Australian Open viewing figures need context amid Novak Djokovic snipes

Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open.

Television viewing figures for this year’s Australian Open may appear to be a little disappointing, yet the raw figures only reveal part of this story. 

Novak Djokovic’s remarkable tenth title in Melbourne was a story that set a new mark of excellence in the men’s game and the tournament also threw up some compelling storylines.

Aryna Sabalenka’s march to the title after her troubled 2022 season was a comeback story to savour.

We were also treated to the exciting win in the men’s doubles for Aussie wildcards wild cards Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler.

Despite those thrilling narratives, viewing figures released by Australian network Channel 9 confirmed a big dip in the audience compared to 2022.

During women’s singles final which was won by Aryna Sabalenka and the men’s doubles final, the ratings peaked at 1.437 million viewers and which compares to 4.261 million viewers.

Channel 9 invested $500million to extend their deal to screen the Australian Open until 2023 and reports have suggested they will be disappointed with their return on that investment.

However, comparing viewing figures from last year to this month’s tournament are not a realistic comparison given what happened a year ago.

Australia was brought to a halt as Ashleigh Barty won last year’s Australian Open singles title, while a remarkable doubles win for Aussie heroes Nick Kyrgios and his Aussie partner Thanasi Kokkinakis also brought in a huge viewing figure.

Rafael Nadal’s iconic title win and thrilling Final against Daniil Medvedev added to the excitement a year ago, with that story impossible to match.

Add in the retirements of tennis legends Roger Federer and Serena Williams and the early exit of Nadal in Melbourne and this was a tournament lacking some of the star power from 2022.

Also, alternative numbers suggest interest in the sport is growing at an encouraging pace, with attendance figures at Melbourne Park offering a different perspective.

A record 839,192 fans flocked to watch the 2023 Australian Open, beating the previous mark of 812,174 set in January 2020.

In addition, Eurosport and discovery+ have reported a huge increase in viewing figures for their coverage in Europe, especially in European nations like Poland and the Netherlands, where local heroes captured the imagination.

So suggestions from TV expert Colin Vickery that Djokovic’s lack of popular appeal was a reason for the slump in viewing figures appears a little misplaced when you consider all the evidence.

“We know Djokovic really isn‘t a ratings drawcard in my mind so the fact of him being part of it this year, I think doesn’t make any difference,” Vickery said to the Herald Sun.

“The world of tennis is lacking TV ratings drawcards at the moment, it is in a transition phase. The drawcards who are reliable like Ash Barty, Federer, they have gone and there are very few coming through right at this moment.”

Tennis is entering a new era and some of the star names who have carried the sport for years have either left the stage or are reaching the back end of their careers.

Yet there is real evidence from global viewing TV viewing figures and attendances at this year’s Australian Open that there remains a huge appetite for what comes next in tennis.