker's name? Go get a magnifying glass, we'll wait. It says "SET POINT" in the tiniest letters possible. I've got 20/20 vision like I'm Hugh Downs. My TV is pretty big and my apartment is pretty small, so I'm close to the screen. If I'm having trouble reading it, I can only imagine how illegible that is for others. It's set point for Pete (Sampras') sake! Put it in bold or something.
? There were as many as 15 matches going on simulteaneously Monday morning at Roland Garros. At best, TTC kept viewers abreast about four of them. True, only the diehards care about the Vesna Dolonts-Anne Keothavong match. But who else do you think is watching French Open coverage at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday morning?
It's not that I mind having a scrolling ticker running through the matches, though I'd much prefer a cleaner look and smaller font that doesn't dominate the screen. (Why not make it the same size as the score box?)
The issue is that the ticker provides no value whatsoever to the viewer, other than to promote the fact that the same coverage will be on tomorrow. Here's an example of a routine cycle for the ticker:
1. Seed report
2. tennischannel.com promo
3. NCAA tournament scores (from this weekend)
4. News about the previous day's first-round action and news
5. Wimbledon promo
6. tennischannel.com promo
7. Advertisement for Gamma strings
8. Advertisement for Fidelity
9. Promo for Tuesday's French Open coverage, presented by Longines
10. Adertisement for K-Swiss
11. TTC's 3D coverage promo
12. Advertisement for Longines
13. tennischannel.com promo to integrate Facbeook and Twitter pictures
14. List of order of play for Monday
15. Advertisement for Babolat via tennischannel.com
To recap, the ticker features 11 promotions or advertisements, one seed report, one list of order of play, some 24-hour old news, a string of college scores from Saturday and Sunday and no live updates of scores. None. I'll repeat it: it provides no live updates of scores.*
What's the point of running a ticker if it's not going to provide real-time scoring for the other 14 matches being played at the French Open. The beauty of big tournaments is in the magnitude of the first few days. There's so much going on right now at the French Open. That Dolonts-Keotvahong match doesn't need to be aired, but at least show us who won or the progress of the match. I can sit at my computer and watch updates of who wins each point on 14 courts, but the broadcast network can't throw an update of in-match progress from around the grounds?
TTC does a fine job of updating other marquee matches, so we hear about the Mardy Fish first-rounder while Roger Federer's match is aired, but there's plenty more going on around the grounds to hear about. TTC would rather show you scores from an old college match instead. (I don't mind the advertisements. You gotta do what you gotta do to pay the bills.)
My guess is that TTC isn't able to update the ticker in real-time, which is sort of like saying that I'm writing this blog post will wearing Reebok Pumps and connecting to Prodigy. It can't be that hard to do. How else are you going to get people interested in the lesser matches if you ignore them like a leper?
Either run the ticker with real-time scores or get it off the screen. And while I'm asking for things, let's get Mary Carillo and John McEnroe on screen together more. It'll be like that Pacino-De Niro scene from "Heat."
* Later in the day, the ticker began running live scores. They seemed to be a few minutes behind and weren't displayed as often as, say, ads for Babolat. There are only so many times you can see the 32 mens' seeds before it becomes unnecessary.