SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/This Weeks News

ESPN agrees to help shoulder cost of electronic line calling

Electronic line calling for the first time will be used at this summer’s U.S. Open Series tennis tournaments, and in a twist, broadcaster ESPN will help pay for the roughly $800,000 cost.

The line-calling technology will be used at
U.S. Open Series tennis tournaments.
While the U.S. Tennis Association, the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and the ATP are funding the initiative as well — an impressive joint effort in what historically has been a fractured sport — ESPN’s contribution may be a first for the network.

“I am not aware off the top of my head where ESPN is involved in any official initiatives like this in tennis,” said Mike Ryan, the network’s vice president of programming and acquisitions.

ESPN’s money reflects the relative success of branding these tournaments under the U.S. Open Series banner. Average TV ratings have roughly doubled in the two years since the USTA organized the effort, which provides consistent programming times, a themed look and marketing dollars.

ESPN already televises about 600 hours of tennis throughout the year, and had used the line-calling technology, Hawkeye, on its telecasts. But now the technology will be used in-venue.

In addition, nine of the 10 U.S. Open Series tournaments will lease video boards from IDS, so fans in the stands can see the animated replay of close line calls. The San Diego WTA stop is not leasing a board.

Tournament officials did not respond to calls seeking comment.

As at the already completed Nasdaq-100 Open, players will have two challenges per set, which they keep if they are correct and a line call was mistaken.

The three other broadcasters of the U.S. Open Series (NBC, CBS and The Tennis Channel) are not investing in the effort. The Indianapolis tournament on NBC will pay for what would have been ESPN’s share of the cost for that event.

Because ESPN covers some of the Pilot Pen, which CBS covers, too, those costs are assumed. And The Tennis Channel would have to pay ESPN a licensing fee for using the Hawkeye technology other than when calls are challenged.

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