Starting in 2015, the U.S. Open will become an all-cable affair. CBS' association with the event dating back to 1968 will end in 2014. ESPN announced the contract earlier today and SBJ's John Ourand reports that the deal is worth than $770 million for 11 years, meaning that the U.S. Open will remain on the ESPN family of networks well into the next decade.
Ourand writes that once CBS' exclusive negotiating window expired in April and passed on an opportunity to keep a portion of the tournament, ESPN moved quickly to bring the entire U.S. Open into its fold.
Some of the features that ESPN will provide in its coverage:
– All 17 courts, some of which have never had cameras will be avilable online on ESPN3.
– ESPN takes over the Labor Day Weekend coverage which has been on CBS.
– The women's semifinals which had been on the second Friday will move to Thursday night in primetime.
– The men's semifinals which had been on "Super Saturday" will be held on Friday.
– The women's final will be played on the second Saturday and the men's final on the second Sunday. This year and next, the men's final will be held on Monday.
– All matches will be streamed whether on ESPN3 or through WatchESPN.
– ESPN will cover the U.S. Open similary to how it covers Wimbledon with both ESPN and ESPN2 covering matches during the second week.
This is part of ESPN's strategy to bring events that had been on broadcast television to cable. In recent years, ESPN has moved the Bowl Championship Series and its cousin, the College Football Playoff, Wimbleon and the Open Championship to its platforms. And in the next NFL TV contract beginning in 2014, it's expected that ESPN will get at least one Wild Card Playoff game.
In a conference call with tennis and media reporters, officials from the United States Tennis Association were asked if they felt moving to ESPN and a potentially smaller audience would hurt the Open. However, the USTA and ESPN President John Skipper noted how the audiences for cable are matching and in some cases surpassing the broadcast networks. And while it wasn't stated, ESPN is hoping that obtaining more championship events will prevent cable subscribers from cutting the cord.
Skipper was asked about the Family's college football commitments in September which would conflict with the U.S. Open and he assured the room that tennis will be aired on one of the major ESPN channels.
As for the possibility of a rainout that could push the U.S. Open men's final to Monday possibly going opposite Monday Night Football as it has the last five years, again Skipper assured that all contingencies have been thought of and there won't be any conflicts. We shall see.
And don't feel sorry for CBS as it loses one of its signature events next year. In 2015 look for the Tiffany Network to replace tennis with SEC football on the two Saturdays it would have aired the U.S. Open and more NFL games on the Sunday of the men's final. With reduced ratings for the U.S. Open in recent years, CBS will make due with increased numbers for football.