Roland Garros extends TV rights agreement

October 4, 2011

LOS ANGELES and PARIS — Tennis Channel and the French Tennis Federation (FFT) have agreed to a multi-year extension of the French Open rights package that has been in place since 2007, keeping the network as the primary non-broadcast home of the world’s preeminent clay-court championship for years to come. Today Gilbert Ysern, general manager, FFT, and tournament director, French Open; Michel Grach, media and sponsorship director, FFT; and Ken Solomon, chairman and CEO, Tennis Channel; announced the extension, which runs through 2022.

Tennis Channel has covered Roland Garros (commonly referred to as the French Open) since 2007. The new agreement continues the network’s previously existing exclusive U.S. non-broadcast media rights to all French Open matches. In addition to television, this includes streaming, digital, mobile, video on demand and “TV Everywhere,” as well as access to the FFT’s extensive media archives.

“It is wonderful to extend our relationship with Tennis Channel on a long-term basis,” said Ysern. “Our partnership has led to an innovative and exciting way for Americans to celebrate and enjoy Roland Garros, with far more live coverage than ever and groundbreaking prime-time and late-night telecasts.”

“Tennis Channel has uniquely framed the French Open with a respect for the history of our event and our host city Paris,” added Grach. “Our partnership is integral as we evolve Roland Garros’ future, and we look forward to many great tournaments and champions together in the decade ahead.”

“We couldn’t be more thrilled that Tennis Channel is going to be the French Open’s home for at least another 10 years,” said Solomon. “As the first Grand Slam that we ever covered, Roland Garros holds a special place in our hearts. Together with the FFT, we proved that the more tennis you put on TV, the more American audiences want to watch; they simply can’t get enough. Our partnership has helped grow awareness for the sport itself — with 24-hour scheduling, multiple broadband streams, digital television multi-screens and 3-D — and we’re thankful and excited to continue this arrangement.”

Tennis Channel altered the Grand Slam television landscape with its initial coverage of the French Open in 2007, the first of the sport’s four majors to appear on the network. The network became “The Roland Garros Channel,” in effect, with round-the-clock coverage that remained focused on the two-week competition. It showcased more than 70 live-match hours and more than 100 overall, and brought in an on-air talent roster that included Hall of Famers John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova, and sportscasters Bill Macatee, Ted Robinson and Ian Eagle. The team has since grown to feature Lindsay Davenport, Bud Collins and, this past spring, the Emmy Award-winning Mary Carillo.

The network also shifted the traditional tennis-coverage paradigm by introducing high-production prime-time-and-late-night series French Open Tonight, hosted by Macatee. Because much of the French Open takes place while American audiences are at work or school, French Open Tonight gave fans a nightly opportunity to catch up on the day’s on-court action, beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET and airing throughout the night, into the following morning. Encore matches, highlights and special features were supported by Macatee’s signature, extensive interviews with players, coaches, journalists and representatives from all other areas of the sport. The “Olympic style” show became the model for similar daily shows during Tennis Channel’s coverage of each of the other three Grand Slams: Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open.

Tennis Channel’s French Open coverage has also led the way digitally. Beginning with the initial telecast in 2007, visitors to the network’s Web site could access broadband streams of live and on-demand matches, and select distribution partners enabled viewers to access a special “mosaic” channel of multiple courts at the same time or the opportunity to select whichever match they preferred. This year the network became the first in American television to offer 3-D coverage of the French Open, which took place during Memorial Day weekend, May 28-30.

More than countless hours of tournament-dedicated programming and enabling audiences to choose what they wanted to watch, one of the most significant changes Tennis Channel brought to its French Open telecast was its immersive “Grounds Pass” approach. While the greatest players in the world make a two-week journey on the hallowed red clay of Stade Roland Garros each May, the network did not limit its focus to what was happening on the courts. It wanted viewers to feel as though they were out on the tournament grounds themselves, taking in the people and food, activities and culture that make the French Open unique. This method was not confined to the tournament. The French Open is distinctively Parisian, and spring is a time of year when the magical city is praised the world over. Tennis Channel wanted its audiences to experience everything that generates the City of Light’s international charm, and gave the host city its due with special segments throughout its coverage. The formula proved successful with viewers, and has been in place ever since.