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Live From Wimbledon: ESPN's Jamie Reynolds on the Challenges in Broadcasting a Grand Slam


Live From Wimbledon: ESPN's Jamie Reynolds on the Challenges in Broadcasting a Grand Slam Keeping ahead of the dramatic storylines keeps the team on their toes By Ken Kerschbaumer, Editorial Director

Friday, July 12, 2019 - 12:20 pm

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The two finals at Wimbledon are shaping up to be epic battles between arguably the biggest names in the sport. That is just fine with Jamie Reynolds, VP, production, ESPN, and nearly everyone else in the Wimbledon Broadcast Centre, portending great interest and ratings. Reynolds took a few minutes out of his schedule to speak with SVG Editorial Director Ken Kerschbaumer about this year's tournament, the current season, the challenge of broadcasting a Tennis Grand Slam event, and what lies ahead for the ESPN team as it gears up for the US Open in August.

ESPN's Jamie Reynolds: You need the time and the commitment to figure out the subtle nuances that would change the coverage. That requires investment of time, energy, and resources.

How have things been going here at Wimbledon for you and the team?

It's great. We got 175 people here, and it's one of those events where you bring people across from the U.S. and you tell them it's like 14 days in a submarine. We go down on day one, we resurface in 14 days; we're going offshore, you're living with everybody 10-15 hours a day. You've got to know how to line up with each other, recognize the creative disparity, possible tension, harmonize with ideas, and just kind of keep the whole click-clack running with everybody. That's the best thing.

It's always great to use this chance to recap the season so far. Starting from the Australian Open, how have things gone?

The whole tennis year continues to evolve at a very rapid pace. Tennis Australia has done a really nice job with that venue, and, [with] what they've rolled out in their long-term plan, it's clear they've invested in this category, in this sport. What they're doing with Melbourne Park, what they're turning that whole venue into, and what they've done with the satellite tour around it, you just know there's a lot of energy, and there's an investment. So that's a good sign.

As a broadcaster, we're still trying to figure out, with that event, how can we balance our investment onsite versus the rapidly emerging technology that they're offering to their customers. But, in that, how do you differentiate? What's still unique between ESPN, BBC, Wowow, any other onsite broadcaster? What access, what discovery can we still harvest and turn into neat content that doesn't necessarily look and feel like what's being distributed? Then we have to find that balance for it, right? How they manage the event, how they're efficient with it, but what's still accessible that's unique and fresh, other than just the talent roster?

How do you find that balance? What's the tension there? Is it just because there are only so many access points to the players or interviews?

I think it's kind of that three-dimensional chessboard of lining up player access and not being so invasive, establishing some level of priority between broadcasters. You can't have everybody running around the venue at once looking out for the same athletes or the same courts. So you have to manage that. There's a safety issue in terms of that access at the end of the day. And then you have to figure out what the different brand identity might be and how do you land all of these converging interests so everybody gets a piece that's unique to them and that they can say, This is why we're a little better than the others.

Is that a challenge for all the Slams?

It's interesting because all four have differences and different types of business models. Australia is heavily backed by the state. The French have their own unique operation. This is a private club at Wimbledon. USTA is a different organization [whose] mission statement is to promote the message of tennis. They all have very different financial drivers, business models, the way that they are stewards of the support and the event. So the dynamics might be slightly different in each one of those venues.

You start with a competition at the base level, and you know you're trying to service the brand and get it out to the world, so there's a great deal of priority [on] that base level. You have the ATP influence, you have the WTA influence, you have the players' access points. Has it reached the saturation point? Yes. It's probably overcorrected a little bit to be very, perhaps, measured in how much access players are responsible for giving to keep an event going. And that is so they can still stay competitive and stay on their regular schedule. But now that there's so much time available and so many courts being covered and so many hours devoted to coverage that the players are becoming a finite resource.

With so much on-court coverage, is it a challenge finding time for things like player features?

If there are 18 courts offered here and play begins at 11 and they'll go through the end of the order of play per day, there's an incredible volume of live action. That's great because everybody has figured out how that ought to get out to the fan base.

But now you have to add that new layer of what's accessible, gratifying, meeting the fan expectations of access and discovery of the players. What can you get other than just press-conference sound? What kind of personality element can you continue to deliver that's at the same scale as the 18 courts for 10 hours a day? And then you're fighting the clock because, every second day, the field is cut in half. Now they start dwindling. How do you manage putting all of those ingredients toge
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