Coco Gauff will be one of the main attractions of the ASB Classic in January and give the tournament global appeal.
Sky TV has a battle ahead to keep the ASB Classic and Tennis Auckland is in talks with other broadcasters to show the two-week tennis weeks in January.
Since 2012, Sky TV has owned the rights to the men’s and women’s international tennis tournaments after being acquired by TVNZ.
But Sky TV’s recent deal has expired and tournament director Nicolas Lamperin, who is part of Tennis Auckland’s negotiating team, has held talks with a number of broadcasters over the rights to one of the country’s biggest international sporting events.
Where the rights go will be critical to the future success of the tournament. When the ASB Classic aired on TVNZ, Tennis Auckland officials and sponsors wanted to attract as many viewers as possible, so it stayed with the state broadcaster.
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But tennis fans grew increasingly angry at breaks in coverage to show Te Karere and the 6pm news.
Sky TV was able to devote more hours to live tennis, albeit broadcast to a smaller audience, as the tournament’s focus shifted from the big games in the evenings to the afternoons.
For many years, Sky TV was the only show in town when it came to sports coverage in New Zealand, so it was free to decide how much it wanted to pay or charge sports organizations for coverage.
But the advent of Spark Sport changed the landscape and has already shown a lot of interest in tennis.
Spark Sport has held the rights to the WTA since 2019 and recently closed the US Open on a three-year deal.
Lamperin would not confirm which media organizations he is in talks with but it will likely be a battle between Sky TV and Spark, with TVNZ and TV3 also at the table offering free-to-air coverage.
“It’s still being negotiated,” said Lamperin.
“There is a lot of discussion going on at the moment, we have a few options and are trying to get clarity for next year.”
Recently, it has become common for pay television networks to partner with a free-to-air channel during major sporting events.
This allows the sport to collect money from Spark Sport or Sky for the live rights while also keeping sponsors happy by increasing the visibility of the event.
Spark Sport has recently focused more on TV3. The two organizations have teamed up for next month’s Rally NZ and are reportedly launching a joint bid for next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Sky TV has the option of putting part of the ASB Classic on Prime TV.
Stuff understands that TVNZ is currently reviewing the business case for the Classic.
“Ideally, if there were a combination of free-to-air and pay-TV, it would work very well,” Lamperin said.
“But it’s some of the things we need to discuss with broadcasters.
“People always want to have a choice and for us, TV coverage is crucial. That’s why we want to make sure we’re working with the right partner.”
Another issue related to reporting is the cost of making it.
In February 2021, the Sky TV trade commission paved the way for the sale of its outside broadcast (OSB) subsidiary to NEP New Zealand.
NEP has a near-monopoly on broadcasting major sporting events in New Zealand and prices for broadcasting major sporting events have skyrocketed, with a source telling Stuff that the cost of a channel to use NEP New Zealand has increased over the past year have more than doubled.
Broadcasting the Classic for 14 consecutive days has never been cheap and the increased financial impact due to NEP’s price increase is a factor that Classic and broadcasters need to consider.