U.S. Open’s move from CBS to ESPN starting in ’15 should be welcome to tennis viewers

us-open-tennis-ticketsAn 11-year, reported $770 million rights deal with ESPN and the U.S. Tennis Association announced Thursday will end CBS’ long-time relationship with the U.S. Open starting in 2015 and provide far more flexibility for viewers of the last Grand Slam event of the sport’s season.

CBS has been carrying the U.S. Open back to 1968, and it will have the next two women’s and men’s championships, usually held on the first week of the NFL regular season, before its deal ends in 2014.

CBS and ESPN currently share U.S. Open rights, and ESPN has sold off some of its coverage to Tennis Channel.

“We have all the respect for CBS and what they’ve done with this event, and I would submit to you fairly categorically that we expect the audience for the US Open to increase, not to decrease,” said ESPN president John Skipper, in response to questions about the ratings on CBS dwindling in recently years.  “We presented last year a coherent start-to-finish presentation of Wimbledon and the audience went up, it did not go down.

“So this sort of old canard that there’s something to be lost by going from broadcast to cable I would submit has it wrong. It is just the opposite. Moving to ESPN allows an opportunity to reach more people across more platforms.”

By paying some $70 million a year for the U.S. Open rights, ESPN will expand more than just its weekday coverage on ESPN2 and online at ESPN3 for an event often beset with scheduling issues because of bad weather in New York.

“I can state categorically whatever happens with rain, 15-hour matches, delays or whatever, that we will on our significant platforms have all the matches,” said Skipper. “It’s the flexibility, of course, having multiple networks, having different places you can put events, plan for contingencies. We will not have any issue. We are thrilled. It’s been our intention to continue to increase the strength of our schedule and to continue to present across all of our networks great product, and that allows us to do this. We don’t have any concerns about rain delays or contingencies. We and the USTA have a plan.”

CBS said in a statement that is is “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.”

The U.S. Open tennis tournament’s move also continues a concerted effort by the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” to collect prized championship events for its network and other media platforms.

The BCS championship, Rose Bowl, NBA Finals, Indianapolis 500, Wimbledon and British Open golf tournaments are among the properties recently moved from traditional over-the-air networks to the ESPN/ABC family.

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