The Australian Open men’s final sold out in less than five minutes. The grounds were so full that it was the most-watched men’s singles final on free-to-air television in its 77-year history, not far off its biggest free-to-air audience for the final. To prevent a similar situation next year, the tournament will unveil rules next month that will ensure a full house will be allowed in for all the matches.
At this year’s final, a total of 694,000 people watched the men’s final live on Channel Seven, and another 578,000 watched it on delay or catch-up later. Nine reached its highest level of free-to-air viewers for the entire tournament and Channel Ten’s peak audience was 40,000 people. For tennis fans, this was history in the making: for the first time on any Australian television, people could watch a men’s final before it was aired on their pay TV provider’s dedicated broadcast. While most viewers were seen on Channel Seven, all five channels carried it as a special event.
There were regulations to do so, however. The men’s final will be carried by 10 free-to-air channels, which means there will be twice as many spectators on the courts at Melbourne Park. As such, Channel Seven, the Australian Open’s broadcast partner, will have to set aside more time for programming. The result is that the men’s final will be shown for only two hours before the matches on Channel Nine begin.
The men’s final was last available on free-to-air TV when it was televised by Seven in 2015, and once that free-to-air window closed, there was the worry that it would be shelved forever.
Tennis Australia faced its own constraints, however. For the men’s final, the authority has sanctioned only a total of 29 minutes for on-court interviews and announcements, the same amount that is allotted during Australia Day on January 26 — an important date because it can be watched by up to 2.7 million viewers. The consequence of not meeting the restrictions is that the tournament cannot show any men’s match for an entire three-hour window — which would be chaos to the broadcast schedule for a much-loved event like the men’s final.
Instead, the tournament is introducing the rule that everyone who has paid to watch a men’s final, whether on the field or in the stands, will be able to watch it live. Fans watching on pay TV will be treated to a three-hour broadcast.