Meet the new Grand Slam doubles partners: The Tennis Channel and ESPN.
The total-sports network is teaming up with the dedicated racquet-sports service on a multimedia programming and marketing alliance for Roland Garros (The French Open) and the Australian Open through 2011.
The pact enables ESPN to keep the second of three major tournaments it has been televising in recent years and its sobriquet as “The Grand Slam Network,” while Tennis adds a second major.
Continuing its recent momentum, Tennis -- which saw the United States Tennis Association take an equity stake in the service in December -- scored a deal with the French Tennis Federation for Roland Garros last August. The network said it now has TV rights to 48 of the top 50 tournaments in the world, minus Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Under terms of the pact -- financial terms of which were not disclosed -- ESPN2 gained the rights from Tennis to present 60 hours from Roland Garros this May and June, while Tennis will air more than 100 hours of red-clay-court coverage from Paris. ESPN -- which also holds rights to Wimbledon -- acquired new-media rights to the French, including streaming and broadband capabilities.
In exchange for French Open rights -- which allows ESPN2 to extend its recent five-year coverage run from Paris -- Tennis will net some 100 hours of live and taped coverage from the Australian Open beginning next January.
ESPN2 plans to maintain the 120 hours of coverage from Melbourne it has provided in recent years, including the 2007 Grand Slam event, highlighted by the network’s best-ever rating, a 1.9 household mark (1.72 million homes) for its presentation of Serena Williams’ straight-set dismantling of No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the women’s final Jan. 26.
In sharing costs, Tennis will produce the coverage from Paris, while ESPN does the same from Down Under.
“We’re going to take the dollars that either one of us would have spent alone to provide more coverage, more matches and more pre-packaged segments,” Tennis chairman and CEO Ken Solomon said
Asked if tennis fans would be able to find live French Open matches on digital properties held by ESPN and Tennis, ESPN executive vice president of content John Skipper said, “There is a lot of tennis out there, a lot of matches and players. There are other platforms and channels. The answer is yes, but we’re not certain how it will play out yet.”