ESPN and the USTA signed an 11-year deal worth more than $770M for rights to the entire U.S. Open tennis tournament. The two groups scheduled a press conference for this afternoon to announce the deal, which starts in '15. The move to take the entire U.S. Open to cable ends an era that has seen CBS broadcast the event every year since '68. CBS will carry its tournament package the next two years. Covington & Burling and Sports Media Advisors represented the USTA on the deal. The move fits within ESPN's strategy of bringing championship events to cable. In recent years, ESPN has picked up rights to the BCS Championship, British Open and Wimbledon. ESPN also produces the NBA Finals and Indianapolis 500, events which are broadcast on ABC. The U.S. Open is in the middle of a three-year deal where CBS and ESPN pay around $20M each for their respective packages. ESPN sublicenses a smaller package to Tennis Channel. In its new deal, ESPN will pay an annual average of more than $70M for all U.S. Open rights. The USTA initiated renewal talks with CBS in March, but CBS' 45-day exclusive negotiating window ended at the end of April. CBS had a chance to keep its broadcast part of the package for more than $30M per year, sources said. But given the tournament's poor ratings recently, CBS passed on the opportunity. The loss of tennis opens up CBS weekends for SEC football games and an NFL doubleheader, both of which rate much higher than the US Open. It took ESPN and the USTA a little more than two weeks to fashion a "Wimbledon-style" deal that will bring the entire event to cable.
TV EVERYWHERE RIGHTS INCLUDED: ESPN will pay more than $70M annually for these rights, which include TV Everywhere streaming rights. Matches will air on ESPN, ESPN2 and broadband service ESPN3, with ESPN3 carrying many of the matches from the outer courts that typically had not been covered. ESPN has a lot of college football commitments in the fall, but has committed to carry the men's and women's semifinals and finals on ESPN. The tournament has struggled with TV ratings on CBS recently, and weather has played havoc with the event. The men's final has been pushed to Monday by rain five straight years. If pushed to Monday with ESPN, the U.S. Open will run up against "MNF." CBS emailed a statement to THE DAILY saying, "We are proud of our long-term association with the USTA and wish them well. Looking ahead, we have profitable partnerships with all of our key sports franchises locked up for many, many years to come, including the NFL, NCAA men's basketball championship, SEC football, PGA Tour and the PGA Championship. And in the meantime, we look forward to two more years of tennis on CBS."