Apparently NBC didn't learn its lesson from the Olympics. Last summer, the network caught flak for tape-delaying coverage of Michael Phelps' pursuit for eight gold medals to viewers on the west coast. Today, NBC Sports stepped up their game and alienated the entire country by tape-delaying the first French Open semifinal and then completely blacking out Roger Federer's thrilling, five-set comeback victory over Juan Martin del Potro in the other match. The move has left tennis fans in the United States apoplectic.
The network showed the first semifinal on tape delay starting at 10 a.m. ET. (The match began at 7 a.m. ET.) As the fifth set of that match was being played live in Paris, NBC was airing the first set. After chopping the nearly 3-1/2 hour match down to three hours (plus commercials), NBC stopped its coverage and aired 'Days of Our Lives' instead. The highly-anticipated Federer-del Potro battle was not on any station in the States.
This has been going on for more than 20 years (in 1988 Americans were upset that they were unable to see Mats Wilander taking on an 18-year old Andre Agassi in the French semis), but it becomes more frustrating with the proliferation of instant updates on the Internet, phones and television. Back then, people just complained about it to their friends or co-workers. Now, people are airing their grievances en masse on Twitter.
It's understandable that NBC wants to have the Federer match to fill air-time tomorrow, but tomorrow is much further away than it was in 1988. By the time NBC gets around to showing Federer-del Potro, it will be so stale to viewers that the network might as well show Wilander-Agassi. Why wait?
No wonder the French Open ratings have been steadily declining in recent years. NBC likes to think it's because there aren't any Americans doing well, and that certainly plays a role. But what if ratings are down on Sunday because people can't watch on Friday? The Federer victory is nothing but words on a screen to most people. If we don't see it, we don't remember it. And if we don't remember it, we aren't enticed to get up Sunday morning to watch.
Update: An NBC Sports spokesperson told SI.com's Richard Deitsch, "I think we'll look at ways to make this work next year."