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For the first time in more than four decades the U.S. Open tennis tournament semifinals and finals could be moving to a new TV home. ESPN is close to a deal to obtain all rights to the N.Y.-based tournament beginning in '15, according to several sources. CBS has broadcast the tournament every year since '68. Nothing has been finalized yet, as CBS is still in contact with the USTA and hopeful of keeping a piece of the tournament. But several sources have said that ESPN and the USTA have agreed on a framework that would have ESPN pay an average of more than $60M per year for exclusive access to the tournament, representing around a 50% increase in the average annual value of the contract. In its current deal, which ends in '14, CBS pays an average of more than $20M per year as part of a three-year pact that went into effect in '12. ESPN, which already holds the cable rights through '14, pays an additional $20M per year, on average, though that figure is partially offset by a sub-license deal ESPN has with Tennis Channel. CBS started negotiations with the USTA earlier this year, and the net's exclusive negotiating window ended last month, opening the door for ESPN. ESPN's pitch to the USTA was of a Wimbledon-style deal, where ESPN picks up rights to the entire tournament, bringing another major sports championship to cable. ESPN has a lot of college football commitments in the fall, but has committed to carry the semis and finals on ESPN. Their plan includes TV Everywhere rights, which allow it to stream live matches to authenticated users. Many matches, particularly ones on the outer courts, would be carried on ESPN's broadband service, ESPN3. Tennis Channel currently carries some matches through a sub-licensing deal with ESPN. It is unclear whether ESPN would continue to sublicense matches to the channel. In recent years, the tournament's performance on CBS has been marked by poor ratings and weather delays. For five straight years, the men's tournament was delayed to Monday by rain. The USTA has announced plans to schedule championship matches earlier. If a match gets pushed to Monday, it would run up against ESPN's highly rated "MNF" series. The men's final is scheduled to be play on Monday night the next two years, but it will revert back to its customary Sunday slot in '15.
NBC earned a 5.7 overnight Nielsen rating for the final round of The Players Championship yesterday, which saw Tiger Woods win by two strokes over David Lingmerth, Jeff Maggert and Kevin Streelman for his first win at TPC Sawgrass since '01. The rating is tied with Woods' win in '01 as the best final round for the event since '91. The 5.7 overnight also is up 68% from a 3.4 overnight for the final round in '12 and '11, which saw Matt Kuchar and K.J. Choi win the PGA Tour event, respectively. NBC also earned a 3.0 overnight for Saturday's coverage, up 20% from a 2.5 rating last year. The third round this year also saw weather interrupt play from 4:15-6:00pm ET. Meanwhile, Golf Channel on Friday drew the net's most-viewed PGA Tour second round since last year's Players Championship. On Thursday, the net drew the event's most-viewed first round ever on cable TV, with records dating back to '95 (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
MADE-FOR-TV FINISH: In Jacksonville, Jeff Elliott writes with three holes to play in the final round, the "smiles couldn’t have been bigger with NBC officials." Eight golfers were "within two shots at the top of the leader board, including the top two overall leaders" in Woods and Sergio Garcia. NBC "made it through the telecast without controversy" and ran a feature on golfer Len Mattiace and his "collapse in the 1998 Players when he hit two tee shots in the water" on the 17th hole of the final round when trailing by one shot (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 5/13). YAHOO SPORTS' Brian Murphy writes Woods and Garcia have "mutual hatred" for one another. To "have them tied after the third round, playing for the richest purse on Tour," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem must have "cackled, rubbed his hands together and said to his secretary: 'Get me NBC on the phone … tell them 'The Ratings Meister' is calling'" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/13).
A SOLID PERFORMANCE: In Tampa, Tom Jones writes NBC "did a solid job ... as it always does." The broadcast team "mentioned the incident" on Saturday in which Garcia claimed crowd noise caused by Woods led to an errant shot, and the net "referred to the fact that Garcia and Woods don't get along, but it would have been nice if someone had been stronger in telling viewers who was in the right on this particular incident." Analyst Johnny Miller is "just sensational." Few analysts in "all of sports are better at telling viewers what is about to happen" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/13). In Jacksonville, Garry Smits wrote NBC play-by-play man Dan Hicks is the "smoothest golf anchor around," while Miller is the "most unpredictable analyst around." He "kind of fits the course -- who knows what he'll say." Meanwhile, Smits wrote members of the print media "used to make fun of" the Golf Channel, but now "we rush to our hotel rooms or homes after deadline to watch 'Live At' and see what we missed" (JACKSONVILLE.com, 5/12).
