Internet Video

ESPN Makes a Full-Course Meal Out of Wimbledon

6/25/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

ESPN is all in with the
All England Lawn Tennis and
Croquet Club.

Signaling a new era for U.S.
television coverage of tennis’
most prestigious event, the worldwide
leader and its various vehicles
will be, for the first time, the
exclusive U.S. home for all live
coverage of the action from the
2012 Wimbledon tournament .

In what will be its 10th year
at the Big W, and the first under
a new 12-year agreement,
ESPN2 and ESPN will present
some 140 hours of live, highdefinition grass-court fare. Included
in that are the jewels of
The Championships: the ladies
and gentlemen’s semifinals and
finals matches, which previously aired on NBC and are
expected to deliver significant ratings.

ACED FROM NBC

Last July, in another example of marquee sports properties
migrating to cable from broadcast, ESPN wrested Wimbledon
rights from NBC in a deal worth a reported
$480 million or more. At that level, the deal represents
a 74% increase over the combined $23 million
— $13 million for NBC, $10 million for ESPN
— under the former arrangement.

The new deal, superseding the final two years of
ESPN’s previous Wimbledon
contract, ended
the Peacock’s 43-year
run with the All England
Club, while also
effect ively keeping
national cable sports
service NBC Sports
Network off the court.

NBC — which had made
“Breakfast at Wimbledon,” the
women’s and men’s finals at
9 a.m., a summer staple since
1979 — had hoped to extend
its network contract, which expired
with the 2011 tourney, for
two more years, and then bring
NBC Sports Network to the net
with weekday coverage.

The plan called for full live TV
— NBC was criticized for showing
key matches on tape delay, in
deference to the profitability of
Today — and streaming coverage,
beginning with the 2014 fortnight.

Pounds and pence aside
(NBC said at the time it was
“simply outbid”), the All England
Club pointed to “a single
narrative voice” in selecting
the sports programming giant.

Under the new contract that
extends to 2023, ESPN and
ESPN2 will proffer 140 hours of
live coverage, up from 100 under
the old agreement.

Broadband channel ESPN3 will
increase its schedule to more than
800 hours (up from 650 hours
last year) with a multiscreen offering
— up to nine courts presented
from first ball to last ball
each day — available along with
ESPN and ESPN2’s action on the
WatchESPN app. The broadband service will also offer
match replays on demand.

ABC will show highlights on the tournament’s off day,
the middle Sunday, and encores of both singles finals.

MORE ON 3DTV

Three-dimensional coverage also will rise. Last year, ESPN
3D aired one match live and others on delay. This time
around, the enhanced network’s live coverage begins with
the men’s quarters on July 4 and continues through the finals, with each day’s telecast encoring that night at 9 p.m.

ESPN’s Wimbledon ratings have mostly been steady
through the years, averaging around a 0.5 rating with the
morning and daytime coverage.

Last year, the rating held at that level, but household impressions
grew 13% to 526,784 from 464,455 in 2010 and
11% among viewers to 586,306 from 528,697.

Those figures should bounce higher over the Nielsen
net, with ESPN televising the semifinals and finals for both
genders for the first time. (Perhaps adding insult to NBC’s
injury, those matches will be preceded by one-hour preview
shows titled Breakfast at Wimbledon.)

On July 2 from Centre Court, ESPN will join ESPN2 in
providing concurrent presentations of what is considered
the greatest day in tennis: round-of-16 action from both
genders.

The women’s quarterfinal matches follow on July 3 and
the men’s equivalent will air on the Fourth of July.

An ESPN spokesman answered a question about potential
second-weeks ratings uptick with this return: “Along
with the All England Club, we’re very excited to bring to
fans during week two an unprecedented amount of live
tennis all day long on whatever screen suits you best. We
seek to crown champions on our network, and Wimbledon
is among the most precious titles in sports.”

September