As CBS televised Vera Znovera's upset of top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals of the U.S. Open from Flushing Meadows, ESPN fixed part of its tennis gaze half a world away, renewing its rights deals for the Australian Open.
The 10-year extension with Tennis Australia gives ESPN Inc. multimedia coverage rights for the Australian Open through 2021. The programmer's current pact to present the sport's first Grand Slam tourney is set to expire after next January's fortnight in Melbourne.
Deal terms were not disclosed, but the new contract takes effect in 2012 and continues the extensive coverage for ESPN2, Spanish-language U.S. rights for ESPN Deportes and distribution in Latin America via ESPN International (through 2016).
Although a new agreement had not been forged by presstime, it was expected that ESPN plans to continue to play doubles with Tennis Channel with the Australian. Through an alliance, Tennis has televised the Australian the past four years in exchange for giving ESPN2 access to some of its media rights for the French Open. Tennis has a multiyear agreement with Roland Garros, which began with the 2007 Grand Slam event in Paris.
Through a sublicensing deal with ESPN, Tennis is now in its second year of coverage of the U.S. Open alongside ESPN2. Reports indicate that CBS, the longstanding broadcaster of the tournament, is nearing a renewal pact with the United States Tennis Association for the U.S. Open. CBS's current contract concludes with the 2011 tourney.
ESPN's Australian new deal also includes expanded rights for broadband service ESPN3.com, interactive television, plus highlights on ESPN.com and other emerging and digital media, including ESPN Mobile TV.
The Australian Open is the only one of the four Grand Slams in the States that airs solely on cable. ESPN, which presents the women's and men's semifinals and finals exclusively, has aired the tournament since 1984, marking its longest continuous professional sports relationship.
"Tennis fans know to start the year with ESPN and the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam, a great event combining the best in tennis with the beauty of summer from Down Under," said John Skipper, ESPN executive vice president, content, in announcing the renewal. "In January, we expanded live coverage of the Australian Open to great success. We're happy to work with Tennis Australia across all platforms to reach fans wherever they are."
Noted Australian Open CEO Steve Wood: "ESPN's coverage over the years continues to be both innovative and extensive. The sheer breadth and quality of the coverage is of the highest standard and gives Australian Open fans incredible insight into so many different aspects of our event. We're delighted to continue this successful relationship."
This year, the Australian Open on ESPN2 registered a 6% increase in household viewership for live play to an average of 427,000 homes for the largely overnight telecasts. In addition, the Australian Open accounted for nearly 1 million hours of action viewed on ESPN3.com, and 10.9 million page views on ESPN.com, more than double the 4.7 million in 2009, according to officials at the sports giant.
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