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One of the interesting side stories that came out of the Sony Ericsson Open had nothing to do with the tennis being played on the purple courts of Miami, but with how many people complained about the television coverage (or lack of it) for the event.


Despite its status as “the fifth Slam”, the coverage in Miami was not on one network, but three – Tennis Channel, Fox Sports Network and CBS. Due to agreements between all three networks, some matches fell through the “cracks” of scheduling depending on the day and time of the match. The most notable being the quarterfinal showdown between Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. That’s when online streams of that match, many of them free, filled in the gap for eager viewers. So why was there so much bellyaching over the lack of TV coverage for Miami?


Many blamed the high cost of licensing fees that networks pay to carry tour events. Though fees are a part of the problem, the reality is that televised tennis, outside the Grand Slams, is not a major ratings draw nor will it ever be. Though Grand Slams like the 2009 U.S. Open and Wimbledon saw their highest ratings in years, smaller events have not been as successful. Factor in that tennis still suffers from an outdated image as being an elitist sport that only expensive brands will want to advertise to, and it all adds up to the ongoing problem of coverage being broken up over many networks since one usually doesn’t want to foot the whole bill.


So, instead of groaning over a situation they have no control over and will not change for some time, why didn’t those complainers simply go online and use one of the many free or fee-based online streams to catch the action? The standard answers of “its too difficult” or “the video quality is not great” don’t really work anymore as online video, especially those hosted by the networks, has improved greatly in the last two years in terms of quality, DVR-like qualities of stopping, saving matches, etc. and variety of content. Sure, your internet connection will be a factor, but I think the main reason fans don’t use online streams is that many believe watching a sporting event on one’s computer doesn’t have the same feel as being on the “big box”, as if watching it on an actual television somehow legitimizes the match being played instead of on one’s laptop, or even, dare I say it, a mobile phone.


My response? Get over it. It’s not that hard anymore to figure out how to connect your Internet and computer to your TV so you can stream matches. Plus, using online content puts the viewer, and not the network, in control of when and how they choose to watch a match. Instead of shaking their fist, so to speak, at the cable companies, those who complained should embrace online streams as their main source of tennis now rather than waiting for the cable networks to catch up to their demands later.


Erik Gudris moderates his own tennis website and is a writer and media consultant based in Los Angeles.