Advantage, ESPN: Comcast loses Wimbledon rights

Posted: July 06, 2011

Rafael Nadal, the hard-hitting Spaniard, wasn't the only one to lose at Wimbledon on Sunday.

Comcast/NBCU was aced for the rights to the most prestigious tennis championship for the next 12 years, losing out to cable sports giant ESPN.

The deal ends NBC's 43-year history broadcasting Wimbledon from the grass courts of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and consolidates the broadcast-TV and cable-TV rights under one organization - ESPN, which will carry the men's and women's matches. Terms were not disclosed.

It's the second time in the last two months that the nation's largest media companies - Comcast Corp. and the Walt Disney Co., corporate parent of ESPN - bid against each other for big-name sports rights. Comcast/NBCU beat ESPN and Fox Sports last month for the Olympic Games in a blockbuster $4.4 billion deal that allows Comcast/NBCU to carry the Games through 2020.

The Wimbledon deal was comparatively small potatoes. In the previous contract, in 2007, NBC Sports reportedly paid $12 million a year for broadcast-TV rights for Wimbledon matches.

"We are proud of our 43-year partnership with the All England Club and while we would have liked to continue the relationship, we were simply outbid," NBC Sports spokesman Adam Freifeld said in a statement Tuesday.

ESPN was happy with the outcome. President George Bodenheimer said, "Over the next 12 years, we'll work closely together to move coverage of this great event forward with live coverage on television and using all the latest technologies and screens."

ESPN will provide coverage on its flagship cable station, in addition to carrying competitions on ESPN2, ABC, and ESPN3.com, the company said. ESPN said it would expand overall coverage of the matches, and show them live.

The new deal could be good for U.S. tennis fans, who have had to switch between NBC and ESPN to find tennis matches at certain hours of the day. That's because NBC held the broadcast-TV rights while ESPN held the cable-TV rights.

NBC certainly "didn't want to give it up," Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports and now a TV consultant, said. "But ESPN had a combination of cash and a scheduling advantage that made the difference."

There had been concerns, Pilson said, that NBC had to schedule the tennis matches around news or daytime shows, while ESPN wouldn't be similarly restricted.


Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com.

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