After its two earlier launch dates sailed long, The Tennis Channel will spin in its first serve with a sneak preview beginning April 26, followed by an official launch on May 15.
Chairman and CEO David Meister said the 24-hour service, featuring 1,000 hours of professional competition this year, will bow before 3 million cable customers via a new long-term deal with Cox Communications and previously announced pacts with Time Warner Cable and systems in the National Cable Television Cooperative.
The independent network will make its feed available to cable and satellite providers free on April 26 with coverage of the Fed Cup, which pits the U.S. versus the Czech Republic. Either Serena or Venus Williams will likely be the first athlete to appear on the fledgling service, president Steve Bellamy said.
At 6 a.m. ET on May 15, the service is slated to officially launch with fourth-round coverage of the Tennis Masters Series Hamburg championships from Germany.
The audience consists of subscribers in Time Warner digital homes, Cox digital customers in San Diego and Orange County, Calif., and several digital homes served by NCTC affiliates. One co-op affiliate plans to give Tennis analog positioning shortly after its launch.
"The Tennis Channel is staking claim to a specific programming and target audience niche," said Cox vice president of programming Bob Wilson in a statement. "We believe it will enhance the value to our customers of subscribing to Cox video services."
Meister said Tennis expects to be in front of at least 10 million homes by next spring.
Much of its growth should come from Time Warner, which committed to roll out Tennis as it build a base of digital sports tiers.
Tennis will be paid license fees, but Meister wouldn't say how much.
"This is not a case of getting on the air and making money later," he said, noting that the network has long-term deals, ranging from nine years with the NCTC to 15 years with Time Warner. "We're providing great content and great value, while providing cost certainty for our affiliates as sports rights escalate."
Tennis also said it obtained new funding from Bain Capital Ventures, Battery Ventures, Columbia Capital and JP Morgan Partners. They join investors Apollo Partners, DND Capital Partners LLC, Waterview Advisors, EdsLink LLC, International Management Group, the network's senior management and tennis greats Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, all of whom have recently increased their positions in the channel. Tennis didn't spell out how much the investors had supplied or their equity stakes.