ESPN has signed a 12-year deal for the exclusive live U.S.
television rights to the Wimbledon tennis championships starting in 2012, the
network announced Tuesday.
The agreement ends NBC Sports' 43-year tradition of carrying
the Wimbledon Singles Finals with the network's branded "Breakfast at
Wimbledon" weekend. NBC had come under fire in the past for its decision to air
many matches on tape delay.
A desire for live coverage, as well as wanting a single U.S.
network partner for the duration of the two-week tournament were both factors
in ESPN's winning bid for the Wimbledon's U.S. television rights, according to
Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Club.
"I'm sure tape delay has its place," Ritchie said on a media
conference call Tuesday. "But in my mind, live is preeminent." He acknowledged
that the All England Club had conversations with NBC about the issue of live
coverage in the past.
Under the new agreement, ESPN will air all of its Wimbledon
matches live on an array of platforms, including simultaneous live coverage on
ESPN and ESPN2 during the second week's Round of 16 and quarterfinals. ESPN
will carry the semifinals and finals.
ESPN will rebroadcast the finals on ABC (which is also owned
by The Walt Disney Company), but no matches will be shown live on broadcast
under the agreement. Instead, ABC will be used more to tease ESPN's Wimbledon
coverage, with a three-hour highlights show airing on the middle Sunday of the
"We think that's a great way to use the broadcast platform
to make people aware of" what's happened and what's coming up," said John
Skipper, ESPN executive VP of content. We value that, but we were always pretty
consistent that we were looking to get the championships of the Championships
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Ritchie went out
of his way to say that they looked carefully at all factors, not just financial
bids. "Money is only one [factor], but by no means the preeminent one," he said
on a media conference call Tuesday.
ESPN has been a nine-year partner of the All England Club,
airing approximately 100 hours of Wimbledon TV coverage annually, primarily on
weekdays, as well as 650 hours on ESPN3.com. Through 2023, ESPN will increase
its television schedule to more than 140 hours and 750 hours on ESPN3.com.
As for the on-air team that will cover Wimbledon, ESPN said
it is happy with its current talent but is always looking to supplement with
new additions, in reference to a question about John McEnroe, who lead coverage
for NBC and who already works with ESPN for its coverage of the U.S. Open. "We've
expressed to John before that we would love to expand our relationship with him
- but I'm not announcing anything," Skipper said.
News of the deal was first reported over the weekend by The Sports Business Journal.