French Open deal boosts cabler profile

The Tennis Channel, bent on harvesting more subscribers than its current 10 million, has engineered the biggest deal in its history, a nine-year contract for exclusive cable rights to the French Open.

“This deal for one of the top-tier sports events will help us to drive distribution of the network,” said chairman-CEO Ken Solomon, who negotiated the deal with Christian Bimes, president of the French Tennis Federation. The parties would not comment on the license fee.

Tennis Channel outbid ESPN2, which has held the exclusive non-broadcast rights to the French Open in the U.S. since 2002. New contract begins next year. NBC owns broadcast rights to the French Open, which is one of the four Grand Slam tournaments. (The others are Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.)

Like ESPN2, Tennis Channel has bought the rights to carry matches through streaming video on its Web site and via video-on-demand. Solomon said Tennis Channel could offer unlimited access to the matches on broadband and VOD for a one-time subscription fee that would cover the two weeks of the tournament, which takes place in Paris every May.

Tennis Channel has also bought French Open archival footage, highlighted by classic matches from past tournaments. Solomon said he’ll use this footage to create series and specials that could run at any time during the year.

During the two weeks of the tournament, Tennis Channel will be able to run far more that the 93 hours of live tennis ESPN2 carried this year.

With as much as 6,000 hours of matches, Solomon said Tennis Channel has negotiated the right to sublicense some of the French Open events to other U.S. media entities, even ESPN2.

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