Live Radio A Unique Aspect Of Challenger Life In Ilkley
On the ATP Challenger Tour, community and culture are integral aspects of its tournaments. With the majority of events located outside of large metropolitan areas, the support of the local population is critical to inject energy into its identity.
In the north of England, in the Yorkshire region, lies the quaint 137-year-old Ilkley Racquet and Squash Club. For 10 days each year, the quiet town of Ilkley comes alive with world-class tennis. The tournament is one of the most scenic and idyllic on the Challenger circuit, with a landscape of lush greenery, tall trees and the iconic Cow and Calf Rocks providing a stunning backdrop.
But if you can't experience the Fuzion 100 Ilkley Trophy in person, fear not. You are most likely familiar with the popular free live streaming of the ATP Challenger Tour, with more than 150 tournaments available to watch on ATPWorldTour.com. And in Ilkley, live radio adds another dimension to the tennis experience. The tournament is quite unique in that it is the only event on the Challenger calendar that offers ball-by-ball radio coverage from the start of qualifying to the conclusion of finals weekend.
Remember the journalist that was the talk of Roland Garros, thanks to Alexander Zverev's affinity with his heavy Yorkshire accent? His name is Jonathan Pinfield and he runs Live Sports FM, the radio station that is responsible for bringing the Fuzion 100 Ilkley Trophy to life.
The station has been brought on by the tournament to increase awareness for the event and its world-class players. It is their fourth straight year in operation, commentating on every match on centre court over the length of the tournament. Short post-match interviews with the day's winners are also stitched into the broadcast.
"The thing is, everyone involved is a tennis fan," Pinfield said. "We aren't doing this for the money. We're doing this because we love the game. If they were good enough to be on the Tour, they would be playing. But they're not. So, the next best thing for them is to commentate on the matches. We're really proud of what we do, to be able to provide a service for the people."
A staff of about 20 people run the show, with a handful of commentators alternating throughout the week, including Pinfield himself. Pinfield also gives an opportunity to many prospective broadcasters looking to get their foot in the door, offering time behind the mic to gain experience in the industry.
"I've found it so interesting that even players at this level, especially the younger ones, have a fan base," said Pinfield. "They have people charting their progress and are passionate about it. And just like we commentate on aspiring pros, we have aspiring commentators we bring into the booth to call matches."
An average day on site lasts 10-12 hours, depending on how long play extends into the evening. They kick it off at 10:30am with a half-hour preview show to build up to the start of the action. Pinfield says his daily audience numbers are in the low 1000s, with most listeners located in the UK. But he stresses that creating awareness for the tournament is the primary goal. Where many in the region might not realise there is world-class competition in their backyard, the service provides a great opportunity.
"It's great when we get comments on social media and it comes from all corners of the globe. Yes, sometimes it's friends and family, but mostly it's just people listening. The hardest thing for us is just the awareness and punching through to the people. It's virtually all on social media. We sometimes do targeted advertising or it gets through word of mouth. But even if people don't necessarily tune in immediately, they will be aware that it exists."
This week in Ilkley, the €127,000 event features four semi-finalists appearing in their first grass-court semi-finals on the ATP Challenger Tour. Eighth seed Sergiy Stakhovsky battles #NextGenATP star Michael Mmoh, while 25-year-old Aussie Jason Kubler faces 24-year-old German Oscar Otte. In fact, Otte is appearing in his first professional grass-court tournament.