Andy Murray’s new-found place atop the world rankings may be under threat this week, but the broadcast arm of the elite men’s tour is preparing for more sustained success.
Despite sports fans’ shifting consumption habits, ATP Media is expecting to enjoy continued growth and secure $1.3bn (£1bn) worth of rights sales over the next 10 years. This is in part thanks to the success of the ATP Tour Finals, currently being hosted in London for the eighth consecutive year.
Around 100m people from 195 territories are expected to tune into this week’s clashes between the year’s eight best performing players, 10 per cent of an audience of 973m for the ATP’s 23 annual events.
Yet as recent falls in TV audience figures for the previously impervious powerhouses of NFL in the US and Premier League football in the UK, the future of sports consumption remains unpredictable in a changing media environment.
Visitors to the O2 Arena this week can see how ATP Media is adapting by offering the chance to watch the action via virtual reality pods. The partnership with Sony is part of the ATP’s $300m investment into new ways of watching tennis.
“The world is changing with the way that people are consuming content,” ATP Media chief operating officer Stuart Watts told City A.M.
“We’re very aware of that so we have to have strategies to reach not just the linear broadcast but social media. We have an over-the-top (OTT) streaming service and in the coming year we’re going to reach out to more devices. We feel lucky because our figures are still going up.”
The virtual reality pods stand alongside a multifaceted broadcast operation. Spectators who manage to pull their eyes off the tennis may notice a cavalry of cameras including the zip-wire-flying Spidercam and ultra slow motion cameras capable of capturing the flex and movement of each muscle.
“The methods by which we distribute to broadcasters across the world are as advanced as they can be,” says ATP Media director of technology Shane Warden.
“We’re planning ahead as far as we can so we’re agile enough that, when things turn, we’ve already done the planning and got the infrastructure and are able to deploy.”
Part of the global growth in the ATP’s audience has been driven by the emergence of top players in new markets, such as Japanese world No5 Kei Nishikori.
“Japan is a huge territory for us, but that’s really down to Kei Nishikori,” says Watts. “We have the NHK here [at the O2]. They’re the BBC of Japan and show all of Kei’s matches so we’ve seen a massive increase there.
“Kei’s such a star there that our footage sales have gone up around 150 per cent.”
Warden adds: “It [rights sales] are often driven by ranking players coming through whose nationalities are from those territories, and then the interest starts to build.”