Tennis broadcasting coverage a talking point after Andreescu ascension
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Tennis broadcasting coverage a talking point after Andreescu ascension

Bianca Andreescu, of Canada, returns a shot to Angelique Kerber, of Germany, during the women's final at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Indian Wells, Calif. Bianca Andreescu's surprise run to the final of the BNP Paribas Open was a promotional gift from the heavens for DAZN Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Mark J. Terrill

Bianca Andreescu’s stunning arrival on the WTA Tour scene has been a promotional gift from the heavens for DAZN Canada. It has also left so-called cord clingers in a pickle about how to watch the Canadian teenager on the tube.

DAZN Canada has women’s pro tennis on its lineup and the timing couldn’t be better for the upstart sport streaming service. The platform was the exclusive rightsholder for Andreescu’s surprise victory at the BNP Paribas Open, the first time a Canadian has won a Premier Mandatory-level tournament on the WTA Tour.

Forget the notion that TSN or Sportsnet might simply pick up a feed so Canadian viewers could get their fix. DAZN Canada is a competitor and quickly becoming a player on a sports broadcasting scene that is trending away from tradition.

“One thing is for sure,” said Norm Lem, SVP Revenue at DAZN Canada. “The broadcasting landscape worldwide — and Canada is not excluded from that — is changing.”

Andreescu’s ascent has emerged as one of the top Canadian sport stories of the year. The buzz has been building for weeks and climaxed over the weekend at Indian Wells.

The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., took down Elina Svitolina in a thrilling semifinal last Friday night. Sensing the significant appetite across the country, DAZN Canada streamed the women’s final against Angelique Kerber live — for free — on Twitter and Facebook.

“It was a great way for them to build their brand but also give back to tennis fans across the country,” said Tennis Canada president and CEO Michael Downey.

The decision gave non-subscribers a chance to watch and also essentially served as a 2 1/2-hour advertisement for the live and on-demand platform, which costs $20 a month or $150 a year.

Twitter Canada said over 495,000 Canadians watched DAZN Canada’s stream of the final last Sunday. Specifics on DAZN Canada subscriber numbers in the wake of Andreescu’s rise weren’t available.

“It was probably the best weekend in DAZN’s history in Canada because people were just generally interested in the story and they realized that it was DAZN making it available to them,” said Tom Mayenknecht, a Vancouver-based marketing communications executive and sport business commentator.

DAZN (pronounced da-zone) is owned by British-based media company Perform Group. It’s compatible with televisions but can also be used on smartphones, tablets, game consoles and other devices. 

The platform made its debut in 2016 in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Japan. DAZN Canada arrived a year later as the exclusive domestic home of NFL Game Pass but technical issues made for a challenging start.

After eventually clearing those hurdles, the list of sports in the DAZN Canada stable has grown significantly. MLB, MLS, boxing, rugby and cricket are available and DAZN Canada also scored the UEFA Champions League soccer rights last year. 

On the tennis front, TSN has the rights to the four Grand Slams and select ATP Tour events while Sportsnet has the Rogers Cup, Davis Cup and Fed Cup. DAZN Canada also offers coverage of ATP 250 tournaments.

“The ambition is we’re going to be here and we’re going to be here for the long term,” Lem said. “We’re going to be part of the mix and we are going to be, hopefully, in line as a product as a decision that goes alongside Sportsnet and TSN.”

Other streaming services have also landed tennis rights in recent years. One notable example came in 2017 when Amazon Prime wrested the British rights to ATP World Tour events from Sky Sports.

“We definitely have very strong ambitions worldwide about being a player in this space,” Lem said. “I think we’ve demonstrated it how we’ve entered each market and been quite aggressive about our rights acquisition and frankly making the most of our rights.”

The WTA Tour has been on DAZN Canada since the platform’s domestic launch in July 2017. It’s unclear if TSN or Sportsnet made significant plays to land the property.

“While we don’t typically comment on past or present rights negotiations, we do always evaluate all opportunities for rights packages as they become available to determine what makes most sense for our programming and our audiences,” a Sportsnet spokesperson said in an email. 

“We don’t discuss rights negotiations,” a TSN spokesperson said in an email. 

Andreescu has rocketed to No. 24 in the WTA Tour rankings after starting the year at No. 152.

She was scheduled to open play at the Miami Open on Wednesday night against Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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