ESPN and The Tennis Channel have entered into a multi-year arrangement to share rights to the Australian Open and French Open through 2011.
The networks announced they will share coverage of the Australian Open beginning in 2008, with The Tennis Channel adding 100 hours of live and prerecorded programming to ESPN's coverage. The Australian Open has been televised exclusively on ESPN and ESPN2 since 1984.
The Tennis Channel acquired U.S. broadcast and new media rights to the French Open last August from the French Tennis Federation. ESPN and ESPN2 had televised the French Open exclusively from 1986-1993 and from 2002-06.
"This landmark deal is a win-win-win for fans, the sport and the networks, expanding the coverage of these two premiere events and keeping ESPN the Grand Slam Network," said John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content. "ESPN, the leading sports brand, will team with The Tennis Channel, dedicated 24/7 to the sport, to build both the French Open and Australian Open brands and increase exposure on television, online and via broadband in a manner that hasn't been seen before."
ESPN2 will present 55 hours of action from Paris starting this year, beginning on Sunday, May 27. The network's schedule will resume Tuesday through Friday of the first week and Monday through Thursday the second week with noon-6:30 p.m. ET time slots. ESPN2 will televise both women's semifinals live and The Tennis Channel the men's semifinals.
Both The Tennis Channel and ESPN will be employing advanced new media applications for the French Open, including highlights and live streaming for broadband ESPN360, ESPN.com and TheTennisChannel.com.
"When you match the country's biggest, most-important, sports media brand with tennis' only fully dedicated, 24-hour multimedia platform, you're able to cross-promote and cross-platform with one another in a precise, integrated approach that will truly move the game forward," said Ken Solomon, chairman and CEO, The Tennis Channel. "Specifically, this will expand viewership and provide U.S. fans with a round-the-clock, world-class media experience. This partnership is the embodiment of the integrated network distribution model we first visualized with the acquisition of Roland Garros rights."
ESPN2 will maintain its Australian Open schedule -- more than 120 hours in recent years. Its extensive daily coverage includes live programming in primetime and at 3:30 a.m. ESPN2 will continue to televise the men's and women's semifinals and championships.
The Tennis Channel will televise up to 100 hours from Melbourne when ESPN2 is not on the air, during both mornings and afternoons in addition to key prime-time windows. ESPN will produce all Australian Open coverage and, as at the French Open, each network will provide its own commentators. As with the French Open, The Tennis Channel will create original Australian Open programming that supports its match coverage.
ESPN2's telecast of the Australian Open women's final last Friday night earned the network's highest tennis rating in history. Serena Williams' eighth Grand Slam victory drew a 1.9 rating, representing 1,715,000 homes. The previous best was the 2005 Australian Open women's final when Williams defeated Lindsay Davenport. That broadcast received a 1.5 rating (1,350,000 homes).
For viewers in the US, this means that despite ESPN's best efforts not to show more than a handful of matches in any given day, repeating them all, we will actually get to see some other players and matches of interest--both live and taped. More like Eurosport.
TTC--please dump Shiras and Adams before May...