SBJ/June 6-12, 2011/Media

Wimbledon media rights drawing interest

A potential bidding war is developing for Wimbledon’s media rights, with NBC/Versus, ESPN, Tennis Channel and Fox expressing some interest.

Wimbledon’s rights deals with NBC and Tennis Channel end after next month’s tournament. The tournament’s deal with ESPN runs for two more years, ending after the 2013 tournament.

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Wimbledon’s rights deals with NBC and Tennis Channel end after next month’s tournament.
NBC’s current four-year deal averages out to $13 million per year. It’s not known how much the All England Club is seeking in the new deal.

Tennis Channel’s rights appear to be most at risk. Tennis Channel holds a secondary cable package that gives it an exclusive prime-time window to re-air matches that occur earlier in the day. On occasion, Tennis Channel has shown some live matches during the past several years when ESPN did not have the shelf space to carry them all.

NBC is seeking to pick up that package for Versus, believing that it would be easier to share content between the two Comcast-owned channels. Such a move would position Versus as more of a legitimate competitor when ESPN’s package is available.

NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer is handling the NBC negotiations. Schanzer announced his retirement May 26 but has told Comcast that he would stick around through the summer, in part, to close the network’s Wimbledon negotiations.

NBC has drawn fire for its strategy of showing many Wimbledon matches on tape delay. Sources said any new broadcast contract would mandate that matches be carried live and in-progress.

ESPN has been making noise about trying to pick up NBC’s package and move it to cable.

Last week, ESPN signed a four-year deal for the Australian Open and French Open. It will cover the finals of the Australian and through the women’s semifinals of the French.

Fox has not carried professional tennis before on its broadcast network. Its executives have looked into crafting a deal, but any deal with Fox would be considered a long shot.

Staff writer Daniel Kaplan contributed to this report.


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