Earlier today, ESPN officials held a media conference call announcing its obtaining of the US media rights to Wimbledon. Also in attendance were officials from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Notice in this press release about the stressing of live tennis coverage starting next year and for the next 11 years after that. While the All England Club was appreciative of its relationship with NBC, you can tell that it heard the complaints about the network’s tape delays and finally decided to do something about it.
Tennis fans will be elated with increased opportunities to watch live matches especially during the second week of coverage. No longer will fans have to resort to finding matches online at backdoor websites. Plenty of opportunities to watch live tennis both on TV and online. This is a long press release. Get ready to scroll. Check it out.
Today, ESPN announced an extension and expansion of rights for the Championships, Wimbledon — including exclusive live television rights — in a 12-year agreement with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. A conference call for media was held with Ian Ritchie, chief executive of the All England Club, Mick Desmond, the commercial director, ESPN executive vice president, content, John Skipper, and John Wildhack, executive vice president, programming and acquisitions. This press release has all the details.
Below are highlights from the call.
IAN RITCHIE: Hello, everybody, good afternoon. Delighted to be able to talk to you. Just to say we’re obviously extremely pleased and delighted by this new deal for an you unprecedented 12 years as far as the Club’s concerned. I think one of the key things for us to look at has been how we partner with people around the world, and we’ve had the pleasure of a nine?year partnership already with ESPN, so we very much know the organization and how they represent the Championships in the USA in particular. We felt it was very important to have a single narrative across the two weeks of the Championship, and we believed that we’ve achieved that by this deal. If you couple that with the production strength, and promotional strengths, particularly across a multi?platform delivery as we have with ESPN, we believe that the story of the Championships will reach the maximum number of people. I think important for us as well has been the essential nature of live coverage. We want to see as many games live on TV as we can manage, and we think that again gets across the message of the Championship. We want to reach as many people as possible in the USA. I think it was very interesting with Novak Djokovic when he won, talked about how when he was four he watched Wimbledon on TV in Serbia. And we want to reach as big an audience as possible of young people, committed fans, and newcomers across as many platforms as possible, and we believe this arrangement meets all of those criteria.
One final thing from me in the introductory remarks, the Club as a whole has always looked at tradition as well as innovation. We also look very carefully at all factors, not just money. This has been a deal that’s born great account to all the factors that I’ve just talked about, of which, money is only one, but by no means is the preeminent one. So just to conclude my opening comments, we’re absolutely delighted by this deal, and we look forward to a fantastic partnership over the next 12 years.
JOHN SKIPPER: Thank you, Ian. We’re thrilled to have reached an agreement with the Club on an unprecedented, long?term, all?in deal. We understand the great honor and privilege we have to have the responsibility to work with the Club to present the Championships in the United States. We have learned over the last nine years the sort of beautiful combination that the Club has of a real tradition and innovation. They sort of manage to do both, which is to honor ?? this is the 125th Championship this year. I refer to them sometimes as sneakily innovative. Because while having the reputation of strawberries and cream and at the Championships they have also put a roof on the stadium. They’ve introduced games on mobile platforms. The Club has been terrific with working with us on innovative production. We did 3D this year for the first time, and we look forward to continuing that tradition.
We look forward to introducing tennis to new generations of fans in the United States, across all of our platforms. I am particularly thrilled that we’re able to conclude this over 4th of July weekend. I feel pretty confident we’re ushering in a new era of Anglo?American harmony that hopefully our governments will follow. That’s a joke (laughing). But we’ll be happy to answer ?? well, between Ian and we have a model of Anglo?American harmony, and Ian and I will be happy to answer any questions that you might have.
Q. Ian, you talked about wanting to have the entire tournament in the same place. Did you see any evidence where viewers were confused? Did you think you were confusing viewers a little bit by bouncing around to different places?
