U.S. Open Tennis to ESPN


ESPNMore sports migrates from broadcast TV to cable: ESPN signed an 11-year contract to exclusively air all rounds of the U.S. Open tennis tournament beginning in 2015, after the current contract with CBS expires. The tournament finals and weekend play have been carried by CBS since 1968. Its current deal expires after the 2014 tourney. The CBS coverage of the U.S. Open averaged a 1.4 rating last year, the lowest on record.

ESPN will be the exclusive home in North and South America of the US Open from first ball through the women’s and men’s championships each summer from New York beginning in 2015, per the deal struck with United States Tennis Association (USTA) 5/16.  With this 11-year agreement, ESPN now will air the championship in three of the four tennis majors.

ESPN aired some 100 hours of live US Open matches annually since 2009, and now will air 130+  hours with the addition of day-long coverage of the “middle weekend” – Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day Monday – plus both the men’s and women’s semifinals and finals.  The new US Open schedule – previously announced to start in 2015 – places the women’s final on Saturday and the men’s on Sunday.

“Certain sporting events become synonymous with when they are held, and there is no better – or bigger – way to celebrate the end of summer than at the US Open in New York,” said John Skipper, ESPN president.  “We look forward to capturing every match, every star, every championship and all the drama on this grand stage.”

In addition to ESPN and ESPN2, all telecasts will be available on WatchESPN.  In an expansion of offerings, over the term of the agreement ESPN will make every match on all 17 tournament courts available on ESPN3.  Presently, six of the 17 courts have coverage.  Also, ESPN3 will begin each day’s coverage the first Monday – Friday morning with two hours at 11 a.m. ET while SportsCenter on ESPN will have the right to do live cut-ins.  ESPN3 is available via WatchESPN for fans who receive ESPN’s linear networks as part of their video subscription via Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Verizon FiOS TV, Comcast Xfinity TV, Midcontinent Communications, Cablevision, Cox, Charter or AT&T U-verse.

ESPN currently owns the rights to all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments and now will be able to air the singles championship matches at three of them (the exception is the French Open on NBC). ESPN has presented the Australian Open since 1984; the French Open since 2002 (plus 1986 – 1993), Wimbledon since 2003, with exclusivity for live television with all other rights extended in a 12-year agreement that began in 2012; and the US Open since 2009.

RBR-TVBR observation: It’s not a big loss for CBS, which isn’t scoring big ratings on it of late anyway. ESPN, with the highest per-subscriber fees charges in the industry for any cable network, was likely able to make a better offer to the US Open. So sports’ move to cable continues. Even college football’s Bowl Championship Series, including the national title game, is now on ESPN. NCAA basketball’s Final Four semifinals will air on TBS in 2014 and 2015. The title game moves there, too, in 2016.