Blast from the past: record audiences for Australian Open
by Florence Lloyd-Hughes
Australian Open welcomes record audiences for Federer-Nadal and Williams sisters finals
30th March 2017, 14:21
The 2017 Australian Open men’s final was the first ‘grand slam’ final meeting between tennis legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal since 2011, while the women’s final marked the first time USA’s Williams sisters had met in a major tournament for eight years.
The monumental match-ups didn’t disappoint, as record audiences around the world tuned in to watch the tournament, according to Tennis Australia, the national governing body for the sport, which has distributed international media rights itself since 2015.
Swiss star Federer’s fifth Australian Open title and record 18th grand slam crown was watched by over 1 million people on SRG SSR, the Swiss public-service broadcaster (including 850,000 viewers and a 71-per-cent share on German-speaking SRF). Meanwhile, 1.3 million watched on DMAX, Discovery’s free-to-air men’s lifestyle channel, plus a further 610,000 on Eurosport, in Nadal’s home country of Spain.
In Australia, an average of 3.5 million viewers and a peak audience of 4.4 million tuned in to Seven Network, the commercial broadcaster, to watch the two tennis greats in the final, making it the most watched Australian Open final in 10 years.
Meanwhile, in Europe, Discovery’s Eurosport attracted its largest ever audience for a tennis match, with its coverage reaching 20.7 million viewers across the region.
Eurosport, which holds rights to all four grand slams across various territories, including exclusive live rights in the UK to the Australian Open and the US Open, drew an average of 7.2 million viewers and the peak of 11.6 million that it achieved in the final set was its second-highest figure ever, behind only the 11.7 million for an Olympic volleyball qualifying match between Russia and Poland in January 2008. The Australian Open’s growing appeal in Europe appeared to be confirmed by Tennis Australia’s claim that audiences are increasing by 20 per cent every year.
Williams sisters boost US audience
The match-up between the Williams sisters provided a welcome boost for USA’S ESPN, whose ratings have struggled since the tournament’s men’s and women’s finals moved from a US prime time slot in 2005 and 2009, respectively, to an early morning start.
Serena Williams’ straight-sets defeat of Venus, starting at 3am ET, attracted an average audience of 953,000, while an average of 1.13 million tuned in to watch the Federer-Nadal clash which began at 3.30am ET.
The finals accounted for ESPN’s largest audience for the Australian Open since the time slot change, and coverage of the men’s final netted double the number of viewers compared with last year’s clash between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
And it wasn’t just the final that appealed to US audiences, as ESPN’s daily coverage ranked among the top five or top 10 most-watched live sports programmes in USA throughout the tournament.
Nishikori and Osaka seal Asian interest
This year’s edition of the Australian Open featured another first, as all matches, including the juniors competition, wheelchair and legends games, were live-streamed in China and Japan, a feat not yet achieved by any other grand slam event. China’s CCTV5 carried live coverage of all 14 days of the tournament.
The tournament’s audience has now grown by over 100 per cent year-on-year on CCTV5, with 47 million cumulative average viewers in 2016.
World number five Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka ensured Japanese interest in this year’s tournament, since WOWOW, the pay-television service, renewed its long-running rights deal in 2016.
Last year, WOWOW produced nearly 200 hours of tournament coverage, and attracted over 4 million viewers, as Nishikori reached the quarter-finals. This year, every one of Nishikori’s matches, including his fourth-round defeat by Federer, was live-streamed and televised on WOWOW and NHK, the public-service broadcaster, Softbank’s Sportsnavi and on the Australian Open website, with coverage achieving a 20-per-cent market share in Japan, according to Tennis Australia.
WOWOW’s agreement with Tennis Australia, which was heralded as a “landmark” deal, runs from 2017 to 2021, and covers the Australian Open, but also, for the first time, the Emirates Australian Open Series, the series of tournaments leading up to the grand slam.
As well as some pioneering broadcasting achievements, the 2017 Australian Open featured the debut of its new clean-cut logo, which replaced the famous ‘serving man’, which had been in place since 1995.
The tournament also took to Twitter in its first live streaming partnership, as Seven Network produced live video and highlight clips via its profile on the social network.