IAN RITCHIE: I think we definitely felt that we wanted very positively to bring it together into one arena. And I think for the points you mentioned. I think if you have two separate organizations telling the story, inevitably there is a danger of it being confused. You want some consistency to it. You want to bring a combined and coherent promotional package to it as well. In the process that we’ve undergone in the last few weeks and months, we made it clear to our existing partners NBC and ESPN and to others, that we saw advantages of a coherent single partnership. And we made that clear that that was really one of our objectives right from the start. Yes, you’re right. We seek to improve how the Championships is seen in the USA, and we believe this arrangement on the principles that I just talked about, helps to achieve that.
Q. Mr. Ritchie, I’m curious, because I don’t think I’ve heard your voice or an All England Club voice talking about how you feel about NBC tape delays ?? their past practice of tape delaying things up to the semifinals or tape delay by time zones, where something is live 9:00 in the east and on tape delay in other regions. How do you feel about the fact that they wouldn’t have changed this until 2014 had they gotten the deal?
IAN RITCHIE: Well, I’m sure tape delay has its place. You look at this when you’re analyzing the ratings too. But certainly in my mind live is preeminent, and live is the nature of the game now on sports around the world not just for tennis, but for other ones as well. Certainly a factor we looked at in the new deal in the future was very much can we put live out. As John was saying earlier, we have a fantastic amount of matches here beyond the Centre Court. Quite often we look at very small proportions of the matches being shown, and that’s why, again, it’s helpful to have multiple platforms. So I think, sure, there is a place for time delay. Sure there is a place for highlights. But there is no question with the sports viewer nowadays wants to see things live. Therefore, as far as we’re concerned, undoubtedly one of the advantages with this arrangement was to increase the amount of live coverage of Wimbledon. That is definitely a positive.
Q. Can you say whether you’ve tried to persuade NBC to change its tape delay policy?
IAN RITCHIE: I don’t want to talk about the past. I’m more interested in talking about the future here. We’ve had a great partnership for over 43 years with NBC, and they know how the broadcasting works. But, yes, of course we’ve had conversations about this issue. And I think you understand from my comments that we believe live is very important.
JOHN SKIPPER: And we did at the request of the Club, we did present a programming schedule for the two weeks that maximized the matches that we could show across all of our platforms and live. You’ll see particularly as we go into the second week of the tournament, we’ll basically be live on ESPN1 and 2 for the principle length of the play throughout the second week of the tournament, with simultaneous live matches on both of those networks as well as matches from as many as ten courts live on ESPN3.Com. We already had this year 650 hours live of matches on ESPN3.Com, which is a network which provides us with a real advantage at showing fans as many live matches as possible with as broad a selection of different players from different nationalities as possible. We’ll continue to increase the amount we show on that. I don’t know if I can confirm it yet. But we’re getting dangerously close to 1,000 hours of live tennis during the two weeks.
Q. Will there be a lot more hours on television next year? Also, are there any other sort of changes you have in the production?
JOHN SKIPPER: There will be more hours on television. We can get you, Michael, the guys can get you very close to exact numbers. Because clearly it will change depending on length of matches next year the exact number of hours we’re planning. But yes is the answer. We will have more live matches on television next year, and we’ll supplement that with more matches on mobile and internet platforms. The production, we continue to want to innovate and do new things that you’ll see us doing more 3D with the Club. I think you’ll look for us to continue to find interesting, graphic ways to show shot trajectories and speeds. We’re very happy with our current talent, and while we’re always looking to supplement and add things, this year we were able to add Chris Evert who I thought was just spectacular for us. We were thrilled with her performance. We’re always looking, if we can add talent of that caliber and level of expertise, we will, but we don’t have right now specific plans.
Q. If I could follow up on John McEnroe. Would you be interested in him?
JOHN SKIPPER: We already work with John on the US Open, and we’ve expressed to John before that we would love to expand our relationship with him. But I’m not announcing anything. But we think John McEnroe‘s very strong on this. We’d love to have him at the US Open, and we’d love to continue to talk to him.
Q. I’ll ask the money question. I know Mr. Ritchie said it wasn’t the driving factor. I heard earlier today a figure in the neighborhood millions for the broadcasting cable in its entirety. Can you comment on that or offer any guidance, and then just one quick follow?up for Mr. Skipper?
