ESPN has reached an agreement on an 11-year deal to air the entire U.S. Open tennis tournament starting in 2015, according to John Ourand of Sports Business Daily. The new deal will put the tournament entirely on cable for the first time and end a run of 47 straight years in which the finals were aired on CBS.
But more importantly, the move will be huge for tennis fans who will now have better access to the tournament.
Dwindling ratings are cited as a big reason CBS was not willing to up its commitment. CBS and ESPN are both currently paying approximately $20 million a year to air the U.S. Open. CBS turned down a chance to keep their portion of the package for $30 million per year, and ESPN was given the entire package for approximately $70 million per year.
Weather has caused havoc in recent years and hurt ratings (the men’s final has been postponed until Monday each of last five years). But a big reason ratings are down is because CBS doesn’t have the flexibility to handle any change to the schedule as they have been unwilling to move the finals into primetime.
ESPN won’t have the same fears of potentially bumping a show like “60 Minutes.” And even if the finals need to air on Monday night, the matches can be moved to ESPN2 if they overlap with “Monday Night Football.”
There will undoubtedly be some that will miss the nostalgic feel of the U.S. Open on CBS but it has become clear that tennis is no longer big enough for network television.
In the end, the U.S. Open will get the star treatment it deserves and tennis fans will get tennis at a time when more of them can watch.
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