Watching Women’s Tennis in 2017 – The Debacle of WTA Streaming

There have been many contentious storylines surrounding the WTA tour in 2017 – the one that continues to frustrate me the most is the issue around streaming of WTA matches. As the tour takes a bit of a breather before Stuttgart and there is still no concrete news of when the issue will be resolved, it felt like the right time to write about the problems that I am facing trying to stream WTA tennis in the UK and no doubt, other loyal fans of women’s tennis are encountering too.

To set the scene, in September 2016 it was announced that TennisTV would no longer be supporting coverage of the WTA tour and that the WTA would be launching their own separate platform, “WTA Networks”. It was confirmed during the WTA Finals in Singapore that “WTA Networks” would be launched on the 1st of January, 2017 along with a new website. Four months into the new season, there is still no news about when this will be released.

It quickly became apparent after last year’s announcement in Singapore that the streaming of WTA matches would not be resolved for some time. In an interview with Ben Rothenberg on the No Challenges Remaining Podcast, the WTA CEO, Steve Simon, announced that a new platform would likely not be ready until the second quarter of 2017 (from 9:10 in the podcast linked below).

The WTA posted an article in December 2016 about the new service, providing no new details to those that had been shared previously in Singapore with nothing about release date or cost. While it’s clear that there is no timescale yet for the finished product, the little tidbits of information from Steve Simon, reported from various sources, have contradicted each other and provided fans with yet more questions. The latest update from British journalist, Stuart Fraser, was not at all promising with a new target of “before the end of the year”.

For the past three years (2014-2016), I have used TennisTV to watch WTA tennis. The big advantage of TennisTV was being able to watch matches on my tablet and use their catch-up service (on computers) where matches were stored on the system for a week and finals remained indefinitely. I have a full-time job, Monday to Friday; therefore, with the International nature of the tour, i’ll often be working when tennis is live, or asleep when tennis is played in some parts of the world. Therefore, the catch-up service on TennisTV was perfect for me because I could watch replays of matches in my own time.

Since the end of WTA coverage on TennisTV (😢), there were two (legal) options for me in the UK: purchase a subscription to BT Sport or rely on betting streams.

It was announced in 2016 that BT Sport in the UK would show up to 52 WTA tournaments from 2017 with an increase of 30 events from the prior year. From my research, a 12-month contract for BT Sport on Sky would cost approximately £240 per year. This is more than double what I paid for TennisTV when I started a subscription. The big issue for me (as a tennis nut!) is that early on in tournaments, i’ll often be engrossed in one of the matches on the outside courts. BT Sport have one channel for WTA tennis which is understandably, mostly catered for the Centre Court or matches involving British players. The BT app for tablets also requires you to have BT Broadband, which I do not have, and therefore, the cost didn’t stack up for me.

For the first four months of 2017, I have been relying on betting streams to watch WTA tennis. I realise that this is not even an option for people in the US and other countries. To watch streams on most betting sites in the UK, all you need is to have a funded account. With all the abuse that players have received from people who bet on tennis, I find it disconcerting that this is the most reliable (legal) way to stream WTA matches across all courts. Note that I do not bet on tennis.

I frequently use bet365 and the access to streams has been solid all year with almost all WTA matches covered so far from first round matches to finals (doubles remains another talking point). While i’ve been able to keep up with matches, it has been far from an enjoyable experience. I’ve able to get by during the US tournaments because action starts pretty much at the time when I finish work. It will become even more of a challenge during the European clay court season when most of the tennis happens while i’m at work.

I’ve mostly been using bet365 streams on my phone, which you can set to full screen. Centre Court streams are decent but trying to follow the ball on an outside court where cameras are often placed quite low requires a lot of squinting. If i’m watching on my computer, the score updates in advance of the play and I end up having to cover half of my screen so I don’t know what has happened before I see it. And perhaps most frustrating of all is that the betting streams cut out before match point so I miss the celebration, post-match interviews and HANDSHAKES!