IAN RITCHIE: It’s Ian here if I can deal with that. One of the beauties of being a private member’s club is we never discuss the commercial nature of the deal. So I’m sorry I can’t confirm or deny. Certainly as far as we’re concerned, we would not normally discuss the value of the deal. But just to say, clearly it is a significant one, and it’s over 12 years, and it’s one we’re very happy with.
Q. In terms of ?? I understand NBC really wanted this. They also had a plan to put things on Versus and go live in a couple of years which maybe wasn’t fast enough for Wimbledon. But how important was this for you guys, even symbolically to take the corners of NBC Sports coverage all these years, especially when there is a lot of talk about them wanting to build Versus up to be something of a competitor to ESPN? Obviously they’re starting way behind, but is it as much a symbolic thing for you guys as well as just a good property to have?
JOHN SKIPPER: It’s a great property to have. We’ve been in business with the Club for nine years. We’ve loved that association. It’s been great programming for ESPN. We are always excited about being able to acquire the highest world quality championship products. You know, over the last few years we have looked to crown champions on ESPN, and this was a unique opportunity when the Club came to us to talk about a single narrative and a single partner. Regardless who the competitors would have been, that’s the nature of the opportunity here. We didn’t have to spend any time thinking about what it would do or not do to somebody else. We knew that NBC valued and had done a terrific job for 43 years. But for us it was a unique opportunity to improve our offering at ESPN.
Q. Ian, are you concerned at all about taking live matches off of broadcast TV and putting them on to (cable)? And John, how much did you consider putting live matches on ABC? Was that part of these considerations at all?
IAN RITCHIE: I think in terms of coverage, we’re looking at the totality here, and looking at the growth of the numbers that appear on the broadcast outlets as well as the coverage that it has digitally, and how we see that and look at that as well over the next 12 years of this deal. We feel extremely comfortable that we’ll look at a growth level in terms of the number of people watching Wimbledon, and reaching the sorts of demographics as well that we want to reach. So certainly, as I say, we feel very happy with that and see that we believe in totality. We’ll be looking at more people watching more tennis across the USA. If I may just say one thing as well, we felt over the last nine years that as far as the Club’s concerned, we believe and feel that ESPN gets that sort of tradition and innovation mixture that we are always looking at; therefore, will promote as well these activities and the Club and the Championships in the best possible way.
JOHN SKIPPER: From our point of view, we value very much our opportunities to put ESPN on ABC, and we’ll take advantage of that. Our intention is to re?air both the men’s and the women’s final on ABC, but it will be a re?air. And we will do on the middle Sunday, which is a day of rest. We will do a three?hour special on ABC which will basically recap the first week and set up the up the second week. We think that’s a great way to use the broadcast platform to make people aware of what’s happened and what’s coming up. So we value that, but Ian will tell you, we were always pretty consistent that we were looking to get the Championships of the Championships on ESPN here.
DAVE NAGLE: I’ll point out those ABC re?airs of the finals are at 3 p.m. Eastern time of the day they occur.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about the mobile coverage plans that you have with this deal? Will anything be exclusive on your mobile platforms?
JOHN SKIPPER: Our principle use of mobile will be for our Watch ESPN applications, which is the ability of all of our fans to get the ESPN linear networks on internet and mobile, but it’s the 24/7 linear networks. Most of the mobile viewing will happen on the linear network through mobile platform. As you guys know, that usage is becoming increasingly important to us. We’ll of course have mobile applications for getting scores, for seeing highlights, that will be exclusively mobile. But my guess is that most of the mobile viewing will be the nature of when these matches occur. Many of them being early morning in the U.S. or the work hours in the U.S. Lots of people will take advantage to watch the linear networks on a mobile device.
Q. Obviously NBC is ramping up Versus right now. Do you feel there are any other properties out there right now you have your eyes on? Do you feel you’re in an arm’s race with Versus as NBC tries to ramp them up as well?
