Tennis Australia and Sony Pictures Networks India announced its extended broadcast partnership in India and Sub Continent through an event in Mumbai. On the sidelines of the event, we caught up with Finn Bradshaw, head of digital strategy, Tennis Australia, to learn more about how the body looks to use digital media to attract fans, challenges in India and more.
How different has your time at Australian Open been compared to your five-year tenure at Cricket Australia? What's your mandate at TA?
My role at Tennis Australia is to devise and execute the digital strategy. The biggest of the lot is the Australian Open but there are other ones (tournaments) too. I think we have this amazing opportunity to reach out and engage with the world because of our location. This region is where the growth is coming from – Japan, China and India in particular and so I'm really focused on how can we use digital platforms to engage audiences in these countries.
Tennis is seen as an elitist sport by many in the Indian market - how would you break that perception? At present, is the audience for tennis significant in India?
The fact that it’s an elitist sport could be a benefit. We would obviously love tennis to grow to be the number one sport in India, but that would be silly to expect. We want it grow beyond that second tier of sports. It’s very competitive, but we benefit from having real superstars like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. At Tennis Australia, we really focus on the event. In the most immediate term, we are looking to how we can increase the number of Indians to travel to Australia for the event. We think that's really important for us now as a strategy going forward. That's a gateway into play.
We know there’s an increasing sector of Indian society that loves to travel. There are events like Coachella (music and art festival in Colorado) or Tomorrowland (music festival in Belgium) that might be on their bucket list. It’s about adding AO on the list. So, when young India is traveling and thinking ‘where am I going to make my next big trip’, we want to put Australia on that list. We don’t want them to come only for the Australian Open, but also for the experience.
The ICC T20 Cricket World Cup is being held in Australia during the latter half of the year - Indians would probably use that as a time to visit the country?
Yes, those are cyclical events. I think there's also a sector of Indian society that doesn't want to go to the event that their dad went to.
I think our positioning, while sport is important, is to appeal to a section of society that is far more global. The audience that loves their food and loves music. And these things cricket can’t offer. I do think there's room for both of us (cricket and tennis). And then in 2021, 2022 and 2023 there’s no cricket world cup!
While there are Federer, Nadal and Serena fans - does the lack of an Indian contingent (that's doing well) hurt the tournament in terms of attracting audience from the country?
Yes, it makes it harder. It's just natural right – you are connected to your culture. But, then the NBA came here recently and there are also fans of the English Premier League, and they are in a similar position. We want to appeal to people. We want to work with the likes of Leander (Paes) on ground who try to get that next generation through.
We think the world is better when people play sports. And we think that tennis has some really unique characteristics that sort of help create a better society.
We feel when compared to other sports, we have got some other ways to get people in. We ran a Fortnite tournament last year over the last two days of the event. It helped us get 10,000 people who may never have otherwise come to the Australian Open. They weren’t playing tennis, right? But we were trying to get something there for everyone.
For the 2020 edition of the Australian Open, what would be the different efforts which will be undertaken to reach the Indian audience?
The real focus is on the app where we have got a new partner - Ticketmaster. And one of the things that really excited us about the partnership with them was their technology in event ticketing. It'll be a fairly large integration this year. I really see us creating personalised experiences. If it's not in India, it (the content) is for India. We will definitely have it for Japan and China too. Obviously China has its own ecosystem with platforms.
It starts with content. If you don't have content, you can have the best product in the world, but no one's going to stay there. So, my immediate focus is really how do we create content that is really meaningful and engaging for each audience. And then we'll do deeper insights that can create an experience.
One of the stakeholders of NBA recently suggested that their biggest challenge is breaking into a 'cricket crazy' market. How does Tennis Australia look to break this?
We see many more opportunities than challenges in India in the mobile revolution. In the last three-four years, I saw that during my term with Cricket Australia. I think we benefit on a cultural level about similarities between Australia and India. English is relatively widely spoken across the countries and it helps.
The challenge is just about awareness. We will experiment with the range of different content to try and build that. The broadcasters are looking at a Hindi feed for a the finals (and I hope it'll be for both the men's and women's final). I came from cricket right, and the numbers here for tennis are very different to cricket. We know we need to be patient. We have to just expose more of the sport and figure how do we make it relevant.
Does the fact that there are only four major tournaments in a year hurt tennis get that connect with sports fans?
At least there is consistency. They're not on every week of the year, but atleast these guys still have these pillars. The IPL goes on for only two months in a year too. Besides the big Grand Slams there is tennis going on throughout the year too.
The Grand Slam tournaments bring this prestige and history and we are very fortunate to have one of them in Australia. There are a lot of people trying to create eSports and other sports. But, I don't think one can create the sort of gravitas and legacy for the Grand Slam format has through cool marketing. To have those four great events every year – every sport would want that great opportunity. And now we are also going to host the ATP Cup, that will have the best players in the world come and fight for two weeks. The Davis Cup was facing some struggle in terms of getting people to attend it and this ATP Cup is a new way to connect to that audience. It’s a joint venture between Tennis Australia and the ATP.
Two years ago, TA embarked on a rebranding with AO. How do you plan to take this forward and create a differentiation with the other slams?
All the Grand Slams have their own flavours and got real tradition. Wimbledon is the one with the real tradition. Then there’s the Australia Open which players always state their love for. The vibe is very different. People are just having fun and that’s what our brand tries to reflect.