A handful of YouTube accounts have sprouted over this year providing full match highlights (whoever you are, I love you). This was great, in particular during February and March for Indian Wells and Miami; however, it’s a risky game and sadly, these accounts don’t last long as they get blocked for copyright infringement. It’s a shame because people wouldn’t need to do this in the first place if there was a service available for WTA fans.

There are some superb highlight packages out there too but these also get pulled down for copyright issues. It’s particularly grating as the WTA official highlights are woefully short and lacking in content – a selection of recent highlights from the tournament in Biel were practically obsolete with the one linked below lasting under two minutes with a valuable ten seconds (!) taken up for the entrance of the players to the court.

The recent changes have made me question the lengths that i’m going to just to be able to stream women’s tennis. My big concern is whether casual tennis fans would be motivated to follow suit? Even for the most recent tournament in Biel, a tournament i’d normally watch and cover on the blog, I couldn’t face another week of squinting at streams and therefore decided to take a week off. My enjoyment of watching tennis has definitely lessened this year and i’m eating more and more as I spend more time in the kitchen pursuing my other hobby of baking 🤣.

I’ve noticed comments this year on social media where tennis fans are giving up on the WTA for 2017 with the inability to watch matches and it makes me very sad. While there are options out there, the difficulty of finding legal and affordable streams is an obstacle that I guess many are not willing to overcome. Ben Rothenberg wrote about the issues for The New York Times in January, one of very few articles i’ve found on the issue, which even included a quote from Barbora Strycova discussing the issue of her family back home not being able to watch her matches (see link below).

I’ve noticed fans asking questions about when the streaming will be fixed in many of the WTA’s social media posts, all of which seem to be ignored. The lack of communication by the WTA has been very disappointing with no official updates since their original post in December. It’s apparent to me from the comments made by Steve Simon that he doesn’t understand the full extent of the issue and the impact that his decision is having on WTA fans. It’s almost as if 2017 has been cast as a write-off in terms of streaming, which I think is disrespectful to the tournaments, the players and the fans. I was convinced that the WTA would have something in place for Stuttgart with the return of Maria Sharapova – love or loathe her, this will be one of the most anticipated tennis moments of the year.

The obvious question to me is why the WTA couldn’t stay with TennisTV for another year to avoid this gap in streaming? Perhaps the streaming has been more complicated than originally planned. Still, it baffles me that there was no kind of contingency plan with fans given very little direction in finding streams. I did notice during Dubai that a live video stream went up on the WTA YouTube page. I got all excited for a moment but my faint hopes were soon dashed when I realised it was blank and soon taken down. The frustration has been further compounded for me by the live streaming of practice sessions on the WTA Facebook page. It almost feels like a slap in the face that the WTA go to the trouble of filming practices, yet cannot sort anything out, even a temporary fix of some kind, to watch actual matches.

While we wait patiently for the finished product, I have my doubts about what will actually be included in this streaming platform because so little information has been provided – How much will it cost? Will there be a catch-up service? Will there be restrictions on viewing tournaments from certain countries? What devices can I stream from? I don’t think it’s going to be a case of once it’s here, the problem is all fixed and it will be fine and dandy. I am genuinely concerned about what this final product will look like and there will no doubt be many teething problems, such as those experienced with the new-look TennisTV covering ATP this year.

I’m sorry for the negativity – i’ve always tried to be positive on this blog and tennis is my passion, one of the few things I remain mostly positive about! I wanted to make clear the issues that I am experiencing this year in watching WTA tennis and why the blog has suffered at times in the coverage. I’ve been writing this blog for almost seven years and it is one of my proudest achievements to still be going. It’s become a second job but one that I love doing.

This has been the toughest blogging year i’ve experienced on all levels but I want to keep going. I am still motivated to write about women’s tennis, something that I am passionate about supporting and promoting on this blog. So as we approach my favourite stretch of the season, the clay court season is going to be a challenge to cover. On a positive note, I am looking forward to the Slams, particularly the first week of Wimbledon where I will be off work and free as a bird, able to watch whatever match i’d like to see without needing a magnifying glass!