JOHN SKIPPER: Look, the next rights negotiation I get to do no with no other bidders will be the first. We have had competitions always for rights to major sporting events. We are cognizant of the fact that NBC Comcast is a formidable competitor and will be at the table, and has been at the table over the last six or eight months for rights. But we also expect to see some of our other long?term competitors at the table. We respect what they do. We’re cognizant that they’re there and they’re formidable. But it doesn’t really change the nature of what we do. You know, the value of live events is very important. I think we’ve realized that and tried to assemble over the past few years a portfolio of rights that was unprecedented. We have every intention to continue to increase rights where we have the opportunity to get great events like the Championships at Wimbledon.
Q. The last few years the American presence at Wimbledon in the later rounds has been decreasing year after year. Is that a concern going forward at all? That the American interest in tennis may be waning a little bit because there have been fewer and fewer American players?
JOHN SKIPPER: Ian, I’m going to jump in first, and tell me if you have any different point of view. We are not ?? it would be wonderful if a great American men’s player emerged sometimes during this 12 years. Of course, we do believe that at some point during the 12 years you’ll have lots of Americans to be competitive. But we love what’s happening right now. You have some of the greatest players in the history of the game in Nadal and Djokovic and Federer, we hope Murray and some of the other guys continue. So it did not trouble us during these discussions that there is not a Top 5 American men’s player. Of course we have to prepare ?? we hope the Williams sisters who have been dominant and spectacular in the last six, seven, eight years. We hope we’ll see them for the next three or four years. But, again, we didn’t make this bid predicated upon players being from the U.S.
Q. To follow up on that, do you ever see a time back in the ’70s, and ’80s, when it was McEnroe and all those great American players, Connors and those type of people, do you ever see a renaissance of that again or do you think those days are over?
JOHN SKIPPER: Well, once again, what you have now is a replica of that; they just aren’t from America. The McEnroe?Borg, Connors?Gerulaitis, the four guys you’ve got now kind of have the same thing going in a way, right? You’ve got the precision of Federer and the precision of Borg. You’ve got the emotion of Murray and the emotion of Connors. The street fighter of Nadal. You’ve got now guys as good as you had then in as fierce a rivalry and as dominant, they just aren’t American. It’s impossible to predict where the next guys will come from.
IAN RITCHIE: I think we feel that it transcends nationality. You have to say that. We’ve not had a British winner since Fred Perry. So certainly the British feel you can support many other international players as well. As far as Wimbledon’s concerned, it’s an event. It’s the tennis event as well, but it’s also become slightly more than only tennis. I think in the same way as far as we understand it talking to people around the world, people become almost less partial. They’re just as capable of supporting any nationality as long as they’re seeing great players. The one thing that is guaranteed is they’ll see great players performing at their best.
Q. Following on the whole mobile discussion, how important are linear television ratings? Because clearly NBC’s coverage of the finals, the ratings have trended down. Have you looked at that and what you attribute that to? What are your expectations for the ratings for the matches on ESPN?
JOHN SKIPPER: I’ll echo something which Ian said before relative to how he thinks about this, because it is exactly the way we think about it. We are interested in the totality of the audience. We, like everybody else, get excited when we can aggregate a large audience for a single three?hour match. And we will do everything we can and we believe we’ll be able to increase ratings, as we have on a number of properties we manage, by sort of having a single narrative, having all the platforms we have, having all the promotional power we have to get people to a single three?hour match. But we are much more interested in what we can aggregate around a thousand hours, and what the total audience ?? and hopefully that’s what advertisers care about and rights holders care about. What are the total number of people you can deliver to us over a large body of matches and hours? And I have no doubt that the overall audience and total audience will go up over time. That’s what we care about. It’s a little bit ?? it’s becoming a little anachronistic just to look at what the three?hour television audience was. You probably know. I mean, last year on the World Cup, everybody looks at the television rating compared to what it had done before. We were fortunate it was up close to 50%. But the greater increase was the audience on mobile and internet devices, which is usually not included as part of the apples to apples comparison. We’re pretty confident that more people will watch the final next year. Whether more people will watch the final next year on television, I’m less confident of. It doesn’t matter to me.
