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ESPN Snatches Wimbledon

ESPN and ESPN2 will serve up 120 original hours from Wimbledon starting in June, as part of a new four-year, multiplatform agreement with The All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club.

Terms were not disclosed last week, but sources estimate the pact's annual value at under $6 million per year, less than the $7 million paid by the previous cable rights-holder Turner Sports.

ESPN's Wimbledon coverage culminates with one men's and one women's semifinal match, and paves the way for presentations in a number of international markets, as well as on ESPN Classic, ESPN News and The sports giant also secured rights for video-on-demand, interactive TV, broadband, ESPN Deportes and ESPN HD.

"For us, the deal landscape now and in the future must extend across our multitude of assets, so we can exercise all of our platform options," Mark Shapiro, executive vice president, programming and production, said in a phone interview. "Our cable operator affiliates told us that Wimbledon is Tiffany programming and that it has appeal not only on TV, but from Internet, broadband and interactive vehicles as well."

ESPN, which holds cable rights to the Australian and French opens, now has three of the four Grand Slam tennis events. All told, ESPN will air more than 500 hours of tennis coverage in 2003, up 18 percent from last year.

ESPN has already been quietly selling Wimbledon ad time, Shapiro said.