The audience figures for the opening night of the Australian Open make for sure grim reading for Tennis Australia and Channel 9, who recently agreed to a new $500 million broadcast deal. On the same day that Nick Kyrgios joined a growing list of high-profile withdrawals at Melbourne Park, TV numbers were well down compared to this time last year.
An average of 357,000 viewers across the five city metro regions tuned in for the opening night session on Monday, which was about 100,00 less than Home and Away on Channel 7. Monday night's play also came in below The Bachelors on Channel 10 in the 18-49 demographic.
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In 2022, the opening night session drew a peak audience of 886,000 viewers. However it wasn't all bad for Tennis Australia, with 77,944 fans attending Melbourne Park - breaking the previous opening day attendance record of 72,424 set in 2017.
But the TV numbers will be a huge concern for Channel 9 on the back of the new $500 million deal with Tennis Australia until the end of 2030. Many have pointed to the lack of star power (particularly Aussies) playing at Melbourne Park this year.
Ash Barty, who captivated audiences during her run to the title at the Australian Open in 2022, has joined tennis icons Roger Federer and Serena Williams in retiring. And Kyrgios' injury means he joins World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz, two-time champion Naomi Osaka and American veteran Venus Williams on the sidelines.
But it's Barty and Kyrgios who officials will be cursing the most after the Aussie stars helped produce some record audience numbers in 2022. A peak audience of 4.2 million tuned in to watch Barty play Danielle Collins in last year's final - the biggest audience to watch a women's final in Australia since the TV ratings system was introduced in 1999.
Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis also captivated audiences (particularly in younger generations) as they marched to the title in the doubles - their first grand slam titles respectively. The Special Ks also sparked record TV figures as they whipped fans into a frenzy.
Channel 9's previous deal with Tennis Australia only cost them $300 million. But the hype around last year's Australian Open drove up the price to the whopping $500 million figure they agreed upon recently.
Tennis Australia's $500 million boost
After emptying its cash reserves of $80 million and taking out a $40 million loan to stage the Australian Open in 2021 during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tennis Australia was hoping the 2022 edition would help replenish its coffers. TA boss Craig Tiley later revealed that they still lost money, but he was hoping Barty's victory would spark renewed interest in tennis.
"We put a lot of infrastructure over the last years in building the product and we've enjoyed during Covid an exponential increase in (playing) participation," Tiley said. "That's not our survey - that's the government's survey - so it's comparative to everything. So that's been great.
"But now we've got the marketing vehicle with Ash's success and we can match that with the infrastructure we have in place and we'll see really a strong growth in our sport and ongoing growth in it. It's a beautiful sport to play - we've been saying it for boys and girls and especially for little girls who want to be like Ash. So we're so proud of her and this will really accelerate us into another level of participation."
Unfortunately for Tennis Australia they've missed out on cashing in on Barty, with the three-time grand slam champion announcing her retirement last March. But the $500 million broadcast deal will help.
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