After NBC lost the Wimbledon contract, I expected it to be only a matter of time before it lost the contract to the French Open. If NBC didn’t decide it was time to get out of one of the lesser grand slams after losing the premier grand slam to cable, Roland-Garros surely would award it to ESPN rather than put everyone through excruciating tape delays. That’s why Sunday, NBC signed a deal to broadcast the French Open for another twelve years… wait, what?!?
Yep, and there are no signs that NBC is stopping with its tape delays either. Not only that, NBC is expanding its coverage to levels more akin to what it used to do for Wimbledon or what CBS does with the US Open.
I can’t help but wonder how much of this has to do with the Tennis Channel being the official cable partner, which might complicate ESPN’s ability to take NBC’s package. More broadly, the timing of the broadcast deal vis-a-vis the cable deal clearly is huge. NBC lost Wimbledon almost solely because it would have to wait for two more years to put games on the NBC Sports Network. With the French Open, the cable deal came first, meaning ESPN’s position was already locked in for the long haul. I have to imagine the confluence of these two items boxed ESPN out and gave NBC all the leverage (unless CBS was interested).