With estimated annual earnings of $200m, the French Open distinguishes itself among the other Grand Slam tournaments with public imagination, charm, historic setting, and of course, its clay.
Just participating in, much less winning, this Paris tournament is widely accepted as a career maker for professional tennis players. Sport prestige, tradition and a nostalgic bend are distinguishing commercial assets for the French Open. Yet, in order to stay relevant, the French Open must not only keep up with, but also anticipate changing global media opportunities.
Even as the French Open continues to permit fans to practice the rustic art of the pique-nique (picnic) in-stadium, the demand for luxury, technology and securing sport integrity drives the French Open’s modernizing strategies.
Since 2010, the French Open has retooled its technological capacities at and beyond the court level. Seven courts within the French Open’s tennis complex are equipped for HD production. With a designated 19 cameras, the tournament’s principle court, Court Philippe Chatrier, is equipped for 3D production.
Infrastructures and information technologies have augmented the event’s annual multi-platform broadcast diffusion — which delivers an estimated 20,000 audience hours globally.
Yet, just as much as these in-venue and digital information technologies enhance a sport property’s ability to present high quality coverage of sport events anywhere, anytime, and even in user-interactive formats, there’s a downside perhaps, even, a darkside to all this technological capacity.
Beyond the often emotionally charged public debates about technologies like “video in the box” (soccer’s goal box video) or video for tennis line judging — which polarize those who view these technologies as referee aiding devices from those who fear such technologies are distorting the traditional game — there are perhaps more alarming concerns about technologies and sport integrity.
In the last five years, tennis fans have been harnessing all sorts of mobile communicating devices in order to obtain and relay insider information on referee calls before they become official and known by broadcast audiences. The advantage of seconds or fractions of a second proves to be a profitable lead in live betting markets. Such technological infiltration, known as “courtsiding” has caused tremendous worry and renewed effort to patrol. There is fear that such betting presence and interests may distort the integrity of the game.
To preserve the game’s integrity and to stave off potentially distorting influences, sport event owners like the French Open must wire and hire surveillance technologies and experts. Since 2008, the Tennis Integrity Unit — whose IT environmental set up costs are estimated to be over $200,000 — has provided the sport integrity expertise for global tennis, including the Grand Slams.
The business imperatives driving technological innovation are not simply matters of satisfying fan hunger for more luxurious stadium offerings, unfathomably huge jumbotrons, stadium shade, or even faster, snappier, glossier multi-platform sport broadcast.
For a premier, global sport event like the French Open, modernizing requires balancing the game’s tradition while pushing and controlling the technological landscape of how, when, and where fans can interact and consume the game.
Rook Campbell is a Visiting Professor of Communication and Political Science at the University of Southern California. Follow her on Twitter: @cabinet48