NEW YORK – The game of tennis has changed plenty over the years – high-tech racquets, emphasis on fitness and the worldwide growth of the game make for a very different sport than a generation ago. Suffice it to say, this is not your father’s US Open.
A similar change has transpired in far less time in covering the sport. ESPN’s Digital Tennis team does far more – and in new ways and with more people – than it did just five years ago.
“It’s been a revolution, not an evolution,” says Matt Wilansky, ESPN.com senior editor, who oversees ESPN’s online tennis coverage. “The focus used to be ‘text-text-text,’ the written word. Next, video emerged as a critical companion to stories. Then we began to supplement content from TV and create our own videos. And now we’re in the distribution business, via social media. It’s all about engaging with the fans.”
He oversees the effort while also contributing to the writing alongside Howard Bryant, Greg Garber, Kamakshi Tandon and espnW.com writers Johnette Howard, Melissa Isaacson and Jane McManus.
“In a typical day here – not that any day is typical in sports and certainly in tennis – we publish up to 10 written pieces of original content and 15 video segments,” says Wilansky, who has worked on tennis the last eight of his 15 years with ESPN.
ESPN.com senior writer Garber estimates he alone produces 35,000-40,000 words during the two weeks, akin to writing a 200-page college term paper.
Written and video content – including TV promos, opens, interviews, highlights and analysis, plus the three daily, sponsored segments taped specifically for the digital audience, Digital Serve, 5 Things We Learned and 60-Second Slice — goes directly into the social media pipeline via ESPN Digital associate producers Rachael Flatt and Ashly Robinson.
@ESPNTennis on Twitter has more than 200,000 followers and is on Facebook. The scribes often appear in the videos, providing first-hand commentary from the site, working with digital host Prim Siripipat.
The online centerpiece is the Courtcast section. It is one-stop shopping for the fan who wants to keep up on the action while on the go as well as get involved in the social media conversation.
Along with the live action from ESPN3, it provides all-court scoring, match stats, “Scribble Live” conversations, poll questions that are discussed on television, a rolling Twitter feed with the latest from the ESPN commentators. It’s all in a very manageable interface.
Complementing ESPN.com is espnW.com. The four-year-old site aimed at women who love sports increases the company’s digital reach. Isaacson – a columnist for espnW, ESPNChicago.com as well as ESPN.com – explains her approach writing for W as going beyond the basics.
“We have the wire services for the ‘game stories,’ so we give a little more. . . analysis, color and a personal feel to bring the fans here to New York,” she says. “Not everyone is lucky enough to visit this event – a spectacular place – so we try to make them experience it through us.”
“Simply coordinating who is doing what and when is 75 percent of my job,” says Wilansky. “But it’s a great problem to have. We cover the Majors thoroughly from every angle.”