USTA Serves Up U.S. Open Series

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New York -- Talk about mixed doubles: The United States Tennis Association, working in conjunction with 10 tournaments and a quartet of networks, is packaging together a U.S. Open Series aimed at building interest for the sport and serving as a boon to the Grand Slam event from Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Negotiations continue to add a tourney in San Diego to the mix

ESPN, along with sister network ESPN2, is taking a lead role in the U.S. Open Series, and it will air 92 hours -- most of it live -- from seven men’s and women’s summer hard-court tennis tournaments leading up to the Open, including six of the finals.

Other network partners include NBC, Fox Sports Net and CBS, which has been the broadcast home to the U.S. Open for 35 years.

All told, the series -- running July 12-Aug. 29 -- will encompass 100 hours this summer.

The pact with the tournaments and the networks extends through 2007, with various renewal options, Arlen Kantarian, chief executive of professional tennis at the USTA, told Multichannel News after a press conference held here announcing the series.

FSN’s coverage of the TD Waterhouse Cup from Long Island, N.Y., however, expires at the close of the 2004 event.

Kantarian said the USTA is also negotiating with The Tennis Channel -- which carried some of the action from these tourneys last year -- to become involved on a more regular basis, perhaps supplying early-round action Mondays-Thursdays at each of the series events..

USA Network, the Open’s longtime cable carrier, had a contractual provision to be involved in the series, stemming from its current deal with the USTA, but it faced commitment obstacles tied to its golf coverage, one source familiar with the negotiations said.

At the same time, ESPN and ESPN2 both entered the picture and offered better scheduling continuity, Kantarian said.

USA did not return phone calls by press time.

At the press conference, it was announced that Olympus America Inc. was a charter sponsor of the series this year, and that Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. would support the events in 2005.

Overall, Kantarian said, the USTA is seeking a presenting sponsor for the series, as well as four or five official partners. These sponsorships would include some level of media expression for the participating networks.

Together, ESPN and the USTA are splitting the inventory on the events, with the sport’s national governing body putting aside many units to tout the series, as well as the game itself, Kantarian said after the press gathering.