Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wimbledon contemplating night matches?

The BBC, with British television rights to Wimbledon extended until 2017, is in discussions with the All England Club about the possibility of screening more prime time late evening tennis from the Championships.

Rainy weather at this summer’s Wimbledon saw the Centre Court’s retractable roof used more than ever before and one result was a major boost in viewing figures for the BBC who have been broadcasting the Championships on radio and television since 1927.

Now Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, would like to see more floodlit play after 9pm, regardless of the weather. “It’s been very successful,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Inevitably, when play moves into the peak evening, audiences are higher.”

Andy Murray’s fourth round match with Marcos Baghdatis, that famously finished just after the 11pm curfew for night play under the roof, set by the London Borough of Merton, drew a television audience of 8 million.

“It is safe to say that of course we as a broadcaster would love more tennis, and for that tennis to extend, but we are very aware there are constraints on the club,” said Slater, who was in charge of the BBC’s Olympics coverage this summer. “We have conversations with the All England Club, and they evolve their strategy going forward.”

ESPN, the American broadcaster that landed all the television and digital rights to Wimbledon coverage across the United States would also be in favor of night play at the Championships with a five hour time difference to the East Coast.

The All England Club have always been consistent that they regard Wimbledon as a day-time/day-light tournament and the erection of the roof and its’ floodlighting was not intended to herald night play on a daily basis to satisfy the demands of television.

Johnny Perkins, the official spokesman for the All England Club insisted: “At this stage there are no plans,” to add night matches to the schedule. We stick to what we are; an outdoor daytime event with the capacity to play late if we need to.”

Set nighttime tennis would not only impact on the local residents who live close to the All England Club but would also require major changes in London Transport arrangements, policing and the work patterns of those who work at the Championships.

Sounds like a no to me. 

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