Wimbledon open to Amazon rights deal

11 Oct 2018

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) has revealed that it would be open to future broadcast rights deals with internet giant Amazon for the Wimbledon Championships.

Mick Desmond, the AELTC’s commercial and media director, told the Evening Standard that the club has already held two years of initial talks with the ecommerce and live streaming company, but reiterated that Wimbledon’s historic partnership with British public-service broadcaster the BBC remains of great importance to the prestigious Grand Slam tennis tournament.

The BBC currently holds the rights to Wimbledon until 2024 after agreeing a contract extension in 2016, making the relationship between the two parties the longest in broadcast history, stretching all the way back to radio commentary in 1927.

Amazon has made its move into over-the-top (OTT) streaming in the UK over the past year with the acquisition of major tennis rights including the ATP World Tour and the US Open Grand Slam, and Desmond expects the company to be a major player in sports broadcasting in the coming years.

“They’re going to learn, I think they are open enough to say they’re in a learning process,” Desmond told the Evening Standard. “We’ve been talking to Amazon for two years, not just about live rights but about what we may well do in terms of looking at other content plays with them.

“They’re going to be an enormous player. They’re going to be here for the long-term as a trillion dollar business. They can buy production capability and talent."

Despite that, Wimbledon’s partnership with the BBC has not deterred the tournament from being innovative with its coverage, with this year’s edition of the Grand Slam being streamed by the BBC in 4K resolution and high dynamic range colour (HDR) to UK viewers.

However, Wimbledon has a track record of embracing new technologies, with this year’s competition featuring AI-generated, automated video highlights, a new chatbot and an upgraded digital platform, and a deal with Amazon could be the next step in the evolution of the world’s oldest tennis tournament.

“You never say never but the BBC is such a potent media partner and they have their own streaming,” said Desmond.

“The relationship with the BBC goes back a long way, in many ways they’re part of our brand. If you think our raison d’être is not only to generate revenues to reinvest in the championships but also for British tennis.

“What bigger advert could you have for playing tennis in the UK than what the BBC gives us? It’s not just live play, we’re in their news feature, their weather feature, the One Show and everything is played across all their digital assets for the 13 days.”

Desmond’s comments came as Alex Green, Amazon Prime Video’s European managing director of sports and channels, told the Leaders Sport Business Summit in London that Amazon is committed to tennis “for the long haul”, adding that the company needs to take a “humble” approach to sports broadcasting.

Amazon also recently secured global rights to the Laver Cup team tennis tournament, while it will also show 20 games from English soccer’s Premier League in the UK each season for three years from 2019/20. The company also has a two-year global rights agreement with the National Football League (NFL) for its Thursday Night Football (TNF) games.