ESPN's Heat-Bulls Game 3 on Friday night led all weekend NBA Playoff games with a 5.2 overnight Nielsen rating. In the late window on Friday night, ESPN drew a 4.7 overnight for Spurs-Warriors Game 3. Both telecasts rank in the top 10 all-time among NBA Conference Semifinal games on the net. For the Spurs-Warriors game, ESPN drew an 11.1 local rating in S.F.-Oakland-San Jose, which is the highest-rated NBA Playoff game ever in the market for ESPN. On Saturday afternoon, ESPN drew a 2.7 overnight for Thunder-Grizzlies Game 3. Meanwhile, ABC drew a 4.3 overnight for Knicks-Pacers Game 3 on Saturday night. The game drew a 9.7 local rating in N.Y., marking the best NBA Playoff telecast (non-Finals) on any net since ABC/ESPN acquired NBA rights in '03. ABC's Spurs-Warriors Game 4 on Sunday afternoon drew a 4.1 overnight (Austin Karp, Assistant Managing Editor).
THE HEAT IS ON: N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said the Heat are like the Yankees in that they are not "just the team to beat, they’re the team to watch." Lupica: "They don’t just have the biggest star in LeBron, they’re also the star team." The Bulls trail the Heat 2-1 in their Eastern Conference Semifinals series heading into tonight's Game 4 and they "can still win this series,” but a Bulls series victory “would only hurt their sport because basketball is a lot more interesting when LeBron and friends are playing" ("The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 5/12).
JACK OF ALL TRADES: SI.com's Richard Deitsch wrote if this is the "end of the broadcasting road" for ESPN Radio NBA analyst and Basketball HOFer Jack Ramsay, who on Thursday announced his career is likely over, his "mark on listeners won't soon be forgotten." He partnered with the late Jim Durham on ESPN Radio to "create one of the NBA's legendary soundtracks." ESPN's Mike Breen said of Ramsay and Durham, "They were such a pair, on and off the air. I think this was a really hard year for Jack." He added, "To hear that he had actually had to give up the games, I knew something was wrong. For any of us who know him, it is upsetting. I know how much he loves the game. At 88 years old, he still gets fired up before games" (SI.com, 5/12).
The NBA "plans to start informal negotiations on its next media rights deal this summer, two years before its current ESPN and Turner Sports deals wrap up," according to sources cited by Ourand & Lombardo of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. ESPN and Turner are paying the league a combined $930M annually as part of the current deals, which started with the '08-09 season. The current deals were a 20% "increase in rights fees over the league’s previous contracts." Given the "bullish state of the market for live sports and new digital rights opportunities, the NBA is likely to see a much higher percentage increase this time." A formal deal is "not expected until next year," when Deputy Commissioner & COO Adam Silver succeeds David Stern as commissioner. The NBA's TV business was "an agenda topic" at the April 19 BOG meeting. Typically, large sports properties "start TV talks roughly a year before contracts come to an end." The NBA is "deciding to test the waters now, with the cost of sports rights at an all-time high." ESPN and Turner "both have said they are interested in renewing." Turner in particular is "tied into the league, having carried games" since '88. Turner also "runs the NBA’s digital business." But the incumbents "will have competition," as Fox Sports 1, set for launch this summer, "is looking for live sports content." NBC also is "interested in bringing live sports content" to NBC Sports Network (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/13 issue).
Showtime Sports Exec VP & GM Stephen Espinoza said boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s win against Robert Guerrero on May 4 would "definitely exceed" 1 million PPV buys, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. However, the PPV buys "fall short" of Mayweather's recent bouts. Espinoza on Friday said, "We can't tell how much it will exceed 1 million, though. That's going to be determined by the reporting (from cable systems) that will come in over the next few weeks.” Rafael noted if the fight did 1 million PPV buys, that would be a gross of "at least" $60M. The fight was the "first for Mayweather -- boxing's biggest star and the active pay-per-view king -- under a new deal he signed earlier this year with Showtime/CBS.” The PPV sales for the Guerrero fight “will not approach the 1.5 million Mayweather generated for his fight last May with Miguel Cotto, his last fight before leaving longtime TV home HBO.” Espinoza said that he is “happy with the results of the Mayweather-Guerrero fight, even though he had predicted they would equal the Cotto fight.” Espinoza: "Looking at the numbers, for Floyd to do a million buys, and conceivably more, when it was one of his lesser-known pay-per-view opponents in the last six or seven years, that is a testament to his drawing power” (ESPN.com, 5/10).
