Infosys / Roland Garros
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, even if the decision to award marquee matches to Amazon’s Prime Video streaming platform demonstrates the pitfalls of moving away from traditional channels.
Organisers extended the tournament’s digital innovation partnership with Infosys earlier this year. The agreement has seen the solutions firm promise to enhance the French Open’s broadcast experience, as well as identify how digital technologies such as the metaverse can enhance Roland Garros’ prestige and reach younger demographics.
Viewers for this year’s event have been treated to real-time, AI-powered insights such as broken records, contextual match stats and performance analysis overlayed as graphics on top of live footage.
Visitors to the online match centre can see an interactive visualisation called ‘Patterns of Play’, which delivers an in-depth view of player behaviour and tactics, and a new augmented reality (AR) feature visualises shots, stats, and ball trajectories for every single point on a digital tennis court.
Technology is also viewed as a way of engaging fans who cannot physically be present in Paris and to help explain the event’s long history.
A new immersive 3D museum exhibition will show evolution of rackets and iconic champions from yesteryear on the official Roland Garros website. In addition, 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’re really excited about expanding the reach and impact of the Roland Garros tournament and touching people’s lives in new ways,” said Amélie Mauresmo, Roland Garros tournament director.
“What we’ve achieved yet again this year is testament to the strength of our relationship with Infosys as our digital innovation partner, and we continue to be an example for other sports tournaments around the globe.”
“This year we wanted to bring a purposeful approach to the tournament and support Roland Garros in delivering a sense of true immersion and community impact,” added Sumit Virmani, Infosys chief marketing officer. “Through digital experiences powered by AR, VR, 3D technologies and the metaverse we’re engaging fans, students, coaches and players in a more experiential way to bring the entire ecosystem closer together, and closer to the action.”
However, another digital deal reached by organisers is proving more problematic. Amazon Prime has the exclusive domestic rights to ten evening matches, taking advantage of the new retractable roof and floodlights on Philippe Chatrier Court. However, the seedings at this year’s tournament 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 high-profile contest would be put behind a paywall, Amazon has agreed to show the match free-of-charge on its platforms and without the need to sign up. The tech giant reached a similar deal to show the 2021 US Open final for free in the UK, 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 TV in France.
Roland Garros’s deal with Amazon Prime might have given organisers more broadcast revenue, but it comes at the risk of alienating domestic viewers that are critical to the success of any Grand Slam. In the UK, Wimbledon has long ignored any advanced from pay-TV because it knows the ubiquity of coverage in the UK maintains its status as a national event and reinforces the idea that it is the most prestigious of all of tennis’s major tournaments.
There is also another problem. Unlike floodlit matches at the US Open and Australian Open that take place in the summer, May evenings in Paris can be a little chilly. Even Wimbledon, which only puts matches under the lights on a case-by-case basis, often has better weather. Players who complained about temperatures when the Covid-affected 2020 Roland Garros took place in the Autumn have said they do not want to be in the night-time matches that Amazon has paid handsomely for.
Night matches on a streaming service may eventually become part of Roland Garros’ traditions, but it is a tricky balancing act.
Roland Garros using digital to engage fans as Amazon Prime's exclusive matches attract criticism – SportsPro – SportsPro Media
Infosys / Roland Garros