26 thoughts on “Watching Women’s Tennis in 2017 – The Debacle of WTA Streaming

  1. Good post James. I agree it’s frustrating; my preferred option this year (which I admit is far from ideal) has been to follow the score on the WTA site whilst a match is in progress and then, once it’s finished, to whiz over to Youtube and try to find a video of the match before it gets taken down. It’s worked about as often as not.

    As for Steve Simon not understanding the issue of streaming live sports; surely it can’t be rocket science when other sports manage to do it? As the NYT article made clear, even Bara Strycova has said recently that her family back in the Czech Republic have been unable to follow her matches. (And in my view, the WTA taking down videos when there’s no viable alternative for seeing the match is just playing dog in the manger).

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    • Thanks, Graham. As Silas reminded me on Twitter, the live scores has been rather temperamental during the last month which is another issue! As mentioned in the article, i’ve been seeking out highlights on YouTube too. It is frustrating, particularly with how fast-paced tournaments move with players playing on consecutive days and trying to keep up.

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  2. No need to apologize James! That was the nicest negativity I’ve ever seen, especially compared to Twitter lol!

    I’m glad you wrote about this and agree with your frustrations. I’ve felt I’ve lost interest since I haven’t been able to watch as often because of this steaming debacle. I even wrote about it in one of my posts. I’ve definitely watched much less tennis this year than the last few when WTA was on Tennis TV. It’s just not worth it finding other streaming methods, as you described to us so well you’re personally facing. It’s nice to hear that being from a different country and what options you all have.

    Simon didn’t understand the streaming issue. Not having streaming in a sport in this day and age is suicide and we’re seeing that take place. Interest can be lost easily. Patience too. I’m sure this situation has turned some people away from the sport completely, considering it’s testing even the most dedicated fans. When the service eventually does get completed, why would I want to pay for it after what they put us through? Especially not knowing what it’ll cost yet. If the price isn’t competitive to Tennis TV, they may lose even more fans. They should at least give us a few free months or something to lessen the frustration of what they’re putting us through in 2017. At least to get us back. They owe us something.

    Great post! Enjoyed it very much!

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    • Thank you! I’ve been meaning to write something about this issue for a while because it has been really frustrating me. I’m sure there are people who are in an even more challenging situation than me which is why I didn’t want to come across as too negative. I wanted to explain though how it’s affecting me personally and the blog too. And Twitter is another story – I used to really enjoy it but i’ve become so fed up with all the negativity. Apart from sharing my blog posts, i’ve forced myself to stop checking it so often and not post as much. To be honest, I feel happier for it.

      Like you, my interest has dipped because of no WTA on TennisTV. It was so straightforward to get a match up and now I realise that I took it for granted! That’s a good point about wanting to actually pay for the finished product. I am concerned about what the cost will be and while i’d hope for some kind of gesture like a few months free, i’d be surprised based on how they have dealt with the whole issue. I do feel they have let down loyal WTA fans and I think it’s a sad situation for the sport.

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      • I’m thinking WTA will have to set a high cost for the streaming considering the time and resources they’ll have to use to set it up. You’re probably right they won’t end up helping us out with any perks. Such a horrible way to treat the people who love the sport. But I guess we’ll just have to see what ends up happening. Hoping for the best!

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      • I agree, i’m guessing it will be pricey. I’m trying to remain positive although feeling less so with time! I’ll be OK for watching all the Slams so that’s at least something.

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  3. Agree with your points, smh at the WTA every hook and corner of this streaming product, it somehow feels like they could not care less 😦 On the positive side, the part of your post which made me smile big was the baking section. You seem to be making the most out of it!! #ChannellingYourInnerGBBO HAHA!!

