Ranjona Banerji: An Open Letter to ESPN-Star Sports

21 Jan,2013

Dear Sirs and Madams


This is an earnest plea from the tennis lovers of India. While we appreciate all the good intentions with which your channel Star Sports buys the rights to tennis tournaments, we feel that this intention gets slightly dented when you do not actually show the said tournaments. Let’s look at the ongoing Australian Open, one of the four biggest tennis tournaments of the year. I add that descriptive because it is not immediately clear that everyone in your organization knows that.


On the night of January 20, a Sunday, World number 1 Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka were locked in what many experts are calling the match of the tournament. To begin with, Star Sports did not show the match from the beginning. When it got into it two sets and an hour and a half later, hopes of tennis fans were lifted that at last they would be able to watch this compelling match on their television sets. Alas. As the two players were evenly matched at 10-9 on serve in the fifth and final set, the clock turned to 8 pm and the television screen turned to hockey. That’s it. Djokovic is mid-serve and the telecast stops. No explanation, nothing.


For those of us of a certain age this smacks of those strange days in the 1970s and 1980s when the only television in India was provided by the Government of India and there was only one channel. Doordarshan had this incredible ability of buying the rights to Wimbledon (another major tennis tournament, the oldest and most prestigious in the world, just for your information), and suddenly stopping mid-telecast for the news or for a collection of Hindi film songs.


Some of us foolishly thought that life would be different after privatization and the plethora of TV channels that India is now blessed with. But for the past few years with Star Sports, our experience as tennis fans has been quite a blast from the past.


I only use the Djokovic (world number 1, made $12 million in prize money alone last year I believe) and Wawrinka match as an example. Two days before that, it was Roger Federer and Bernard Tomic who got the same treatment from Star Sports. It could be that no one in your channel has heard of Federer so perhaps I might explain. He is considered by many to be the greatest player of all time. He is the most successful male player ever with 17 grand slam titles. He is also in the top 5 of the highest earning sports persons in the world. He has innumerable fans across the world, more than half of whom live in India, incidentally, according to his managers.


This tennis match with Tomic which I mention was also billed as a big contest (the Djokovic-Wawrinka thriller was a surprise, I’ll grant you that). Tomic is an astounding young talent from Australia, which once produced some of the world’s greatest tennis players – Rod Laver, Margaret Court, Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson, Evonne Goolagong to name only a few. He is also a brash young man with great game and lots of chutzpah. Would he manage to teach a lesson to the Great Man or would Federer swat him like a fly? Of course, only those Indians with access to the internet can answer that question because Star Sports did not show the match. At all.


Earlier in this tournament, the Australian Open matches were switched to ESPN. Thank you for that. But that was just once. Maybe they sometimes switch to your HD channels. The problem is that not all of us have access to HD channels. Perhaps some of us cannot justify the extra expense that the DTH/cable provider demands. In my own case, for instance, the cable operator I use does not have the HD channels within his grasp.


I have mentioned the money earned by tennis players only because I crassly assume that there is some commercial consideration in the way tennis is treated by your channel. It could be that the advertisements from Rolex, Thai Airways, Cadbury’s, Micromax and the others are insufficient. My commiserations.


I would therefore request your channel to please stop buying the rights to tennis tournaments if you are not interested in showing them properly. All of us tennis fans in India know that we cannot compete with cricket. So when you buy the rights to a cricket tournament, please don’t strain your budget by buying a tennis tournament as well. All of us in India are sympathetic with the struggle to give hockey its prominence. So when you are committed to the cause of hockey (in between cricket) please do not buy a tennis tournament.


You may feel that we tennis fans should be pleased with a bit of tennis now and then. But you are mistaken. We want it all. And if you can’t give us that, you could allow your competitors a chance to bid for these tennis tournaments. They are more committed to tennis anyway. (Or maybe, they just don’t have the same cricket rights!)


And as a post-script: in this world of social media, please do allow your persons (or bots) who handle your twitter account (@espnstar) to answer questions and respond to fans.


Yours sincerely


Ranjona Banerji, a tennis fan


The writer is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. The views expressed here are her own


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3 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: An Open Letter to ESPN-Star Sports”

  1. vishal says:

    Just watch them online. Dont depend on these sports channels! They arent going to listen to you! HEad over to firstrowports dot eu . Every sport, every match streamed online. Just make sure you have atleast a 1.5Mbps internet connection.

  2. N Kambli says:

    Totally agree! Why bid for such tournaments when you cannot relay it all? ESS needs to make way for another able channel so that LIVE sports viewing doesn’t get affected… C’mon Neo, Ten Sports….wake up!

  3. Sumeet Gupta says:

    Absolutely agreed…i was aghast too!! I mean, here we have a thriller of a match, at 10-9 in final set…and suddenly, it goes poof. gaayab!! WTF

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