Raducanu shines light on Channel 4’s agility and a bright future for sports marketing

Raducanu shines light on Channel 4’s agility and a bright future for sports marketing

As a passionate tennis player himself, Ray Snoddy assesses the big winners from Saturday’s US Open final

You very quickly run out of superlatives to describe 18-year-old, Emma Raducanu.

There’s the A-starred A-Level Maths and the fluent Mandarin with an authentic Eastern China accent, the easy smile and seemly composure, combined with a steely determination. 

And that’s before you get to the tennis and the unbelievable shots that made her the first qualifier in the history of the game to make it all the way to the US Open final where, in the end, she pushed her way past the almost equally brilliant 19-year-old, Leylah Fernandez.

Years of battling on the tennis courts of the world between these so young women now lie ahead – the female equivalent of the fading male triumvirate of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal who have rather been put in the shade.

Yet, however riveting the sport in the Arthur Ashe stadium in New York’s Flushing Meadows, there are also important implications for television, sponsorship, marketing and brands.

Several years ago, Amazon, rather astutely, started buying up international tennis rights for relatively modest sums of money, but less modest than most broadcasters wanted to pay.

 It was part of a diversification into the media presumably designed primarily to help drive their all-conquering parcel delivery service.

And then, with little warning, Amazon Prime had a red-hot sports property on its hands – A Fairytale in New York as the papers inevitably called it.

What to do? Amazon already attracts criticism for its marked lack of enthusiasm for paying tax, its effect on high street retail, and now it was standing in the way of the majority of the UK population being able see this talented young woman from Bromley approach her moment of sporting destiny.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden helped by lobbing a swerving  ball in Amazon’s direction, suggesting that such a national sporting moment should be made available live on free-to-air television.

Channel 4 showed just how agile a Public Corporation can be, by rapidly negotiating a seven-figure deal for live rights to the Saturday final in UK prime time.

As a result, everyone turned out to be a winner – apart from the BBC who were left holding the near worthless booby prize – day old highlights.

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The big winner, apart from the sport of tennis, was Channel 4 which had its best ratings day since the equally imaginative coup of scooping up rights no-one else wanted to the London 2012 Paralympics.

The Raducanu audience peaked at 9.2 million, an excellent result for a “minority” channel, which only got the rights late in the day.

Channel 4’s broadcasting coup came three days before the closing of the Government’s “consultation” on a change of ownership at the channel.

In the consultation document the Government suggested that private ownership would allow the Channel to go for more agile investments in future.

The Channel demonstrated it was perfectly agile as it is – a small tactical win in the uphill battle to avoid an unwanted change of ownership being forced on them.

Amazon also emerged as a winner because it was prepared to give-up something valuable for the greater public good, while being willing to donate the fee to help boost tennis for young women in the UK.

The positive publicity gained is priceless and there must also have been a surge in those signing up for 30-day free Amazon trials, before it became clear all you needed to have was Channel 4.

The event raises interesting questions about where the ideal balance should lie on sports rights between free-to-air, subscription and potentially, streaming companies.

Clearly, the Government has to continue protecting “the Crown Jewels” of British sport for free-to-air television and even add to them in future to ensure that those events that are part of most people’s lives should not disappear behind paywalls.

The message to sports rights owners is, if you want public visibility for your sports don’t go subscription only.

The Fairytale in New York suggests that there are also big, high ticket occasions when rights owners should see that it is not in their best interests to clutch what is theirs too tightly to their chests.

By collaborating with free-to-air broadcasters, they not only get a good feeling from doing the right thing, but at the same time they create great marketing opportunities for their main services.

The biggest winner of all, obviously, was Emma Raducanu as the first to do something that had never happened before. But this is a game of fine margins and it is entirely possible that Leylah Fernandez could win the next Grand Slam – the Australian Open in January. It would still be second but …

What is remarkable about both young ladies is the diversity of their parentage, which collectively comes close to ringing the globe.

Apart from her home in London Raducanu can call on the backgrounds of her Romanian father and her Chinese mother. Indeed the Chinese have already been adept at claiming Emma as one of their own.

Fernandez can chip in with a former Ecuadorian footballer father and a mother from the Philippines.

Together, that adds up to a powerful marketing cocktail reaching out to so many people and nationalities beyond the more traditional reach of tennis.

For Emma Raducanu it could be a case of winner takes all in the sponsorship battles. Those who have already signed her up will be trying enthusiastically to serve papers on her extending her deals.

A new deal with Tiffany, the New York jeweller was already obvious to the eagle-eyed with those earrings, which stayed firmly attached throughout an acrobatic tennis final.

The agent to the sports stars, IMG will ensure that before long Emma Raducanu will be the richest sportswomen on earth because of her immaculate forehand, ferocious backhand,  swerving accurate serves and winning smile.

And obviously she will be a shoo-in for BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

Those sponsors and marketeers who can get a piece of the action will count themselves lucky.

So far so good but it really will be game, set and match for 18-year-old Emma Raducanu if she manages to achieve all of the above while remaining grounded in reality and perfect a role away from the hitting furry balls, as the UK’s former chief tennis sports personality, Andy Murray, once put it.

Perhaps, as well as sponsors Emma should have a quiet chat with Marcus Rashford. 


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