SBJ/20100830/This Week's News

CBS is ready to renew deal with U.S. Open

CBS Sports expects to renew by the end of the year its deal to broadcast the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, and the contract could include relief for the broadcaster in the event some of its coverage is delayed or canceled by rain, sources said.

The talks come as CBS for the first time this year plans to stream its coverage of the tournament, including the men’s and women’s finals. This year’s U.S. Open begins today.

CBS expects the new deal under discussion to have roughly the same $21 million annual rights fee of the current contract, which is due to expire after the 2011 tournament, sources said.

The bigger development is the new agreement likely accounting for rainouts, which has hurt the Open over the last few years The last two men’s finals were pushed back from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon, leading to sharply lower ratings. CBS lost the 2009 women’s final altogether, with the scheduled Saturday night final getting moved to Sunday evening and being televised by ESPN2, instead.

“They know any time you have two men’s finals in a row that are played on a Monday afternoon and you lose a women’s final and can’t air it on CBS, that is not a good situation,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS News and CBS Sports.

Rain has played havoc at the Open lately,
pushing the 2009 final between Kim
Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki from
Saturday to Sunday and onto ESPN2.

McManus declined to comment on specifics of the negotiations other than to add, “we are having some, I would say, informal talks and would like to figure out a way to keep the Open on CBS.”

The U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and operates the Open, appeared ready several years ago to construct a roof over the main stadium of the National Tennis Center. The group retreated from that stance, though, and McManus said there now is little chance of a venue covering.

The USTA declined to comment.

CBS and the USTA in 2007 announced a new broadcast deal for the tournament, running through 2011. The deal replaced an existing contract that was set to run through 2008 and paid the Open about $30 million annually.

It’s uncertain what form rain relief could take in a new contract.

CBS has broadcast the Open since 1968, but rain until recently had not been a major problem, so the TV contracts did not account for the problems such as those encountered in 2008 and 2009.

Meanwhile, CBS will stream all of its matches live on CBSSports.com this year, as well on USOpen.org, after resisting the move for several years.

The network, McManus said, is now convinced that streaming will not cannibalize its TV coverage.

The Open initiated its first large-scale streaming last year. There were 157 matches shown on the Internet, for free, last year, with 14 million activated streams on USOpen.org and the average length of view just under three hours, said Phil Green, USTA senior director of advanced media.

ESPN2 will also stream this year, as it did last year, using its ESPN3 outlet, but Tennis Channel is not streaming. Tennis Channel doesn’t have the rights in its affiliate contracts with cable and satellite operators to stream its programming online, sources said.

“The USTA does a great job streaming on their site, and we elected not to do that this year,” said Eric Abner, a Tennis Channel spokesman. USOpen.org will stream the Tennis Channel matches.

The streams are available for the five courts with TV coverage. This year, more than 200 matches are set to be streamed.

Westin Hotels & Resorts, Stonyfield, IBM and Mercedes-Benz are sponsoring the streaming on USOpen.org.

Also this year, the Open is dipping its toe into the much-hyped 3-D waters.

Off-site, viewers who have a 3-D-equipped TV and who get DirecTV, which has an Open package, will be able to watch the enhanced coverage. The 3-D on DirecTV offering will be for only the CBS feed. On-site, Panasonic is sponsoring three to four viewing stations where fans can watch the coverage with 3-D glasses.

Panasonic has signed a new three-year sponsorship to be the official TV and 3-D provider for the Open, and the 3-D offerings will carry the slogan “powered by Panasonic.”

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