Australian Open 2022: Media buyers look ahead to Nine’s grand slam event

Ahead of one of Nine's biggest sporting events of the year, Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan speaks to Australia's media buying experts about what to expect from this year's Australian Open, the opportunities for the network, and how it is all shaping up.

The Australian Open kicks off on Monday, beginning one of Nine’s biggest and most prized TV events of the year. 

To preview the event, some of Australia’s leading media buyers give their thoughts on the value the Grand Slam event offers, what Nine need to deliver on, and how their coverage has previously stacked up.

Speaking to Mumbrella, general manager of the Independent Media Agencies Australia (IMAA), Sam Buchanan says that he expects Nine to continue the “good pedigree” it has shown when it comes to all types of sports coverage.

 “Over the past 18 months, Australian sport has become more of an escapism than ever before. I imagine the ratings for the Australian Open will be solid, and even better, pending the Australian players’ performance.”

Spinach’s Willee

Spinach GM and media director, Ben Willee reckons that Nine executives “would be happier than Rapid Antigen Test manufacturers” with the likelihood of strong ratings in the context of existing Covid conditions, “in conjunction with a TV and video market that continues to break records”. 

“It’s about as good as it gets,” he said.

This comes with the admission that there will be some challenges around “keeping the event exciting when there’s a possibility the crowds won’t be there”, and finding the right balance “between integrations and on-screen advertising interruptions”. But he doubts this will have too much of an impact. 

GroupM’s GM of investment, Claire Butterworth agrees with Buchanan that Nine’s coverage is “always incredibly professional”. 

Butterworth says that while it uses “cutting edge, leading tech across multiple platforms”, if she is being honest, “it is what you expect of an elite sporting event and kind of the calibre of the Australian Open”. 

Roeling, managing partner at Hatched Media

Hatched Media’s managing partner, Adrian Roeling goes even further in his assessment of the competition’s coverage.

“Over the past few years both Tennis Australia (TA) and Nine have been investing considerably in the on-ground and broadcast experience, and, from a fan’s POV, it is arguably the best all-round sporting experience in Australia – when we’re not in the midst of a pandemic.”

Ashwin Govender, group business director at Half Dome says it was a “monumental shift” in the sports broadcasting landscape a few years ago, where Nine and Seven “basically did a straight swap of cricket and tennis”. 

“Nine have revamped their coverage with a great blend of fresh talent, while poaching a few old favourites (such as Jim Courier) to the line-up. What has stood out for me has been the quality of the Nine Now app.”

PHD Melbourne’s managing director, Simon Lawson believes that Nine will be coming away happy with the swap this summer, with ratings for the tennis coverage to be helped by “some of the sting” being taken out of the cricket, which Seven continues to cover across the summer.

PHD’s Lawson, managing director of the Melbourne operations

“The Hobart Test is coming up this weekend, but it’s a dead rubber, and the Big Bash has suffered from having more and more players unable to play because of COVID.”

Half Dome’s Govender also predicts that with the Ashes a done deal, set to wrap up by the 18th, and more people at home as we grapple with the current COVID-19 situation, “ratings are set to soar in 2022”. 

Coming as one of the first big TV events of the year, the Tennis will not only provide its usual consistent ratings for Nine according to the buyers, but it also provides a springboard for Nine’s content slate that will follow. 

“When we talk about the AO, it pays to remember that TV networks are their own biggest clients,” says Willee. “In an increasingly fragmented world, there is no better way to promote upcoming programs than a high reach/high engagement event.”

Willee also says that Nine’s “huge database of Aussies” via 9Now sign-ins and digital assets will provide them the “ability to increasingly personalise the messages we see”. 

GroupM’s Claire Butterworth

“You can still expect plenty of MAFS promos, but if you’re watching on a connected TV or via BVOD, you’ll also be seeing targeted advertising messages from brands.”

Ratings-wise, 2022, like 2021 will be impacted in one way or another by Covid, with case numbers from the Omicron wave continuing to rise.

Butterworth says that “Nine springboard their content incredibly well at the AO, much like Seven with cricket.” She also says that she expects the ability to do so is “probably factored into the overall price they pay for the rights”, as it is a “brilliant opportunity to promote the 2022 lineup”.

