Amazon Prime will consider making Emma Raducanu’s historic appearance at the US Open Final free-to-air, but the broadcaster will have to move fast to make it happen and weigh up the cost of lost subscribers.
Analysts say the rights-holder is looking at its options after the ‘teen queen’ of tennis sensationally made the final. One of them will be to partner with a free-to-air broadcaster.
Raducanu, 18, will be the first British woman in a major singles final in 44 years, and will face Canadian teenager and world No. 73, Leylah Fernandez, 19, tomorrow.
Emma Raducanu, the new British No 1, when rankings update on Monday, dictated the entire match and needed just 84 minutes to claim victory in the semi final of the US Open
And the Kent youngster is the first ever qualifier into a Grand Slam final after another performance of extraordinary poise saw her defeat seventeenth seed Maria Sakkari 6-1, 6-4 in the semi final in just 84 minutes.
‘Amazon can deal with a free to air operator,’ said Pierre Maes, a sports media consultant. ‘For Amazon it is a good opportunity to bring in subscribers to Prime. But they could offer a licence.’
‘Amazon are very opportunistic,’ added Maes. ’If there is good money to make from a broadcaster, they will consider it.’
The broadcaster is declining to comment on its options, but industry insiders say discussions will take place today, before the final, which is scheduled for 9pm on Saturday.
Raducanu has improved with every round and is still to drop a set in this tournament as her magical run reaches the final
Regardless of Amazon’ Prime’s decision, viewers will be able to watch the match for free by signing up to a 30-day free trial. Afterwards, a subscription costs £7.99 a month.
EMMA RADUCANU’S RUN TO THE US OPEN FINAL
Q1: 6-1, 6-2 – beats Bibiane Schoofs – QUALIFYING
Q2: 6-3, 7-5 – beats Mariam Bolkvadze – QUALIFYING
Q3: 6-1, 6-4 – beats Mayar Sherif – QUALIFYING
R1: 6-2, 6-3 – beats Stefanie Vogele
R2: 6-2, 6-4 – beats Zhang Shuai
R3: 6-0, 6-1 – beats Sara Sorribes Tormo
R4: 6-2, 6-1 – beats Shelby Rogers
QF: 6-3, 6-4 – beats Belinda Bencic
SF: 6-1, 6-4 – beats Maria Sakkari
Leading Prime’s coverage are Catherine Whitaker, Marcus Buckland, former Grand Slam semi-finalist Daniela Hantuchova and ex-British No. 1s Greg Rusedski and Anne Keothavong alongside Sam Smith, Robbie Koenig, Annabel Croft, and Pete Odgers. And the broadcaster has Tim Henman court-side.
Amazon Prime has partnered with the BBC to enable highlights to be shown on free-to-air television on Sunday.
There is precedent for major British sporting moments emerging from behind a pay wall. In 2019, Sky Sports made the final of the Cricket World Cup between England and New Zealand free-to-air by partnering with Channel 4.
England were chasing their first Cricket World Cup title, and it was the first final that the team had reached since 1992, when they lost to Pakistan in Melbourne.
C4 screened the match, which England won sensationally following a super-over, simultaneously with Sky.
However, the decision is not only commercially driven, there is also a strategic element to it.
When England made the final of the cricket World Cup it was against a backdrop of concern that the nation’s summer sport was only available to subscribers.
Amazon Prime has the rights to the US Open
‘There was pressure from public opinion [in that case],’ said Maes. ‘I do not think Amazon have a PR problem in the UK.
‘It is a question of strategy. They may think we will attract X thousand subscribers to Prime and that is the reason we bought tennis in the first place.’
Today, the BBC announced it has secured rights to show highlights of the match.
‘Following last night’s historic victory that saw Emma Raducanu sail through to the US Open final, the BBC can confirm it has secured the rights to TV highlights show of the competition this weekend,’ the BBC said in a statement.
Defensively Raducanu was breathtaking in her semi final, neutralising and then countering with a punch to race out into an early 6-1 lead
Live commentary of the match will also be available on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Sounds tomorrow evening and BBC Sport online will provide live text commentary.
Amazon Prime has been a big supporter of tennis, including the teen sensation Emma Raducanu.
The broadcaster funded Britain’s brightest tennis hope, contributing £60,000 towards her development through the Prime Video Future Talent Award in 2019.
The initiative also included a mentor programme with former US Open champion Andy Murray and made a second £60,000 grant to another British hope, Jack Draper, who is now 19.
Amazon Prime’s interest in the US Open Final is more than just a business transaction, with staff desperate to see the starlet succeed having played a part in her pathway to the top.
In 2019, Alex Green, MD of Sports, Prime Video Europe, praised Raducanu for her ‘great mind-set’, which is an assessment that has stood the test of time.
The young player’s sensational performances at the US Open have been underpinned by an incredible focus and ability to fight back after setbacks.
Amazon Prime has also invested heavily is screening tennis. It secured the rights to the US Open for five years from 2018 and then added exclusive coverage of 37 ATP Tour events the following year in another five-year deal.
But as well as streaming the matches, Amazon Prime has also supported young players, including Raducanu,
Raducanu began Wimbledon ranked No 338 has earned a minimum £900,000 ($1.25m) from the nine matches won here, and now comes the chance to bank a place in sporting history. Staggeringly, she has yet to drop a set.
And she is unfazed by her imminent appearance in the final.
‘Is there any expectation?’ Raducanu asked jokingly. ‘I’m a qualifier so there’s no pressure on me!’
She added: ‘Honestly the time here in New York has gone so fast, I’ve been taking care of each day and before you know it three weeks later I’m in the final, I can’t actually believe it.’
‘Since I’ve been here I’ve had great support. Playing under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium is one of the most iconic things in tennis. I was so excited.’
Before she sealed match point, the youngster looked over to Amazon Prime’s touchline reporter, former British No 1 Tim Henman. Henman has worked closely with Raducanu in recent weeks
She added: ‘Tim is honestly such a big inspiration. He has been helping me to treat one point at a time.
‘You can’t get ahead of yourself and just stay present. Today I wasn’t thinking about anyone else except for myself.’
Andy Murray is one of a host of top players who admire Raducanu for her talent and mindset.
Her focus and self-drive at precarious moments have stood out for Murray watching on from his home in Surrey.
‘You can’t always dictate how you’re going to perform in these matches, but the one thing you can control is your effort levels and your mentality,’ he said on Amazon Prime, this week.
‘These are the situations you want to get yourself in, but there’s no question Emma is going to feel nervous, and she’ll feel pressure.
‘The most important thing is to come off the court knowing you’ve given everything you’ve got.’
Before the pandemic, the pair posed alongside fellow British youngster Jack Draper – who took a set off champion Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon this year – in a commitment by Amazon to support potential future stars with funding and the mentorship of Murray himself.
The two-time Wimbledon champion has certainly had an effect on Raducanu, 16 years his junior. After her quarter-final triumph over Olympic champion Belinda Bencic this week, Raducanu cited Murray – who won his first major at Flushing Meadows nine years ago – as one of her role models.
Raducanu alongside Murray and Jack Draper at the National Tennis Centre two years ago
The 18-year-old wore a huge smile at the end as she now turns her attentions to Saturday’s final against Leylah Fernandez
Former British No 1 Tim Henman. Henman has worked closely with Raducanu in recent weeks
Raducanu will face 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez (pictured) in the final after she beat Aryna Sabalenka