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ESPN close to landing rights deal for Wimbledon
Published July 3, 2011
ESPN is close to finalizing a deal with Wimbledon that would end NBC’s 43-year association with the event, according to sources privy to the talks.
The deal has not been signed yet and specific contract details are not known. But sources tell SportsBusiness Journal that the All England Club has decided to sell its full rights package to ESPN. An announcement could come as soon as this week.
NBC, Fox and ESPN had been competing for the tennis tournament’s rights over the past several months. The deal means that all Wimbledon matches will be showed live on cable, as ESPN has been pushing to bring big sporting events to cable. ESPN already signed deals to bring events like the British Open and BCS Championships to cable, and Wimbledon would make another example.
ESPN plans to make some taped programming available on ABC for weekend afternoon programming. It also will make matches available via its broadband (ESPN3) and mobile (Watch ESPN) applications.
The fact that ESPN also would be taking Wimbledon rights from NBC, which has been trying to build Versus as a potential competitor, also was an impetus to ESPN’s push for the deal.
NBC’s current four-year deal, which averages out to $13 million per year, ended Sunday at the conclusion of this year’s tournament.
ESPN currently has early-round cable rights to Wimbledon and its current deal runs for two more years, ending after the 2013 tournament. That deal will be folded into the new deal, sources say, along with ESPN’s Wimbledon deals in Latin America and Canada. It’s not known how long those deals will run.
ESPN’s Executive VP/Content John Skipper led negotiations last week in London, along with ESPN’s Executive VP/Programming John Wildhack.
Wimbledon’s pending ESPN deal is a blow to NBC Sports, whose outgoing President, Ken Schanzer, handled negotiations. Schanzer announced his retirement in May, but told Comcast officials that he would stick around through the summer, in part, to handle the Wimbledon negotiations.
The All England Club has had a great relationship with NBC Sports, which had carried the tournament for more than four decades and made its “Breakfast At Wimbledon” a mid-summer tradition.
NBC has drawn fire over the past several years, however, for its strategy of showing many Wimbledon matches on tape delay. Just last week, fans were angered when it again opted to show its profitable ”Today” show rather than some semi-finals live.
With the pending move to ESPN, all matches will be carried live on cable, sources said.