July 05, 2011 9:03am PT by Marisa Guthrie
ESPN Finalizes 12-Year Deal for Wimbledon Rights
ESPN has finalized a comprehensive 12-year deal for the rights to Wimbledon beginning with next year’s tournament, the company announced Tuesday.
ESPN will air the event live on ESPN and ESPN2 while ABC will air a re-run of the finals on the same day. While NBC broadcast the finals live for the last 33 years, ESPN's coverage plan makes all matches available live on U.S. television. The lack of live coverage had become a point of criticism aimed at NBC Sports, which had the U.S. broadcast rights to Wimbledon for 43 years but aired some matches on a tape-delay so as not to pre-empt morning programming including NBC News’ Today show.
ESPN and ESPN2 will carry expanded coverage of the Round of 16 and live telecasts of all quarterfinals. ESPN will carry the semifinals and finals live. And ABC will have a three-hour highlight show on the “middle Sunday” of the tournament and will re-air the finals on the same day at 3 p.m. ET.
ESPN already had the rights to early-round games through 2013, which will be incorporated into the new deal. NBC’s four-year, $13 million Wimbledon agreement expired Sunday after the 2011 tournament ended.
“We are delighted to be extending our partnership with ESPN, in a move which will consolidate our U.S. media rights under the auspices of a single partner,” Ian Ritchie, chief executive of The All England Lawn Tennis Club, said in a statement. “This new agreement will bring increased live coverage of The Championships and ensure that the huge international audience for Wimbledon can now enjoy all the drama and colour of the Fortnight through a sustained narrative delivered with clarity, continuity and consistency across a wide range of platforms.”
George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, added: "We are proud to have been a partner of The All England Club the past nine years and are thrilled to be given continuing responsibility for honoring Wimbledon’s rich tradition. Over the next 12 years, we'll work closely together to move coverage of this great event forward with live coverage on television and using all the latest technologies and screens."
The deal was a priority for ESPN, which recently lost an Olympic bid to NBC Sports.
"We are proud of our 43-year partnership with the All England Club and while we would have liked to have continued our relationship, we were simply outbid," NBC said in a statement last week.
The Olympic deal paves the way for the rebranding of Versus, the cable sports network that became part of NBC Sports when Comcast took a controlling stake in NBC Universal. Wimbledon would have given Versus another marquee event to use as leverage with distributors.
Cable rights for the broadcast deal were not up until after the 2013 tournament and sources say that NBC Sports’ bid included live coverage of all Wimbledon matches beginning in 2014, when the new cable agreement kicks in.
U.S. television ratings for Wimbledon finals have trended down in the years since Serena and Venus Williams dominated Grand Slam tournaments. And an American man hasn’t made an appearance in the finals since Andy Roddick was defeated by Roger Federer in 2009.