ESPN has acquired the exclusive rights to Wimbledon, and will hopefully announce a deal for John McEnroe (above) as analyst on The Championships in due time.

We would think there were a lot of happy tennis fans who rejoiced over the recent news that Wimbledon has ended its long standing relationship with NBC.  We among them.  Our readers know that we have been immensely critical of NBC’s coverage of the tennis championships, and in fact, of all NBC tennis coverage, including the French Open.  It was announced that Wimbledon has signed an exclusive rights deal with ESPN, who had been providing partial coverage on ESPN2 and who coordinated the Mix Channels coverage for the first seven days of action.  The problems often resulted when NBC’s exclusivity kicked in on weekends, rendering the fine mix channels moot, and making the audience slaves to NBC’s ratings whore tactics that leave tennis fans screaming.

Not that we are necessarily in love with how ESPN falls into some of the same pratfalls, such as airing matches on delay, albeit brief ones, or their insistance on keeping the ancient Dick Enberg around, who looks like a decrepit Crank Yanker puppet at this point, and who is so obviously senile and out of touch with the current state of the game.  We were personally offended when ESPN cut to a Nadal retrospective on the 2008 Wimbledon final during Federer-Tsonga at the start of the fourth set of their quarter-final match, which caused the audience to miss 2 games and created approximately a 3 minute time delay.

But there are many aspects of ESPN tennis coverage we favor at the major, like the fact that they do not go to commercial in extended fifth sets.  Here’s a snippet from an article on the new TV deal as well as a few links:

As the press release explains: “ESPN has acquired the exclusive U.S. television rights to live action from The Championships, Wimbledon, including both the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Singles Finals, in a 12-year agreement with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club beginning in 2012.  Comprehensive coverage from start to finish across a variety of platforms will result in more tennis for fans and all of it live.”

The CEO of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, Ian Ritchie, added that, “This new agreement will bring increased live coverage of The Championships and ensure that the huge international audience for Wimbledon can now enjoy all the drama and colour of the Fortnight through a sustained narrative delivered with clarity, continuity and consistency across a wide range of platforms.”

It’s a great day for tennis fans, and if nothing else, that’s a testament to how frustrating NBC’s coverage has been in recent years. Indeed, the “clarity, continuity, and consistency” he mentions will be a breath of fresh air for tennis fans that have been suffocated by NBC’s uneven broadcast schedules.

While some are nervous because ESPN has yet to announce whether John McEnroe will be part of their coverage, we would expect that he would be.  McEnroe joined ESPN’s US open coverage, and is a commentator on the ESPN mixed channels at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open.  Considering the magnitude of a McEnroe deal, we’d chalk it up as something that will get ironed out in time.  We doubt that the American legend will be looking for anything more than the status quo, and frankly, the collection of second rate ex-players the likes of Brad Gilbert, Patrick McEnroe, and Darren Cahill, desperately lacks what McEnroe provides. (John McEnroe ESPN Wimbledon article)

If McEnroe can not come to terms with ESPN, we would expect him to join The Tennis Channel’s supplemental coverage, and to still call the feature matches, probably for the BBC, which would be aired in repeats on TTC in perpuity.  All in all, good news.

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