In Depth

NBC, ESPN Close in on Wimbledon Renewals

Deals Net Tennis Tournament Rights Into Next Decade

NBC and ESPN are finalizing multiyear renewal deals with the All England Lawn Tennis Club to broadcast Wimbledon coverage.

The NBC deal, which takes effect next summer, is estimated to be worth $12 million to $13 million per year through 2011 and would mark 42 straight years the broadcast network will have presented tennis's crown jewel. The rights fees are on par with the network's previous agreement to carry the matches of one of the sport's four Grand Slam events.

ESPN also hopes soon to complete a new deal to televise Wimbledon into the next decade. Len DeLuca, the cable network's senior VP of programming and acquisitions, said the new deal is expected to include a more expansive set of digital rights that will increase the reach and breadth of its coverage.

Mr. DeLuca indicated that any increase in the TV rights fee will be fair because ratings have been lower due to the lack of charismatic American players advancing in tournaments.

The All England Club "has a real handle on where tennis is in the U.S. and internationally," he said.

Earlier in the year, the U.S. Open and CBS agreed to a new six-year deal worth about $145 million for broadcasting that Grand Slam tennis tournament, with that new agreement also set to run through 2011.

This year, which is the final outing under the previous contract, ESPN will provide U.S. tennis fans with its most extensive Wimbledon coverage ever, with more than 123 hours on ESPN2 and three channels on broadband service ESPN360.com. One of those channels will provide live coverage from Center Court, Court One or one of the outer courts. The second will simulcast ESPN2's live coverage and the third will offer press conferences live from the media center.

For NBC, the move follows its recent success with multiplatform launches for its sports products, including a hole-in-one with golf's U.S. Open, which saw ratings soar to their highest levels in five years with over 9.5 million people tuning in. As with the U.S. Open, matches, highlights and updates will be distributed not only through the broadcast channel, but through digital platforms as well, including mobile for the first time.

ESPN, which also carries matches from London, is supplementing the coverage with its own barrage of Wimbledon-themed programming through its channel and online.

The All England Lawn Tennis Club, as well as the Web sites for the two outlets, NBCSports.com and ESPN.com, announced last week that they would again team up with global online broadcaster MediaZone for the return of online video service Wimbledon LIVE. The service is designed to complement NBC Sports, ESPN and other international club broadcast partners by featuring live and on-demand coverage of many matches not covered on traditional outlets.

Growth Arena

Online webcasts of sports events have soared in revenue opportunities in recent years. The more successful of these endeavors, such as CBS' March Madness on Demand for the NCAA Basketball Tournament, generated about $9 million from about 30 online sponsors.

"With over 300 matches played over the fortnight, it's next to impossible to watch every match played throughout the tournament," said Ian Ritchie, executive director of the All England Club. "The beauty of Wimbledon LIVE is that tennis enthusiasts now watch the matches of their choice at their convenience as a result of MediaZone's live and video-on-demand features."

With an eye toward building on the success of last year's service, Wimbledon LIVE is designed to offer comprehensive live and on-demand coverage of the Wimbledon championship matches, including multicourt, full-match coverage, the entire 2006 archive, classic footage, player interviews and other behind-the-scenes extras. Subscribers can access the content through Wimbledon.org/live, NBCSports.com and ESPN.com.

"NBC Sports is committed to delivering the tradition and excitement of Wimbledon to our audience on all of our platforms," said Perkins Miller, senior VP of digital media for NBC.

Additionally, NBC will keep mobile users up-to-date with news delivered to phones via text messages and alerts as well as highlights at NBC Sports Mobile and NBC2Go.

On the broadcast side, the men's matches in particular have provided an uptick for NBC in recent years, despite the lack of Americans in the finals. Last year's championship featuring the sports' top two players, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, scored a 2.9 rating, up 16 percent from 2005. Most experts expect them to once again face off in the finals.

Women's matches had a more difficult time without American players in the finals. The 2006 championship pitting Amelie Mauresmo against Justine Henin-Hardenne earned a 2.2 score, down 45 percent from the Venus Williams/Lindsay Davenport final in 2005.

Advertising for the broadcast continues to hold strong, especially for the championship matches, with NBC earning between $50,000 and $100,000 per 30-second spot last year, according to analysts, resulting in earnings of $7.5 million for the women's championship and $9 million for the longer men's finals. ESPN, meanwhile, is said to be charging about half that amount for its coverage of the championships.

Jon Lafayette contributed to this story.

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