Four Corners probes TV Tennis deals

Four Corners this Monday night looks set to blow the lid on the game of television, the Australian Open and Tennis Australia.

Reporter Debbie Whitmont talks to Tennis Australia about whether it still cares about the game or television ratings.

Four Corners claims leading Australian tennis stars are now openly questioning who is controlling tennis, and who is profiting the most.

In recent years Australian TV viewers have questioned Channel Seven programming decisions which see games delayed for News, current affairs and drama, with viewers outside Daylight Saving time especially furious at decisions to hold key matches.

Four Corners also claims to have “significant evidence that power has been centralised into the hands of just a few tennis administrators.”

Of course Seven is not alone in questions about its tennis broadcast. The ABC is yet to declare the future of the Hopman Cup in Perth, but it is unlikely to raise those questions in Four Corners.

Nevertheless, it sounds like mandatory viewing for all those tennis fans who were screaming in summer.


In January this year Australia’s top ranked female tennis player Samantha Stosur found her much anticipated match against Serena Williams dumped from the prime time television schedule. Network Seven decided news, current affairs and a soapie were more likely to provide ratings.

Tennis Australia, the body with the job of promoting the sport in Australia, didn’t argue. Instead it stood to pocket a healthy bonus for Network Seven’s ratings victory but the episode left a major question hanging over the sport.

Debbie Whitmont: “Do you think the people who run the game really care about it? Really care about the sport?

Lleyton Hewitt: “Ah, I’m not sure. I don’t know”.

Lleyton Hewitt isn’t the only one wondering whether the people who run the sport of tennis really care about the game. A virtual who’s who of Australian tennis past and present are now openly questioning the way Tennis Australia has restructured the sport in this country, and who is benefiting from the changes.

The critics claim that Tennis Australia has centralised the control of the sport in an attempt to improve the game’s bottom line but has forgotten about the players in the process. As one respected player manager put it:

“Tennis Australia seems to be wanting control over everything that happens in this country with regards to tennis. Any financial dealing in this country, Tennis Australia wants to have a piece of it… and that’s wrong.”

Tennis Australia’s Director of Tennis, Craig Tiley, rejects this view:

“Right from the beginning we’ve been accused of being too controlling and wanting to have it only our way or the highway. Those are all just simply not true.”

Despite this assurance, Four Corners has uncovered significant evidence that power has been centralised into the hands of just a few tennis administrators. According to those who know the sport, this means players are not getting the best coaches available and critics are frozen out.

The main independent coaches association has been “absorbed” into Tennis Australia. The country’s “tennis bible” – Australian Tennis Magazine – has been bought out. Even the kids’ tennis charity has been scuppered.

Discontent in tennis clubs around the country is increasing. One club has been told it must install a certain type of court surface or face the prospect of losing its tournament. Why is just one surface favoured and who benefits from the installation of this type of court?

The questions don’t end there. This week, Four Corners explores allegations that when former tennis star and respected sports administrator, Paul McNamee, challenged for the Presidency of Tennis Australia last year, powerful figures close to the current administration told voting delegates that if McNamee won the job government funding for the country’s premier tennis facility would be endangered and Channel 7’s broadcast deal might be in jeopardy.

Reporter Debbie Whitmont talks to Tennis Australia about the allegations, about its blue-print for future tennis success and the results it has achieved so far.

Four Corners: The State of Play airs on Monday 1st March at 8.30pm on ABC1. It is replayed on Tuesday 2nd March at 11.35pm and also available online.

39 Comments:

  1. why are people so shocked. every pro sets up in monaco and every ex pro wants a career as a commentator or consultant. seems like if you can’t get a knighthood then chairman of Tennis Australia is what you aspire to.

  2. emma – a Tennis Australia employee by any chance ???

    hewitt and rafter in particular were discarded by tennis austalia early on- didnt want a bar or rafter he went and did things by himself with his own caoch etc- when he fianlly hit the big time tennis austalia then take the credit?? what a joke- the oz open was well on the way to reclaim is grand slam status before pollard came on board in 89…mcnamee can take the credit from that point on ..as for craig tiley…running the game into the ground and alleged back door deals its a discrace

  3. This piece of biased journalism was much ado about nothing. Pity they failed to mention that Tennis Australia has successfully run and grown the Australian Open into one of the top four tennis tournaments in the world over the past ‘x’ number of years – for all of which Pollard was in the top job. He was also in the top job when Hewitt / Rafter were discovered and performed at their best – no mention of that either. Finally they failed to mention that Pollard has publically announced he would be resigning this year – implying instead that he would be ‘voted’ out by the Paul McNamee supporters of the world. Seem to me like the story was a ploy to have Paul McNamee appointed to the top job as they failed to name any of the other candidates.

  4. clearly this four corners show has a bit to do with the TV coverage- but after watching the show the channel 7 coverage was the least of my worries- it was how corrupt tennis australia now is- jobs for the boys ..secret deals, blackmail, suppression of opionions..i was horrified….the whole board needs to go staring with pollard- get out and give our game back …lets hope paul mcnamee is sucessful soon……..

  5. disappointed player

    Yes, I too was frustrated by delayed coverage – in fact we watched the TA matches on the internet live – just looking at the scores. Fans want the real result – a live result. Everytime we added a comment about this on the TA twitter site it was not broadcast – so these tweets were selectively filtered to ensure ‘channel 7′ was not offended. Shame, shame channel 7. What were you thinking.

  6. About time – Channel 7 have been getting away with poor Tennis coverage for years.

    Hopefully this story will lead to Channel 9 and its superior sports team getting the Australian Open next year.

  7. Oh what a relief ,

    I hope Four Corners tackles this head on, and manages to expose this monstrous set up for what it is.
    It may even help to ease some of the struggle inflicted on so many families, coaches , athletes who have been subjected to it.
    So many who have had no voice.
    This is a very important story as if exposed corruption in “any business” is wrong, and abuse of power severely affects many good people in dreadful ways long term.

    Cant wait to see it.

  8. Monday night is surely going to have some blasting and mind triggering effects for a long time. With the officials involved in a tussle amongst themselves, it would be interesting to watch for the outcome. But, the tennis lovers are going to love it for sure. It should be sports that should be talked about and not the revenue generated by the rights of airing it, which happens to be the case in this situation.

  9. Could be interesting,but nothing that i’m not aware of already.I love my AFL and Tennis,Go Cats! Going Back To Back In 2010.but i really don’t believe there will be anything i don’t already know.Be a good show for people who arn’t up to scratch with it all

  10. TVTragic: I feel sorry for you.
    Just because You seem to like tennis, does not mean that everyone else has to like it.
    If they cut to the news, so what.
    I would rather watch the news that is scheduled instead of tennis.

    If you like it that much, as I said before go and watch it live.
    Put your money where your mouth is.
    Just like I do for the F1 in Melbourne.

    For those who demand that Sport should all be on FTA TV?
    Why?

    If I was a sport tragic, then I would be glad to pay for a dedicated channel on PAY TV.

    At least Ch10 has a dedicated channel for you sports fanatics.

  11. I will definitely be watching this episode!

    And it’s not just the tennis that Seven treats with complete contempt.

    They are still refusing to show AFL matches live in Melbourne – preferring to show a lifestyle show on Friday nights – and on Sunday afternoons delaying the telecasts to show “footy flashbacks”!

    I think Stephen Conroy should stop skiing with Stokes and start demanding the free to airs stopping stuffing tv viewers about!

  12. @ Rob: Pretty sure Mike was referring to One HD’s impact on its commercial audience share, which has been dismal at best. If not, then the channel’s performance or lack thereof is still relevant to this issue.

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