Turner Sports added to its sports-programming portfolio
last week by purchasing the cable rights to the prestigious All England Lawn Tennis &
Croquet Club Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament beginning this summer.
Turner and NBC teamed up to acquire a record 124.5 hours of
coverage, representing a 25 percent increase in total on-air coverage over last year.
The deal marks the first time the tournament will be
televised on basic cable. Home Box Office held the cable rights for the past 25 years.
The agreement also marks the debut of 24-hour sports
service CNN/SI's distribution of sports events.
Terms of the deal were not released, but sources close to
the situation estimated that the three-year deal cost nearly $100 million.
Turner Network Television and CNN/SI will distribute 89
hours of tournament coverage. TNT will air 61 hours of daytime coverage, while CNN/SI will
program an additional 28 hours of primetime (9 p.m. to 11 p.m.) coverage.
"We're happy to be able to give American tennis
fans more coverage of this world-class event than ever before, in a deal that further
solidifies TNT's place as a big-event network," Turner Sports president Mark
Operators will not have to pay a surcharge for the event,
and TNT is not contemplating raising rates due to the deal, Lazarus added.
The agreement provides Wimbledon with 25 percent more
airtime and guarantees a greater television reach. TNT is in 77.1 million homes, compared
with HBO's 25 million-subscriber universe.
"We are delighted that our long partnership with NBC
Sports is to continue, and we also extend a warm welcome to Turner Sports," All
England Club president Tim Phillips said in a news release.
For CNN/SI, the deal provides the 15.5 million-subscriber
network with quality event programming to complement its 24-hour sports-news service.
"We're constantly looking for ways for viewers to see want they want to see and
to help the company, and this works well on both ends," CNN/SI president Jim Walton
He added that the network would continue to seek other
event-oriented programming, although he would not provide specific details.
Industry observers believe the Wimbledon package will bring
more awareness to CNN/SI, which has struggled to increase its subscriber base since it
launched more than three years ago.
"While it will add to the value of the service, I
don't think you'll see them move their sub base 50 percent to 100 percent,"
Pilson Communications president Neal Pilson said. "But if they have plans to do more
live sports events, Wimbledon is a good step forward."
Lazarus added that Turner Sports would consider CNN/SI in
future negotiations for sports-programming rights. "Certainly, for the right event,
we have the opportunity to use that distribution platform," he said.
The tournament had performed consistently for HBO
throughout the network's quarter-century of coverage, averaging around a 1 to 2
rating. HBO's 1998 coverage generated a 2.1 rating, up from a 1.9 in 1998. But the
network decided not to renew its deal, citing a desire to move into a new direction with
its sports programming.
"HBO felt that with the strength of their boxing, they
would not lose any subs if they didn't have Wimbledon," Pilson said. "For
Wimbledon, the tournament gains greater exposure through TNT."
The tournament expands TNT's sports portfolio. After
losing its Sunday-night National Football League package to ESPN two years ago, the
network has made several major sports deals in the past six months.
Prior to last week's Wimbledon deal, the network was
part of the unprecedented eight-year, $3 billion National Association for Stock Car Auto
Racing deal. TNT is also in the second year of a four-year, $890 million National
Basketball Association deal.
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R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.