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  4. It’s beyond a joke really. I’m reduced to streaming sites illegally because BT sports usually don’t stream the matches that I’m interested in playing anyway… and I’m not getting to watching mens either because I refuse to pay more for a service when I’m getting half of what I was beforehand.

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    • Yep that’s why I haven’t gone for BT Sport. In the end, I cancelled my TennisTV subscription. I still like watching ATP from time-to-time but like you, I didn’t think it justified the cost.

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  5. Do you think the sponsors might be interested and give Steve Simon and the WTA the necessary poke to make something happen. Surely they sponsor tournaments for TV exposure to an audience with a higher than average net worth. This they are not getting in the requisite numbers and in the long run women’s tennis will surely suffer. Either that or a campaign for the replacement of Mr Simon who is elusive to say the least.

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    • I’m late to the party because I keep thinking intelligent business people will resolve this issue. What’s missing from this post is contact information for Mr.Simon so that all of us can let him know what we think of him depriving us of our sport. It does not belong to him but to us loyal fans and the players that give their heart and soul to make it better. I could write a book about how I feel about this but not sure who would read it based on how long it took me to find any info about this situation writing this after the French on 6/12/17. Congratz to Jelena and Rafa!

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      • I can’t really see what else her Snapchat would have meant.
        Really pleased for her but disappointed in the timing…

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  6. This issue has resulted in a fair number of comments, I see. Obviously a pertinent issue for many. I’m know little about it, but about a year ago, I thought okay, I want to pay to watch tennis on my PC. But I couldn’t actually find an easy way, or in fact any way to do it. I assumed it would be a case of having my debit or credit card in hand and going to say the Sky website and in few minutes I’d be watching matches. But no. It was impossible to spend my money. I got completely confused by the packages available, and they all seemed over the top, including lots of sports I just would never watch. I hadn’t heard of TennisTV at the time.

    Always impressed by your diligence and deep interest in tennis, but it was also nice to read here a more personal side of things.

    I was watching the Men’s Singles Wimbledon final in 2013 on BBC iPlayer, but forgot that it tends to lag a bit, especially if watching for a few hours. In other words what I was seeing had happened a minute or two ago. In the final game I made the error of refreshing the screen, don’t know why. When the stream restarted, there was Murray celebrating his win. I missed the moment he won it, at least live, after having watched the match from the start.

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    • Thanks, David. Yes it can be confusing and even more so this year with the WTA! TennisTV are still doing ATP although i’ve read a lot of negative things about their coverage this year. British Eurosport do a good job at the Slams and they will have coverage of the French Open and the US Open. I have a subscription to the Eurosport Player which was good for the Australian Open.

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  7. Just watched the 15y/o Anisimova(next Sharapova??) beat the #7 seed Cabrera in the ITF Dothan live stream–on USTA live stream– If the ITF can live stream why can’t the WTA? Because sports gambling is banned in the USA I can only watch WTA on very illegal live stream sites where one has to dodge computer malware bullets left and right. Pro sports is driven by video not by game attendance. If the video dies the sport dies. How many long time WTA video fans will never come back?

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  8. Steve Simon “The future of the WTA is bright. We have a new streaming service. AND ITS GONE” Fan “you mean its not ready yet and you left everything until it was?” “No its completely gone. its great. you cant watch any tennis at all online” “Oh but at least you left it on the existing platforms until it was ready. Phew ” NO we took it all off. Its completely gone. We figured a year of no streaming at all would be good for the game. Give everyone a breather. Kind of like the cadburys cream egg of sports products. And so its gone” “Er and when is it coming back?” “Thats the great thing. We have absolutely no idea. Its wonderful!!”

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  9. Just found your comments and I wholeheartedly second all of them. You have described exactly how I feel and the methods to which I have resorted.

    As I pass Barons Court every day on my commute I have toyed with the idea of going in to the WTA UK office and having a rant about the sheer incompetence of their management of this issue. In any normal commercial operation a cocktail up of this magnitude would mean somebody(s) being fired!!

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