Roland Garros uses digital to engage fans as Amazon Prime exclusive matches draw criticism

  • Infosys extended Roland Garros deal until 2026 earlier this year
  • Amazon offers ten exclusive evening matches at each tournament

The Roland Garros Tennis Grand Slam is using new digital experiences powered by artificial intelligence (AI), 3D and mixed reality technology to engage fans at this year’s tournament, although the decision to award marquee matches to Amazon’s Prime Video streaming platform demonstrates the pitfalls of straying from traditional circuits.

Organizers extended the tournament’s digital innovation partnership with Infosys earlier this year. The deal saw the solutions company promise to improve the French Open streaming experience, as well as identify how digital technologies such as the metaverse can enhance the prestige of Roland Garros and reach a younger demographic.

Viewers of this year’s event were treated to real-time AI-powered insights such as broken records, contextual match stats and performance analysis overlaid as graphs above the images live.

Visitors to the online match center can see an interactive visualization called “Patterns of Play”, which provides an in-depth view of player behavior and tactics, and a new augmented reality (AR) feature visualizes shots, stats and ball trajectories for every single point on a digital tennis court.

The technology is also seen as a way to engage fans who cannot be physically present in Paris and to help explain the event’s long history.

A new immersive 3D museum exhibit will show the evolution of rackets and iconic champions of yesteryear on the official Roland Garros website. Additionally, fans will have the ability to play tennis virtually and interact with other fans in a “social VR” metaverse environment on the VRChat platform.

“As we embark on an additional five-year partnership with Infosys, we are truly excited to extend the reach and impact of the Roland Garros tournament and touch people’s lives in a new way,” said Amélie Mauresmo. , director of the Roland Garros tournament.

“What we have achieved once again this year is a testament to the strength of our relationship with Infosys as a digital innovation partner, and we continue to set an example for other sports tournaments around the world.”

“This year, we wanted to bring a targeted approach to the tournament and help Roland Garros deliver a real sense of immersion and impact on the community,” added Sumit Virmani, Marketing Director of Infosys. “Through digital experiences powered by AR, VR, 3D, and the Metaverse technologies, we’re engaging fans, students, coaches, and players in a more experiential way to bring the whole ecosystem closer together and closer to the action.”

However, another digital deal struck by the organizers proves more problematic. Amazon Prime has exclusive national rights to ten evening games, taking advantage of the new retractable roof and floodlights at the Philippe Chatrier court. However, this year’s tournament seedings mean Rafael Nadal will meet Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals – and that match has been selected for the evening slot.

Following criticism that such a prestigious competition would be placed behind a paywall, Amazon agreed to stream the match for free on its platforms and without the need to register. The tech giant has struck a similar deal to show the US Open 2021 final in the UK for free, allowing more people to see Emma Raducanu lift the title. But unlike that arrangement, which saw live coverage simulcast on free-to-air (FTA) broadcaster Channel 4, Nadal v Djokovic will not be shown on terrestrial television in France.

SportsPro says…

Roland Garros’ deal with Amazon Prime might have given organizers more broadcast revenue, but it risks alienating domestic viewers who are critical to the success of any Grand Slam. In the UK, Wimbledon has long ignored any advances in pay TV as it knows the ubiquity of UK coverage maintains its status as a national event and reinforces the idea that it is the most prestigious of all major tennis tournaments.

There is also another problem. Unlike the lit-up US Open and Australian Open matches that take place in the summer, May evenings in Paris can be a bit chilly. Even Wimbledon, which only puts matches in the spotlight on a case-by-case basis, often has better times. Players who complained about the temperatures when the Covid-affected 2020 Roland Garros took place in the fall said they did not want to take part in the night matches for which Amazon generously paid.

Nightly matches on a streaming service could eventually become part of Roland Garros traditions, but it’s a tricky balancing act.

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