Reynolds Rap

Lawyers Could Decide Cablevision-Tennis Carriage Tiebreak

8/31/2009 11:32 PM

It was hardly business as usual for Venus Williams, who overcame tendonitis in her left knee to defeat Russian Vera Dushevina 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-3 in just under three hours to win her opening match at the 2009 U.S. Open.

Then again, perhaps it’s just the way things get done at Flushing Meadows, where ESPN2 got a taste of what USA Network faced during its quarter-century of Open telecasts — the second match of the night, featuring No. 5 seed Andy Roddick, didn’t begin until after its primetime window was supposed to close at 11 p.m.

But there wasn’t any business done, as usual, by Cablevision and Tennis Channel, as the network’s inaugural day of coverage of the Grand Slam event landed outside the doubles alley for the MSO’s subscribers.

Tennis Channel CEO Ken Solomon, appearing on CNBC this morning, said the parties don’t have a deal. Cablevision, a “recent” member of the National Cable Television Cooperative, begs to differ, lobbying for Tennis to authorize its signal so the operator could launch the channel in both standard- and high-definition. The co-op agrees that the contract — calling for placement on a sports tier was concluded some seven years ago during the prior management’s regime — is in fact enforceable and valid.

Tennis, which has 240 hours of Open coverage, including 72 allocated for live matches in store for the fortnight, has lobbed up legalities, notably a 30-day notice period before the network can launch, as its defensive move for not playing doubles with Cablevision. NCTC says it is “unaware of any previous launch request where Tennis Channel delayed authorization for 30 days.”

The question remains is Tennis merely buying time until the end of September. At that point, the Open will have crowned new champions and closed entirely in the minds of most local sports fans in favor of a presumed Yankees playoff push and the Giants and Jets NFL seasons.

I’m not suggesting that Tennis took the New York’s DMA’s top distributor lightly when it ran ads in Big Apple area newspapers admonishing “Thanks for Nothing Cablevision” on Aug. 17 (Trucks with the ad were reportedly rolling in Bethpage again on Monday).

The track record shows that the Bethpage, N.Y.-headquartered operator is quite content playing by its own terms. Just ask New York Yankees fans. They got shut out in 2002, the rookie season of the YES Network. And suffice it to say in these parts, Derek Jeter is just a little more popular than Roger Federer or any other tennis player, including those named Connors and McEnroe.

Sure, Tennis wants and deserves wider distribution for its year-round presentation of the global sport, which includes coverage of all four majors and a bevy of original programming, in HD. At about 15 cents, it’s monthly subscriber license fee is certainly less costly than many other sports networks.

But if Tennis is contractually obligated to Cablevision’s iO Sports Pak (said to have about 90,000 subscribers at $5.95 per month) and is going to wind up there at the end of the September — after the 30-day notification period expires — then its Open shot fell into the net for naught.

However, one has to think that the network’s lawyers are warming up on the practice courts — with what, a new real deadline of next August, when the 2010 U.S. Open approaches, looming.

That’s a game that may prove interesting to industry watchers and reporters, but not Cablevision subscribers who are tennis fans — they’re still waiting to gain access to a network that tossed in its first serve during 2003.

September