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ESPN and the USTA signed an 11-year deal worth more than $770M for rights to the entire U.S. Open tennis tournament. The two groups scheduled a press conference for this afternoon to announce the deal, which starts in '15. The move to take the entire U.S. Open to cable ends an era that has seen CBS broadcast the event every year since '68. CBS will carry its tournament package the next two years. Covington & Burling and Sports Media Advisors represented the USTA on the deal. The move fits within ESPN's strategy of bringing championship events to cable. In recent years, ESPN has picked up rights to the BCS Championship, British Open and Wimbledon. ESPN also produces the NBA Finals and Indianapolis 500, events which are broadcast on ABC. The U.S. Open is in the middle of a three-year deal where CBS and ESPN pay around $20M each for their respective packages. ESPN sublicenses a smaller package to Tennis Channel. In its new deal, ESPN will pay an annual average of more than $70M for all U.S. Open rights. The USTA initiated renewal talks with CBS in March, but CBS' 45-day exclusive negotiating window ended at the end of April. CBS had a chance to keep its broadcast part of the package for more than $30M per year, sources said. But given the tournament's poor ratings recently, CBS passed on the opportunity. The loss of tennis opens up CBS weekends for SEC football games and an NFL doubleheader, both of which rate much higher than the US Open. It took ESPN and the USTA a little more than two weeks to fashion a "Wimbledon-style" deal that will bring the entire event to cable.
TV EVERYWHERE RIGHTS INCLUDED: ESPN will pay more than $70M annually for these rights, which include TV Everywhere streaming rights. Matches will air on ESPN, ESPN2 and broadband service ESPN3, with ESPN3 carrying many of the matches from the outer courts that typically had not been covered. ESPN has a lot of college football commitments in the fall, but has committed to carry the men's and women's semifinals and finals on ESPN. The tournament has struggled with TV ratings on CBS recently, and weather has played havoc with the event. The men's final has been pushed to Monday by rain five straight years. If pushed to Monday with ESPN, the U.S. Open will run up against "MNF." CBS emailed a statement to THE DAILY saying, "We are proud of our long-term association with the USTA and wish them well. Looking ahead, we have profitable partnerships with all of our key sports franchises locked up for many, many years to come, including the NFL, NCAA men's basketball championship, SEC football, PGA Tour and the PGA Championship. And in the meantime, we look forward to two more years of tennis on CBS."
The Mountain West Conference and DirecTV Sports Networks have reached a multiyear deal for Root Sports Rocky Mountain to carry MWC football and men's basketball games. The channel will produce and televise about 10 football games annually and a minimum of 25 MWC intra-conference and non-conference men's basketball games, starting with the '13-14 season (Root Sports). In Las Vegas, Taylor Bern noted the new deal, combined with the conference's CBS and ESPN deals, means "about 54 football league games are slated to appear over the three networks, which includes both the namesake stations and smaller networks like ESPNU and CBS Sports Network." There also are "a handful of games that will go on other networks." In addition to "what specific games will air on ROOT Sports, the league is expected this offseason to announce the implementation of the Mountain West Digital Network." The new platform "will be another way for athletics departments to potentially create revenue through advertising" (LASVEGASSUN.com, 5/15). In San Diego, Stefanie Loh noted Root Sports "isn't available on Cox or Time Warner in San Diego, so unless the company manages to license the games to a local station," San Diego State Univ. fans "might have trouble watching" some of their games (UTSANDIEGO.com, 5/15).
ESPN yesterday announced that Dottie Pepper has joined the net's golf team, with her first assignment set for next month's U.S. Open. Pepper, who for the last eight years has covered the sport for NBC Sports, Golf Channel and SI, will serve as an analyst, on-course reporter and anchor during live play. She also will appear on "SportsCenter" segments and write for ESPN.com. She will continue her work with the PGA of America and junior golf (ESPN). Pepper said that there was "mutual interest when ESPN called, but it came with a caveat." The AP's Doug Ferguson reported Pepper "wanted to make sure that joining ESPN would not affect Judy Rankin, the longtime ABC Sports and ESPN golf analyst whom Pepper considers a close friend and mentor." Rankin in '99 "suggested that Pepper be hired to work the U.S. Women's Amateur." Pepper said, "They said there was no question we'd be working together. She's a legend." Pepper added that she "missed working television" during the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the PGA Tour's Florida tournaments including The Players Championship, "along with the relationships she formed at NBC Sports" (AP, 5/15).