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SBJ/Nov. 8-14, 2010/This Week's Issue
ATP to buy time on ESPN2, ABC
Published November 8, 2010
The ATP World Tour is reversing course and placing its two highest-profile American tournaments back on ESPN2, as well as ABC, starting next year.
The three-year deal for the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami and the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., calls for the two March tournaments to pay for the air time. That marks a shift from previous contracts for the events and reflects the challenges in visibility that tennis has on American TV.
The U.S. Open Tennis Championships is currently engaged in difficult contract renewal talks with CBS Sports, which wants to reduce its rights fee.
“Tennis doesn’t necessarily have to buy its way onto TV, but you have to buy to get the best TV time for our product,” said Adam Barrett, tournament director of the Sony Ericsson Open, which ranks by both attendance and prize money with the BNP Paribas Open as the two largest non-Grand Slam events in the world.
The deal was still being worked on late last week. The tour and network also are planning an increase in tennis’ online coverage, with roughly the top two dozen men’s tennis stops being streamed on ESPN3.com.
The addition of the two U.S. events will give ESPN2 the four Slams plus the top ATP and WTA Tour stops. The Miami and Indian Wells events include WTA play, but the ATP has the rights to sell the domestic TV coverage for those stops.
Two years ago, the ATP moved the events from ESPN2 to Fox Sports Net, a shift that drew protest from within the tennis world, including at the U.S. Tennis Association, because of Fox Sports Net’s regional nature. Matches in many markets were bumped for local sports, but Fox Sports Net offered more hours of total coverage than ESPN2.
That fact does not change with the current deal. ESPN2 will televise the men’s and women’s semifinals of the Indian Wells stop, with the finals then airing on ABC. In Miami, ESPN2 will carry the quarterfinals and semifinals, but CBS has rights to the finals. Tennis Channel will broadcast the remainder of the events, though all of the matches will also be available on ESPN3.com.
ESPN2 will begin promoting its coverage of the two events in January. ESPN2 also televises many of the summer U.S. Open Series events that lead into the U.S. Open.
Steve Plasto, the head of ATP Media, declined to comment.
Jason Bernstein, ESPN’s senior director, programming and acquisitions, said ESPN is always looking to grow its sports properties but declined to specifically comment on talks with the ATP.