Earlier this week, NBC Sports issued a statement boasting of its 30-year run in televising “Breakfast at Wimbledon.”
Ignored amid the self-congratulation was this: The network’s coverage of Grand Slam tennis has become one of the most loathed things in sports.
NBC once produced memorable coverage of tennis greats from McEnroe and Borg to Agassi, Sampras and Federer.
These days, the network is thoroughly reviled for its inability and refusal to show matches as they happen.
Time and again over the past two weeks, NBC aired tape-delayed coverage of Wimbledon matches rather than broadcast other matches live. The network did the same at the French Open, clinging to a practice as out-of-date as a wooden racket.
The result is a wave of unhappy fans, who have voiced their disdain on Twitter and other social-networking platforms.
Consider the fan experience Wednesday. The network began its coverage at 10 a.m. with tape of Roger Federer’s already-completed match against Ivo Karlovic - even as, unseen by NBC’s audience, Tommy Haas was pulling a major upset of fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic.
NBC then made a bad situation worse by sticking with taped tennis rather than showing matches involving two popular players, Andy Murray and Andy Roddick, that were getting under way.
Not until ESPN2 took over coverage at 1 p.m. were fans on the East Coast able to see live coverage of the remainder of a very exciting quarterfinal match between Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt.
“I don’t understand why NBC can’t show LIVE tennis. It really annoys me,” one irate fan wrote on Twitter.
“Why oh why can NBC not show the matches live? A business deal gone awry and not tennis fan friendly,” another wrote.
With the on-court stakes still higher Thursday, NBC offers only more of the same: Both women’s semifinal matches will be shown on tape delay.
None of NBC’s explanations are particularly satisfying.
The network declines to pre-empt its popular “Today” show, forcing tennis coverage to start at 10 a.m., at least two hours after matches have begun.
NBC also refuses to pre-empt its daytime drama lineup - leaving Wimbledon with a window of only 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.