By Tommy Keeler Jr.
There was some big news in the tennis world last week that probably went unnoticed to most sports fans, especially non-tennis fans. Although, it could have an eventual effect on all sports fans.
ESPN signed an 11-year deal for exclusive rights to the U.S. Open, starting in 2015. Now on the surface, this probably doesn't seem like such a big deal. However, ESPN now has all the rights to three of the four grand slams. The French Open, which starts Monday, is the only one that will still go through a major TV network (NBC) in 2015. I'm sure ESPN will work hard to get those rights eventually, as well.
While this is big news for tennis, I think it may be a sign of what's to come in the sports world -- cable TV is taking over. The main networks of NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX are continuing to lose steam and I think it could be just a matter of time before all the big sporting events will be carried on the cable networks like ESPN.
I don't think this will be a problem for most of the country -- does anybody not get cable these days? Of course, many of the big cable channels are affiliated with the big networks anyway -- ESPN with ABC, TNT and TBS with CBS. NBC has its own NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) and Fox is going to have its own all-sports network starting later this summer.
I think it's very possible the main networks will start to show more and more of the big sports events on some of their cable affiliates. The NCAA Tournament already airs most of the early-round games on cable, and ESPN has most of the bowl games in college football. I'm not sure I'll ever live to see the Super Bowl being aired on ESPN, but I think it would be great if it happened (I'm not even an ESPN fan).
I hope that there will be more all-sports cable networks to pop up over the coming years, even if they are affiliated with the major networks. Competition is a great thing, and I would love to see more big events on cable TV.
One of the interesting aspects of the U.S. Open deal is that they are going to change the schedule around. The women's semis will now be shown in prime time on Thursday night, with the men's semis on Friday night and each of the women's and men's finals on Saturday and Sunday night.
That's a great schedule for tennis, and could help promote the sport more, instead of cramming so many of the matches on the same day like it is now.
The best part of the tennis deal for me is that WatchESPN and ESPN3 will have every single singles match on all 17 tournament courts. This is a first for tennis. Anybody that wants to see a second-round match between No. 87 in the world and No. 112 in the world can watch the match. I'm not sure why anybody would want to, but it's nice to have that option.
Can you imagine if eventually ESPN could do that with other sports. Maybe you could watch every football game, every basketball regular-season game or every baseball game on the Internet. Granted, with DirecTV you can already do all of that (and I do), but it would be great to have somebody else step up and provide services like that for anyone, who doesn't have a satellite dish.
I've always dreamed of a day, when you could sit down at your TV or your computer and watch anything you want, whenever you want (preferably for free). Of course, then no one would probably go to the games, and that would cause other problems.
We're not quite at that point yet, but I do see the U.S. Open deal as a small step towards that. As times change, even the way we view sports change and I'm sure it will continue to evolve and get bigger and better.
I, for one, can't wait to see where things go next. We finally are getting a playoff in college football, and that's a sure sign that anything can happen.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org