ESPN Makes Digital Strides at US Open

There are certain sports events that lend themselves perfectly to a digital environment. The US Open tennis tournament is one of them.

With an emphasis on additional court coverage, digitally exclusive matches, and original programming, WatchESPN scored during the two weeks of the final major of the tennis season, enjoying its best performance in a tennis tournament to date. Usage more the quadrupled this year, with 364.7 million live minutes consumed on desktops and mobile devices (vs. 76.5 million in 2014).

Early in the US Open, WatchESPN offered access to all televised courts.

Early in the US Open, WatchESPN offered access to all televised courts.

“Along the way, we want to provide as many doors and windows for fans to get involved and consume the content live,” says Scott Guglielmino, SVP, programming, ESPN. “It’s what we call ‘share of voice.’ We want this event to have a strong share of voice when it comes to the entire sporting landscape. [Offering] more doors and windows [to enable] people to get involved early builds momentum as you get later into the tournament.”

Although the same is true for the linear production as well, digital coverage of the US Open is really a tale of two tournaments. Throughout the early rounds, the name of the game is providing access to courts that the linear side simply doesn’t have the capacity for (the total number of court offerings this year jumped from seven to 11).

During the first 10 days of the Open, ESPN’s coverage started the day with Inside the Baseline Presented by IBM, a 20-minute prematch program from the USTA. From there, ESPN3 offered exclusive coverage of each televised court, supplemented for two hours with a uniquely produced “whip-around” feed. The day wrapped up with Beyond the Baseline Presented by Westin.

At this year’s Open, ESPN also introduced the “US Open Chase Review Multicam,” which ran during daytime action on the first eight days of the tournament. The viewing option offered three windows simultaneously from the Arthur Ashe, Louis Armstrong, and Grandstand courts. When the tournament moved into the quarterfinals, the coverage shifted to fit more of an “ESPN3 Surround” model, covering Ashe exclusively with iso-cams on each player accompanying the linear-television feed.

“It’s like a funnel,” says Guglielmino. “You’ve got all of the courts going early on; you’ve got all of the players in action in a short period of time. As that goes on, there’s no doubt that the ability to have that kind of shelf space early on and to be able to whip around and give fans the choice is invaluable. ESPN3 is a fantastic platform for fans to be able to take in what they want and how they want it.”

WatchESPN enjoyed consistent success throughout the tournament. Four different times, the digital offering set daily records for tennis, capped by the Sunday of the Men’s Championship, which logged an average 78,000 minutes of the day’s total of 672,000 live unique devices watching more than 54.1 million live minutes.

“The US Open was seen by more people this year than recent years, with significant growth among the key young-male target audience — and with the benefits of added mobility and choice from WatchESPN,” says John Wildhack, EVP, programming and production, ESPN. “We are thrilled our successful model at the Australian Open and Wimbledon bore such results, and we look forward to 10 more years working with the USTA to capture all the drama and excitement of this terrific event with passion and innovation.”