Grass not greener for tennis team

NBC, Wimbledon extend pact through at least 2011

NBC Sports said Thursday that it has reached an extended deal to keep the Wimbledon championships on its air for at least four more years.

Financial terms were not announced between NBC Sports and the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club. The agreement covers TV broadcast rights, which include the men's and women's finals, as well as digital media rights like sharing online coverage with ESPN and Wimbledon.

"The digital rights will be similar to what we have now, and the intention is to broadcast what we're broadcasting now," NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer said from the U.K.

NBC is wrapping up its 39th year of coverage of Wimbledon, marking the sports division's longest partnership ever. NBC will have 37 hours of coverage this year including the scheduled "Breakfast at Wimbledon" women's and men's finals Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

"This is the premiere tennis event in the world and, as a divisional strategy, we like to hold the premiere properties in the sports in which we're involved," Schanzer said.

Rain is a constant threat at Wimbledon, and the weather has delayed matches this year with the most storms since 1982. It could be a problem for NBC Sports if Wimbledon is unable to complete another round, causing the men's final to be played on Monday instead of Sunday. That would adversely affect NBC's ratings.

That could change — at least for the semifinals and beyond — in 2009 when a retractable roof is planned for Center Court. But this year, it has meant that ESPN2 and ESPN360.com coverage was scheduled to start an hour early today and run from 6 a.m.-noon EST.

ESPN's current deal with the All England club began in 2003 and expires Sunday. ESPN senior vp programming strategy Len DeLuca said he is confident the network would be able to reach agreement with the club.

"The key is an expansion of rights that we are working on," DeLuca said from London.
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