Veronica Gutierrez, general manager at Awaken Media similarly says that the AO coverage will continue to “cross-promote Married At First Sight and new crime shows such as Underbelly: Vanishing Act, among other programming planned for Q1”, as the network also uses its “multi-platform approach to promote their programming across broadcast and digital platforms”. 

Carat Adelaide’s client director, Adele Gibb expects audience growth trends similar to during Seven’s Olympics coverage last year. 

“People are looking for feel-good programming, and a distraction from Covid news updates.”

Lawson also thinks that evidence of Australians “going into voluntary lockdowns”, not going out and spending more time at home “can only work to support the ratings for the tennis”, utilising more home entertainment. 

To support this, he also points to recent ANZ spending data, reported in last week’s Sydney Morning Herald, that suggests that dining and retail spending in Australia’s two most populous states are consistent with that of Delta lockdowns. 

With last year’s tournament impacted by a five-day snap lockdown, and attendance dropping significantly, Roeling suggests that while it may cause a spike in broadcast viewership, “the potential lack of attendance could be of detriment to the broadcast viewing experience, and certainly to those brands seeking engagement through activation at the tournament”. 

Packed crowds at Rod Laver, John Cain Arena and all the show courts often turn up the dial for those viewing at home. 

Tennis Australia will be hoping for as many filling those stands as possible, with many Australians set to be in action.

Australian, and world #1 Ash Barty will be looking to win her home Slam.

“With Ash Barty just winning the Adelaide International Final on the weekend, Australia has a great contender for a home Grand Slam win,” says Gibb. “Especially as she is also current World # 1 and reigning Wimbledon champ – people will be looking to cheer her on.”

Govender warns that while broadcasters “have had two years of dealing with reduced crowds”, having no crowds at AFL games during lockdowns “certainly lessened the atmosphere”. 

“That said, even a half-full Rod Laver creates a buzz.”

Gutierrez similarly thinks that having empty stadiums is not “something players, audiences or organisers want to see” and could have an impact on the atmosphere, “but it’s the reality of the world we’re living in”.

Roeling emphasises the value of advertising within the context of the AO, saying that it is a “terrific tournament for advertisers to be associated with, as demonstrated by the many brands that have returned year after year with sponsorship – i.e. major partners such as Kia that have been involved with the event for 20 years and ANZ for 12 years”. 

IMAA’s Sam Buchanan

Both Roeling and Butterworth point to past bespoke UberEats campaigns as a fine example of the opportunity the AO presents for advertisers, with Buchanan calling the tournament traditionally “the benchmark or ‘gold standard’ for brand integration in Australian media”. 

Roeling points out that the challenge for Nine will be ensuring the broadcast does not feel over-commercialised for the viewer, as Nine “has copped a bit of flack for interrupting play too often in the past”.

Gibb says that “Nine have been in market with Tennis Extender opportunities which could enable partners to leverage all of the Nine platforms in the ecosystem”, also presenting “some exciting new premium Digital formats brands can use to enhance engagement”.

Butterworth says that ultimately, the tennis presents a highly engaging event across live and linear channels, with it also attracting those “hard to reach” audiences, those being a lighter television watcher, or demographics which usually under index across other content. 

The biggest story in the lead up to the AO – the Djokovic saga – will have an impact on ratings for the buyers.

“The Djokovic saga is nothing but good news for Nine,” says Willee. “Anything that generates more attention and speculation for an event is money-can’t-buy free publicity.”

Champion of last year’s men’s event, Novak Djokovic has dominated headlines in the lead-up

Roeling believes that while the situation is “embarrassing for all and should have been avoided”, it adds to the intrigue of the event, and presents an opportunity for brave brands to “present a cheeky advertising opportunity”.

Both Buchanan and Butterworth say that Djokovic dominating the headlines has pushed the AO into the front of Australians consciousness, with Buchanan saying “it is now a major talking point for people, including those not traditionally interested in tennis”.

“As they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity!,” he said.

Buchanan says that “it certainly reminded Australia that there’s a tennis tournament happening”.  

Overall, each agree that the Open presents great opportunities for Nine to begin the year on a high. 

Roeling concludes that Tennis Australia “did a remarkable job in delivering a tournament last year, and given their experience, they will do the best job possible given the applicable Covid restrictions”. 

“And Nine will be on top of ensuring the viewing experience is not impacted by the potential lack of crowds. However, if the last few years are anything to go by, anything could happen and Nine, TA and advertisers will need to stay on their toes!”



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