Q. I understand that. I guess the reason that we kind of focus on the anachronistic linear television ratings is that is what brings in the proportionally the most advertising dollars.
JOHN SKIPPER: Correct. Also, the rating services have struggled to ?? and by the way, they’re working very hard to do it, but it’s a struggle to measure. They have a measurement method that’s worked for a long time. They’re trying to figure out, Nielsen and others are trying to figure out how to capture the overall audience across more platforms. It’s not only where the highest number of dollars are but also what they can capture. We don’t have any choice. It’s hard. Otherwise you’re saying, Geez, if you take this score and this research and add this together and compare it, it becomes incomprehensible. But it will catch up. The measurement will catch up and we’ll have a way to look at the total audience, and I believe it will be up.
IAN RITCHIE: I think what we said earlier, a single, coherent, promotional strategy across the two weeks is going to add, as well, to the number of eyeballs that really watch whatever medium is deployed to get them there. And we certainly have been in the last nine years very impressed with ESPN’s promotional strategy. I think applying that across the full two weeks, and we spent a chunk of time discussing the variety and the depth of the promotional strategy that ESPN will give to this, and I think that was, indeed, a very positive factor in helping us get to this decision.
Q. Ian, how challenging was it to turn away from such a long?time partner as NBC?
IAN RITCHIE: Oh, I think it was challenging. I think, yes, it was. Undoubtedly a factor that we weighed in the balance was the long?term association that the Club have had with NBC. It was not something that we turned away from lightly. We tried to conduct an extremely fair process across the parties that were interested in our proposition. And, as I say, we tried to weigh and did weigh all the factors. Not just simply ratings, not just simply digital activities and promotional and not just for money. You know, as far as I’m concerned, I think we gave everybody, I hope, a very clear opportunity to put their best foot forward. Have to say all of them did. Yes, we had a difficult decision to reach in terms of bearing all of those in mind. But we very clearly came to the view, as I said earlier, and we’re delighted with the conclusion that we’ve reached.
Q. What is your status with Tennis Channel right now?
IAN RITCHIE: We’ve still got some conversations to have with them. Again, they’ve been a very good partner that we’ve dealt with over the last few years, and we would hope ?? and perhaps John can comment on this as well ?? we would hope to see if we can find a continuing arrangement withthem. But that’s still got a little bit of work to do.
JOHN SKIPPER: We have genuinely enjoyed working with Tennis Channel. We have arrangements with them on the US Open, Australian Open and French Open. We have indicated an interest. I met with Ken Solomon of the Tennis Channel while I was in London. We’ve indicated an interest to continue working with them. The continued success of the Tennis Channel is advantageous to us. The more people that watch tennis throughout the year helps build an audience for the big events, which is where we’re principally at. So we’ve generally found cooperating with the Tennis Channel to be in our self interest.
Q. My question is a Bristol question, which everyone has been on pins and needs to hear. John Skipper, congratulations on getting this deal. Could you please tell me what it will mean for the rank and file in Bristol? Are you going to be schlepping a bunch of people across the pond and having a lot of people working over there or can you give me a little flavor of what it means?
JOHN SKIPPER: The main thing it means is our folks are very, very proud at this arrangement. I’ve gotten lots and lots of congratulatory emails and attaboys in the hallway. Our guys take a great deal of pride in our association with world quality events. It won’t mean a significant difference in the contingent we take. We take a nice group over to London for a long encampment somewhere between two and three weeks, and they’re there for the duration of the tournament. We’ve made those people very happy, because they have traditionally spent the last couple of days doing Sportscenter updates and highlights and interviews. The opportunity now to be involved in the finals event, they’re thrilled. I’ve heard from a bunch of them, so this is a huge morale booster for our guys. People are happy in Bristol.
Q. How many people will be involved in working in England?
JOHN SKIPPER: We’ll follow up to get a number. I don’t know what the number is. It will not change significantly. Because remember, we’re bringing hundreds of hours back to the U.S. already. I think NBC was doing about 38. So we’ve got most of the scale we need there already.
There you have the transcript. Linkage coming up later.