Sports web begins play May 15

NEW YORK — After a couple of false starts since its first press release in August 2001, the Tennis Channel will launch May 15 to about 3 million subscribers as a 24-hour cable network.

The network is still on target to spend about $70 million over the next three years on programming, marketing, affiliate sales and ad sales, tied to a business plan that calls for profits to start filling Tennis Channel’s coffers in year four.

Like most cable networks, Tennis Channel, based in Los Angeles, will fish in two revenue streams: ad dollars from Madison Avenue and license fees from cable operators and satellite distributors.

The channel’s rate card calls for a license fee that starts at about 15ยข a month for each subscriber to the digital sports tier where most distributors are likely to place it. Depending on how quickly the operator is willing to roll out the network, Tennis Channel will offer free carriage for a year or two or cash payments as part of what the industry calls a “launch budget.”

Tennis Channel has deals with three cable operators: Time Warner Cable (a 15-year license term), Cox Communications (12 years) and the National Cable TV Co-op (nine years). The network doesn’t rule out offering equity stakes to cable operators in exchange for carriage, but none of the three deals involves an ownership position.

The private investors consist mainly of former Viacom executives. The lead bankrollers are Terry Elkes and Ken Gorman of Apollo Partners and Philippe Dauman and Tom Dooley of DND Capital Partners.

Other equity participants are Frank Biondi’s Waterview Advisors, Ed and Debbie Horowitz’s EDS Link, Bain Capital Ventures, Columbia Capital, JP Morgan Partners and IMG. Tennis stars Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi are also investors.

Steve Bauman, founder-prexy of Tennis Channel, said the network will kick off with a 19-day free preview beginning April 26. On its May 15 official launch, the network will offer live coverage of the Tennis Masters Series Hamburg championship from Germany.

Bruce Rider, executive VP of programming and marketing for Tennis Channel, said the network has scheduled two half-hour original series: “No Strings,” a behind-the-scenes look at professional players, and “Center Court With Chris Myers,” featuring one-on-one interviews with tennis personalities.

“We’ve also remastered and re-edited classic matches,” said Dave Meister, chairman-CEO of Tennis Channel.

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