Since 2008, Tennis Channel had shared the cable rights of the U.S. Open with ESPN2. For the first week, Tennis Channel would air the first match at Arthur Ashe Stadium then would air the matches on the outer courts as ESPN2 focused on Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums. It would also handle the night matches on the middle weekend. However, that comes to an end this year.
Mike Reynolds of Sports Video Group writes that Tennis Channel has elected not to pay a sublicense fee to maintain its live presence at the U.S. Open. Tennis Channel had been negotiating with ESPN since the Worldwide Leader snatched the full rights to the tournament in 2013 leaving long-time partner CBS in the dark.
Reynolds says instead Tennis Channel will have highlight rights and will air a wrap-up show scheduled for 11 p.m. ET or whenever the action on ESPN/ESPN2 has ended. This is similar to how Tennis Channel handles Wimbledon by airing highlights of matches that had aired on BBC. It means that Tennis Channel will focus on shoulder programming for the U.S. Open:
“Plans also call for expanding the daily preview show from one to three hours.
Solomon says, with that schedule, Tennis Channel will retain its position as a valuable US Open source for viewers and advertisers.”
Reynolds reports that Tennis Channel President Ken Solomon is citing “fiduciary responsibilities” as to why the network won’t continue airing live matches. What he’s really saying is that ESPN’s asking price for the rights to live matches was too high for the network. Instead, Solomon says Tennis Channel use the money for production on other tournaments such as Indian Wells and Miami, studio production and its online subscription over the top Tennis Channel Plus which streams live matches that aren’t aired on television.
Sources have told Awful Announcing that the network has been undergoing budget cuts which means that some on-air and behind-the-scenes personnel who went to Paris to cover the French Open in the past, were left behind this year. In addition, Tennis Channel has struggled to pick up major cable providers and on systems where it is available, the network has been stuck on sports tiers which aren’t as widely subscribed as basic packages.
Tennis Channel has used the U.S. Open for free preview weekends as a way of attracting more viewers, but now without the tournament on Labor Day Weekend, it’ll be tough to convince its current cable providers to open up the channel for a widespread audience.
It’s a big blow for Tennis Channel which was hoping to retain live matches from the U.S. Open. It remains the main U.S. cable rightsholder for the French Open and sublicenses live matches from ESPN for the Australian Open, but only has highlight rights for Wimbledon and now the U.S. Open.
So the U.S. Open will be an all-ESPN production starting in late August all the way through 2026. Unless ESPN puts some action on ABC which is highly unlikely, the U.S. Open will become an all-cable affair just like the Australian Open and Wimbledon.