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Wimbledon Deal With ESPN Serves Loss to Broadcast TV

ESPN’s 12-year deal
for U.S. media rights to the
Wimbledon tennis tournament
continues the migration
of marquee sports properties
to cable.

The worldwide sports leader’s
serve — worth a reported
$480 million — aced NBC after
the Peacock’s 43-year run
with the All England Club.
Perhaps more importantly,
the play effectively kept Comcast’s
national cable network
Versus from stepping onto
Centre Court and buttressing
its programming roster with
the addition of this marquee

NBC, which has made
“Breakfast at Wimbledon” a
summer programming staple
since 1979, was looking to
extend its network contract,
which expired with the 2011
tourney, for two more years,
and then bring NBCUniversal
co-owned Versus to the net
with weekday coverage. The
plan called for full live TV —
NBC has been criticized for
showing key matches on
tape delay in deference to the
profitability of Today — and
streaming coverage, beginning
with the 2014 fortnight.

ESPN, which began televising
Wimbledon in 2003 and
had two years remaining on
its extant contract, was able
to convince the All England
Club that its myriad promotional
and platform arsenals,
and a “single narrative” voice,
made it the American place
to be for The Championships
well into the next decade.

During a July 5 conference
call announcing the deal, All
England chief executive Ian
Ritchie said, “This has been a
deal that’s born great account
to all the factors that I’ve just talked about, of which, money is
only one, but by no means is the preeminent one.”

NBC pinned its loss on the dollars and pence. “While we
would have liked to have continued our relationship, we were
simply outbid,” the network said in a statement.

At $480 million over 12 years — some observers believe
the purse might have been higher — the deal represents a
74% increase over the combined $23 million — $13 million
for NBC, $10 million for ESPN — under the former arrangement.
The new deal supersedes the final two years of Wimbledon’s
old contract.

Under the deal, the giant sports programmer plans to increase
the number of linear TV hours from 100 on ESPN2 during
the most recently completed tourney to 142 next year, with
ESPN on court for the second week, including the semifinals
and the gentleman’s and ladies’ finals. ABC will air a recap
show on the tourney’s first Sunday and same-day encores of
the championship matches.

Maybe even more integral is that the deal will provide upward
of 750 hours for — the broadband service
ran 650 hours this tournament — and the company’s varied
mobile apps.

For its part, Tennis Channel is still engaged with the
All England Club in ongoing negotiations for a renewal
of its Wimbledon Primetime, which provides highlights,
analysis and, in some cases ,expansive recaps of matches
not shown on ESPN2.