PLENTY OF EXPOSURE: In L.A., Lance Pugmire noted the Mayweather-Guerrero fight was “publicized through reality shows that aired on Showtime and CBS, on the numerous CBS radio affiliates and by a Mayweather appearance at the Final Four in April.” Espinoza said that reports “speculating that Showtime fell short of its ‘break-even point’ are ‘absolutely untrue.’” Pugmire wrote perhaps “most importantly for the network, Mayweather emerged victorious and healthy from the bout and intends to fight again Sept. 14 in a possible super-fight” against Canelo Alvarez (LATIMES.com, 5/10). Espinoza said that Showtime Sports was “thrilled with the marketing and promotion efforts from Showtime and from multichannel distributors, as well as from corporate siblings CBS and CBS Radio” (MULTICHANNEL NEWS, 5/13 issue).
YES Network's local rating in N.Y. through 28 Yankees games is down 39% compared to the same period last season and the decline has “got everything to do with the lack of star power,” according to Bob Raissman of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Among men 25-54, the Yankees’ rating also is "down 56% compared to last season,” while the rating among people 25-54 “was down 55%.” It is “puzzling, especially considering the Yankees’ season average rating in 2012 was 3.92, down 8.3% from 2011, and YES’ lowest household rating since 2003.” Raissman: “It had to go up this season, right?” The Yankees throughout the history of YES “have been a ratings juggernaut.” The team has “won consistently with a star-studded cast,” and “now they are winning without one.” 3B Alex Rodriguez “is not coming back anytime soon.” If he “could, he would move the ratings needle.” SS Derek Jeter, the “face of the Yankees, draws eyeballs too.” The ratings also “could be impacted because of competition from Knicks playoff games and, to a lesser extent, Rangers and Islanders postseason tilts.” The ratings also “show on nights Matt Harvey pitches for the Mets on SNY, he eats into Yankees ratings" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/12). In N.Y., Phil Mushnick notes during YES' Royals-Yankees broadcast on Friday, commentators Ken Singleton and David Cone three times "noted the Yankees had drawn a big crowd" in K.C. Road attendance is "often a topic on Yankees telecasts." Mushnick: "Odd, though, how new Yankee Stadium attendance -- or serious lack of it -- is seen but not spoken" (N.Y. POST, 5/13).
SI.com's Richard Deitsch reported ESPN college basketball reporter Andy Katz "has re-signed with the network" in a six-year deal. Katz in an e-mail wrote, "I didn't want to start over somewhere new. I've got my same responsibilities at ESPN.com, my own show on ESPNU (Katz's Korner), and I co-host a podcast (with Seth Greenberg) that has plenty of possibilities, too, as well as all the other appearances on ESPN and ESPN2 shows and contributing as much as possible on SportsCenter." Katz said that he will "continue to do games on ESPN and ESPNU, but he's added one very high-profile assignment: He'll be part of a rotation that will host Outside the Lines when Bob Ley is unavailable" (SI.com, 5/12).
LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD: In Denver, Dusty Saunders reports broadcaster Joel Klatt on July 1 "pulls up local roots to join Fox Sports 1." Klatt signed a multiyear deal with Fox, but "isn't sure what his duties will be." Klatt said, "We've talked about work as a studio host and also a presence in college football booths. ... I could have a combination of both." Klatt previously covered college football games for Root Sports Rocky Mountain and Fox (DENVER POST, 5/13).
EUROPEAN RETREAT: ESPN America revealed that it "will suspend its TV broadcasts in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East on July 31." DIGITALFERNSEHEN noted ESPN Classic "will also stop its broadcasts in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East on July 31." ESPN said that "various sporting events will continue to be available online as a livestream." In addition, ESPN revealed that "it is willing to sell several of its sports rights to other channels" (DIGITALFERNSEHEN.de, 5/10).