SBD/May 17, 2013/Media

U.S. Open Deal The Latest Example Of The Blurring Lines Between Broadcast, Cable

ESPN's $825M deal should reduce viewer confusion as to where matches air
The USTA Thursday officially announced its 11-year, $825M deal with ESPN that puts the U.S. Open exclusively on cable, the "latest assault on the fraying broadcast sports model," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. Only the Super Bowl and the World Series "seem safe on broadcast television, but maybe for another decade or so." ESPN President John Skipper said, "This is just about ESPN. It’s not about cable or broadcast. We feel that sports rights are the most valuable commodity in media. The difference between broadcast and cable is inconsequential." Sandomir reports CBS was "looking at losing money" on the tournament if it "had to raise its annual rights payment" to the USTA to about $32.5M in a new deal from the current $20M cost. USTA officials "sounded so enamored of ESPN’s power to reach tennis fans that on a conference call with reporters Thursday they sounded ready to move on, immediately if possible, from CBS" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/17). USTA Exec Dir & COO Gordon Smith said, "ESPN is the strongest brand in sports. It puts the U.S. Open at the center of American sports culture like never before." Skipper: "This sort of old canard that there's something to be lost by going from broadcast to cable, I would submit, has it wrong." (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/17). Skipper added, "We presented last year a coherent start-to-finish presentation of Wimbledon and the audience went up, it did not go down." In L.A., Tom Hoffarth notes the move "continues a concerted effort" by ESPN to "collect prized championship events for its network and other media platforms" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/17). The AP's Howard Fendrich noted CBS is "in about 15 million more households than ESPN or ESPN2." But Skipper said, "We expect the audience for the U.S. Open to increase, not to decrease, with all the platforms that we have digitally" (AP, 5/16).

GOOD MOVE FOR FANS: In L.A., Meg James writes the move "should make it easier for tennis fans to find the matches on one television outlet, rather than the current channel-bouncing that was going on." Having the U.S. Open has "been something of a mixed blessing" for CBS. While tennis "attracts a well-to-do audience that advertisers covet, its numbers are relatively small compared to other professional sports." USTA execs when pressed said that they "weren't unhappy with CBS, but that ESPN offered a more lucrative package." Smith: "CBS has been a fabulous partner. This was about moving forward" (L.A. TIMES, 5/17).'s Peter Bodo wrote CBS "shepherded the game through the Open era, and deserves much credit for opening tennis up to an enormous audience -- mostly through its substantial and generally excellent coverage of the U.S. Open." Still, this is a "great win for tennis." This is a "watershed event" for the sport, and "probably for sports broadcasting in general" (, 5/16).

USTA EXTENDS IN CANADA: TSN and RDS have extended their partnership with the USTA with a new 11-year multimedia rights agreement for the U.S. Open. TSN and RDS will have exclusive Canadian coverage of the U.S. Open Finals for the first time (TSN).
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