In going for an ace, the USTA may end up with a double fault.
Rights for the U.S. Open are up for grabs, and while previous indications were that ESPN would very likely be involved in acquiring rights to the Grand Slam, it may be a far less visible and mainstream outlet televising one of tennis’ biggest events.
Versus and The Tennis Channel are “the most serious bidders so far” for U.S. Open cable rights, according to Daniel Kaplan and John Ourand of The Sports Business Journal. While ESPN and the USTA have had talks regarding having the ubiquitous sports network televise the event, sources cited by Kaplan and Ourand “describe [ESPN and the USTA] as being so far apart on price that a deal does not look likely.”
USA Network, which dropped The Masters earlier this year, is not expected to “make a significant bid for the U.S. Open, though the channel is in the mix.” Meanwhile, Turner, whose TNT and CNNSI televised Wimbledon for a short period earlier this decade, has expressed no interest in airing the Open.
With Versus and The Tennis Channel looking like the favorites to televise the U.S. Open starting in 2009, the USTA could be looking at having its prime event air on a niche network. Having a marquee event like the U.S. Open air on Versus would do more to reduce the stature of the Open than boost the stature of Versus. While the network formerly known as OLN has the rights to college football and NHL telecasts (including two Stanley Cup Finals games), there is still a stigma associated with the network — almost as if the events the network televises were not good enough to make it to ESPN.
Fallacious as this stigma may be, the USTA would be better served trying to bridge any negotiating gaps with ESPN so that the crown jewel of the American tennis season does not slip off the face of the earth.