Tennis Ups Coverage

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With the domestic hardcourt season in full swing, The Tennis Channel is toeing the service line alongside other leading telecasters.

The Tennis Channel and the United States Tennis Association have partnered on a four-year deal in which the programmer will present more than 100 hours of live and same-day delayed coverage of the US Open Series, a six-week television package of men’s and women’s hardcourt tournaments designed to promote interest and higher ratings for the sport leading up to the U.S. Open Grand Slam tourney in Flushing, N.Y., in late August.

Through 2007, Tennis Channel will present weekday and select weekend singles coverage, as well as doubles semifinals and finals action.

M-B CUP KICKOFF

As part of the pact, the network last week began its role in the US Open Series with coverage of the Mercedes-Benz Cup on July 15 to 16 and 18. As it did a year ago with the Mercedes-Benz Cup, Tennis will again televise the JPMorgan Chase Open (July 22 to 25); the Legg Mason Tennis Classic (August 19 to 22); and the TD Waterhouse Cup (August 26 to 29), but this time under the heading of the US Open Series.

Tennis also will add coverage of a women’s tourney, the Rogers Cup in Montreal, from August 3 to 7. Tennis will provide coverage of a semifinals singles match from Montreal, as well as the JPMorgan event.

“For us, this represents not only an expansion of tournament coverage, but is a pat on the back,” Tennis Channel CEO David Meister said. “We’ve only been around for a little more than a year, and we’re now being grouped with ESPN, Fox, NBC and CBS, the existing elite of sports television.”

All told, the US Open Series, which was announced in April, comprises 10 tourneys and over 200 hours of tennis coverage, including 92 hours spanning seven tourneys on ESPN. The series, which brings the disparate tournaments under a unified marketing package and offers a bonus pool to entice top-player participation, is the brainchild of USTA chief executive of professional tennis Arlen Kantarian.

Meister also said that Tennis would gain exposure via inclusion in the multimillion-dollar marketing campaign the USTA is throwing behind the US Open series, spanning TV, print and online media.

In addition to positioning on a dedicated Web site (www.usopenseries.com), Tennis will benefit from inclusion in tags on national umbrella commercials airing on the participating networks, as well as spots from the local tournaments, according to USTA manager director of marketing and communications David Newman. The series also was touted in a four-page insert in the July 12 issue of USA Today.

CARRIAGE UPDATE

Tennis Channel, which expects to finish 2004 in 8 to 10 million homes, through deals with Time Warner Cable, Comcast Corp, Cox Communications Inc., Adelphia Communications Corp., Insight Communications, Bright House Networks and Qwest Communications International, also hopes to raise its profile by supplying the doubles finals action at four of the tourneys (except the Rogers) at 8 p.m. (ET) on Sundays.

“Doubles doesn’t get the coverage it deserves from the networks. But for most recreational players, doubles is their game,” said Meister. “They will get a chance to see it played at the highest level on a regular basis on The Tennis Channel.

On the distribution front, Meister said Tennis hopes to make a couple of carriage announcements before summer’s end.

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