SBJ/August 28 - September 3, 2006/This Weeks News

French rights: ESPN out, Tennis Channel in

The French Open pulled a consistent 0.4
rating on weekdays on ESPN2.
The Tennis Channel secured the weekday rights to the French Open last week after ESPN balked at the price tag, lack of advertising and ratings buzz surrounding the event.

Though it is one of professional tennis’ four Grand Slam events, the French Open weekday coverage has pulled a consistent 0.4 rating on ESPN2 from 2002 to 2006.

The network let its exclusive negotiating window close because it didn’t receive enough ad support for the property, network insiders say. ESPN is less likely to give up its coverage of the Australian Open and Wimbledon as easily, but an ESPN executive warned, “We’re going to take a long, hard look at them.”

ESPN could still wind up televising several French Open matches, since the Tennis Channel is looking to sublicense some of that inventory. Tennis Channel Chairman and CEO Ken Solomon said ESPN, OLN and USA were potential partners, and an ESPN spokesman said the network was interested in such an arrangement.

The deal with the French Tennis Federation marks the most aggressive move yet by the three-year-old Tennis Channel to land a major property, as it plans to use the event to drive distribution beyond its current 10 million subscribers.

Financial terms weren’t disclosed for the nine-year deal, which gives the network cable, broadband, wireless, VOD and IPTV rights to all Roland Garros matches.

NBC Sports will continue to cover weekend play and the finals.

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