Sports Business Daily reports ESPN is close to acquiring all coverage rights for the U.S. Open beginning in 2015, moving the tournament coverage exclusively to cable. CBS has owned some portion of the coverage rights since 1968.
ESPN’s pitch to the USTA was of a Wimbledon-style deal, where ESPN picks up rights to the entire tournament, bringing another major sports championship to cable. ESPN has a lot of college football commitments in the fall, but has committed to carry the semis and finals on ESPN. Their plan includes TV Everywhere rights, which allow it to stream live matches to authenticated users.
As Sports Business Daily reports, CBS has struggled in its coverage of the tournament’s final weekend. Rain pushed the men’s final to Monday the last five years, forcing CBS to scramble its schedule for a programing window that often went up against the opening night of the NFL’s Monday Night Football. With the extended length of the men’s finals in recent years, the coverage often bounced around from CBS to ESPN2, even to ESPN Classic.
The USTA announced in December that it would do away with the traditional (and CBS-driven) “Super Saturday” format that saw both men’s semifinals and the women’s final played on Saturday and the men’s final on Sunday. Starting this year, both the men and women will have a day off between the semifinals and finals, with the women’s final moved to Sunday and the men’s final on Monday. The schedule change is not permanent. Should the ESPN deal go through, expect the schedule to revert to a Sunday men’s final. The network won’t want a Monday final to run up against its own Monday Night Football franchise.