DC's Citi Open Bumped Out Of U.S. Open Series Due To TV Deal With Tennis Channel
This week’s ATP/WTA Citi Open in DC has been a staple of the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series since that platform’s formation in '04, but a standoff between the USTA and tournament operator Lagardère Unlimited has changed that, sources said. This year’s event is being broadcast entirely on Tennis Channel as part of a new four-year, $2M deal, sources said. With that deal, the tournament was bumped from the USTA’s U.S. Open Series, whose events are broadcast by ESPN. An event cannot be in the Series without airing on ESPN. While certainly not as large as the French Open, which ESPN also will no longer carry, the DC stop is a significant event. “DC pulled out of the U.S. Open Series because of the TV deal,” a source close to Lagardère said. Another factor: ESPN planned to use its streaming service, ESPN3, for the bulk of the event, which Lagardère did not want, sources said. The USTA confirmed that the event is no longer part of the U.S. Open Series, which launched as an effort to bring cohesion and branding to the disjointed circuit of summer U.S. hard-court events. The tennis body declined other comment, as did Lagardère. To some extent, the Series has succeeded, furnishing the events with sponsorship and TV money that only emerged with the branding. However, the number of events has declined, with six on this year’s calendar, two of which are combined WTA/ATP tournaments. When the Series launched, there were 10 events. The USTA in June also announced plans for a low-level hard-court WTA event in Louisville that will be played in August, opposite another WTA event in New Haven. The new tourney will not be part of the U.S. Open Series.
FULL CONTROL: Tennis Channel, with the Citi Open, has the chance to fully control the rights to a major U.S. tennis tournament, an opportunityit has not had before. With ESPN taking full control of the U.S. Open later this month, Tennis Channel will no longer have rights to live matches at that event. Industry sources said that this factor fueled the channel’s decision to pay for the rights for the DC event. Tennis Channel declined to comment about the terms of the contract. While an annual rights fee of $500,000 for a tournament may sound like a small amount, in the tennis world, especially in the U.S., that is not an insignificant sum. Outside the umbrella of the U.S. Open Series, and other than tennis’ elite events, tournaments like DC commonly have to pay to get on television, and that can mean paying production costs, which in this case Tennis Channel covers.