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Volume 21 No. 6
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CBS prepares to bid farewell to U.S. Open

CBS Sports will produce this year’s U.S. Open the same way it has produced the tennis tournament for the past 46 years.

But this year marks CBS’s final one with the tournament, as ESPN swooped in to pick up all of the tournament’s rights in an 11-year deal worth $825 million. ESPN, which has held the U.S. Open’s cable package since 2009, will telecast the entire tournament starting next year.

The network has been a part of the event for nearly five decades.
Photo by: CBS
If CBS executives are melancholy about ending the network’s 46-year relationship with the event, they aren’t showing it.

“We’re going to use all the resources that we have used in the past,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus.
“There’s going to be some sadness on Monday night when the final is over. But we will move on and ESPN will do a great job covering the event.”

CBS’s business-as-usual approach can be seen on the business side, where ad inventory around the tournament is 90 percent sold, which is pacing similar to the past several years, CBS executives said.

The network’s approach also will come through on-screen, as McManus said CBS would not cut back on coverage during this lame duck year. “We’re approaching it the same way that we cover any sporting event,” McManus said.

Still, CBS will have some programming that gives a nod to its long relationship with the event. Bill Macatee will

host “CBS Salutes the U.S. Open” during the tournament’s first weekend, highlighting the history of the event. CBS also has produced a series of vignettes that it will run throughout the U.S. Open, with topics ranging from Arthur Ashe winning in 1968 to sisters Venus and Serena Williams competing in the first women’s prime-time final in 2001. Longtime play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg will appear as a guest during the network’s coverage, as well.

CBS Sports’ reputation is marked by long-term partnerships. It started carrying the NFL in 1956, the Masters in 1956 and the U.S. Open in 1968. Because of those long-standing relationships, it was a shock to see CBS lose the rights to ESPN, in a deal the U.S. Tennis Association struck in May 2013. ESPN outbid CBS for the rights, agreeing to pay $75 million per year.

2013 Nadal-Djokovic^ 2.3 S. Williams-Azarenka* 4.0
2012 Murray-Djokovic^ 2.4 S. Williams-Azarenka* 3.4
2011 Djokovic-Nadal^ 2.3 Stosur-S. Williams* 3.3
2010 Nadal-Djokovic^ 1.8 Clijsters-Zvonareva 1.7
2009 Del Potro-Federer^ 2.4 Clijsters-Wozniacki^^ 1.1
2008 Federer-Murray^ 1.7 S. Williams-Jankovic* 3.3
2007 Federer-Djokovic 3.7 Henin-Kuznetsova 2.1
2006 Federer-Roddick 4.1 Sharapova-Henin 2.4
2005 Federer-Agassi 4.8 Clijsters-Pierce 2.7
2004 Federer-Hewitt 2.5 Kuznetsova-Dementieva 2.2
2003 Roddick-Ferrero 3.5 Henin-Clijsters 2.5
2002 Sampras-Agassi 6.2 S. Williams-V. Williams 5.2
2001 Hewitt-Sampras 5.3 V. Williams-S. Williams 6.8
2000 Safin-Sampras 4.2 V. Williams-Davenport 5.8
1999 Agassi-Martin 6.3 S. Williams-Hingis 6.3
1998 Rafter-Philippoussis 2.7 Davenport-Hingis 3.1
1997 Rafter-Rusedski 4.0 Hingis-V. Williams 3.3
1996 Sampras-Chang 6.1 Graf-Seles 3.2
* Held on a Sunday ^ Held on a Monday ^^ Match aired on ESPN2 on a Sunday night
Note: Rating listed is U.S. rating.
Source: SportsBusiness Daily research

CBS is stepping away at a time when TV ratings around the tournament have hit all-time lows. The 2012 tournament averaged 2 million viewers, which is the lowest for the U.S. Open. News last week that one of the sport’s biggest draws, Rafael Nadal, pulled out of this year’s tournament because of an injured wrist, casts doubt that the U.S. Open can stem that viewership decline.

Still, CBS pushed for changes that have made the tournament better for television, such as moving the women’s final to prime time on Saturday and the men’s final to Monday night.

“We put the women’s final in prime time, and I’m proud that it has been successful for a number of years,” McManus said. “Our presentation and promotion has been first rate. It’s a great event that will continue to do extremely well in the future. Together with the USTA and, in latter years with ESPN, we have grown the event.”

After more than four decades together, CBS still plans to be involved with the U.S. Open next year — even if it is not the main rights holder.

“I don’t look backward; I look forward,” McManus said. “I love the event. We’re still going to have a major hospitality presence at the U.S. Open. I will still go to the event, and I will still entertain clients at the event. But it will be on ESPN.”