Behind ESPN’s new Wimbledon deal

Novak Djokovic

If you want to watch Wimbledon’s key moments from your Stateside location live as they happen, starting in 2012, you can.

In a 12-year agreement with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, ESPN has landed the exclusive United States television rights to Wimbledon.

For the first time, ESPN will air both the Ladies and Gentlemen’s Singles Finals live, with re-airings available later in the day on ABC.

ESPN also will provide expanded Round of 16 coverage, with ESPN and ESPN2 airing live play in that segment Monday-Wednesday. Through 2023, ESPN’s schedule will include more than 140 hours of coverage, with ESPN3.com’s scheduled expanding to 750 hours.

John Wildhack, ESPN’s Executive Vice President, Programming & Acquisitions, explains why landing rights to present Wimbledon from start to finish was important for the company.

FR: How much did ESPN’s ability to offer live wire-to-wire coverage factor into winning this rights bid?

Wildhack: It’s very, very important. The core of our presentation and offer to The Club was that we’d take the tradition of Wimbledon and marry with the innovation that ESPN can bring. The cornerstone of that was delivering all the matches live and provide service to the tennis fan here in the states.

FR: What factor does ABC play in this?

Wildhack: The middle Sunday of Wimbledon there’s no play. It’s unique, the only Grand Slam whose middle Sunday has no play. So we’ll do a three-hour highlight show which recaps the first week of Wimbledon from 3-6 p.m. Eastern Time. That’s also going to help promote Week 2 of Wimbledon. Monday at Wimbledon is probably — and I’m not a tennis expert, but I’ve learned — is probably the best day of Grand Slam tennis. You’ve got the Round of 16 in both men’s and women’s tennis. You’ve got all the world’s best on the stage on the same day. So ABC will help tee that up. Then, for both the Ladies’ Finals and the Gentlemen’s Finals, we’ll have an encore presentation on ABC on Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, respectively.

FR: How important are ESPN’s advances in mobile coverage to covering Wimbledon?

Wildhack: I think it’s very important, because one of the things we’ve emphasized with the club and one of the things they’ve told us is that they want to develop their next generation of fans. We’ve been very aggressive [with Wimbledon] in the digital space with ESPN3.com and in the mobile space, as well. Our leadership position in both those areas was very important to the club as they look cultivate their next generation of fans.

FR: Is the lack of consistent American standouts on both men’s and women’s sides in recent years a concern for ESPN?

Wildhack: I would certainly hope over the next 12 years US tennis can develop on both the women’s and men’s sides, some top 10 and consistent top 5 talent. That would certainly be good. At the same time, Wimbledon is such a great brand. The Wimbledon brand itself really transcends the sport. It’s not solely dependent on ‘we need an American in the finals or the semifinals.’ Look at [Roger] Federer, [Rafael] Nadal on the men’s side, [Maria] Sharapova on the women’s side. There are foreign players who really are international stars. That will drive the game going forward. Hopefully, Americans will be able to compete and compete at a very high level.

FR: What does this acquisition mean for ESPN employees?

Wildhack: There’s opportunities here, because of the broad grant of rights that we have especially if you work in the mobile space, if you work at ESPN.com, if you work at ESPN3.com. We have rights in Latin America, rights to Canada. It can really impact people in terms of how we create that content, deliver that content, and create as much value for us and for the company that we can. I think when you have a world-class event such as Wimbledon, and we’re the exclusive telecaster of it not only here in the States but also up in Canada and in Latin America, it provides great opportunity to use our technology, to use our leadership position, and deliver superior offerings to our fans..

FR: How much of a presence will ESPN 3D have at Wimbledon over the next few years?

Wildhack: We did the Finals on tape delay in 3D. The Club’s interested in the technology and again, I think our leadership position there can be a driver. I would think 3D as we go forward, there will be a significant component of Wimbledon that we’ll do in 3D.

FR: What are your favorite aspects of Wimbledon?

Wildhack: I love the tradition of Wimbledon, I love the venue, the grass, the players in the all white. I love the tradition, and I love the innovation that our company can bring to that tradition. I look forward to what we can accomplish over the next 12 years with this great property. I think it will be a great and rewarding experience.

FR: How’s your tennis game?

Wildhack: Not good. I’m not a tennis player, I’m more of a golfer. But the athleticism, the commitment that the players have, it’s remarkable what they go through.

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