SBD/May 13, 2013/Media

ESPN Close To A Deal With The USTA To Move The U.S. Open Exclusively To Cable

The U.S. Open could move to ESPN exclusively beginning in '15
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.
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