By Barry Janoff
May 16, 2016: Tennis Channel is prepared for what could be an historic run as it enters its tenth year of coverage of the French Open.
Not only does Serena Williams plan to seek her 22nd career Grand Slam singles win, but this marks the first time matches at Roland Garros will not be shown on ESPN, which had been part of French Open coverage since 2003, but chose not renew its deal after the 2015 event.
That opened the door for increased coverage by Tennis Channel, which said it would have live coverage for 13 of the competition’s 15 days, and be the only destination in the U.S. for French Open coverage during half of them.
The network will dedicate more than 325 total hours to the two-week competition, with another 500 hours available digitally.
Tennis Channel said its live coverage of match play would increase by some 50 hours, from around 65 in 2015 to almost 110, with approximately 80% of all live, televised French Open competition exclusive to the network.
Qualifying matches run May 16-20. Roland Garros matches run from May 22-June 5.
Tennis Channel, based in Santa Monica, Calif., was acquired earlier this year by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair then signed an agreement with the French Tennis Federation to extend their rights for the French Open to cover the full pay-TV run of the tournament. The agreement runs through 2023.
NBC retains the other 20%, with coverage also on NBC Sports Network via a deal signed in 2012 that runs through 2024.
To support this, Tennis Channel is unveiling what could become its biggest marketing campaign for its French Open coverage, including TV, print, outdoor, Internet, social media and live activation.
Tennis Channel will have TV on its own network and other sports destinations.
Print will run in the Wall Street Journal (May 23-24). Digital ads will run with The New York Times (May 21-27).
Billboards via New York Times Outdoor Media will hit in such key markets as Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami and Philadelphia (May 16-30).
A co-branded customized Tennis Channel Court Report of 60-second features to air on Fox Business Network (May 23-27, May 30-June 2); and customized Tennis Channel Court Reports will be shown on USAToday.com (May 22-June 5) that include features, highlights and player interviews.
Tennis Channel will also get its message to travelers across the U.S. via several deals.
This includes JC Decaux Airport Network, which will air exclusive 30-second Roland Garros update videos on TV monitors (May 22-June 5) at U.S airports including JFK (NY), LAX (Los Angeles), Miami Internationa; and Houston’s George W. Bush Airport. This marks JC Decaux’s first sports content partnership.
Clear Vision Airport Network will have Tennis Channel French Open short-form content on screens in Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Grand Rapids, Raleigh and Tucson, each tagged with a tune-in message.
In addition, through Woven Media, Tennis Channel Court Report 30-second features will run on TV monitors in retail outlets nationwide including McDonald’s and Sam’s Club; as well as doctors’ offices, hospitals and other locations.
The expanded exclusive Tennis Channel coverage includes a singles semifinal for both the men and women (with the second women’s semifinal shared with NBC), all men’s and women’s singles quarterfinals, and the mixed-doubles finals. That could include a lot of airtime for Serena Williams.
Williams — who is coming off a tournament singles title win in the Italian Open (May 15) over Madison Keys — will seek to tie Steffi Graf (22) on her quest to reach the all-time women's singles Grand Slam mark set by Margaret Court (24).
Williams won the French Open last year over Lucie Safarova as well as in 2002 and 2013. Williams last year also won the Australian Open and Wimbledon women's singles Grand Slam titles.
In advance of this, Tennis Channel has been airing all 21 of Williams' previous Grand Slam singles wins, beginning with her 1999 U.S. Open victory over Martina Hingis.
"Serena is one of the most popular athletes in sports, and we wanted to offer our viewers a reminder of how she got here as she closes in on history," said Jeremy Langer,vp-programming for Tennis Channel.
Among other Tennis Channel activations will be a French Open First Ball Event, which will see Tennis Channel build a 14-foot video screen outside the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington, DC.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud is scheduled to be joined by local politicians and Tennis Channel executives on May 23 to "flip the switch" for the screen, which then will show Tennis Channel’s French Open coverage through May 27.
For a further taste of France, Tennis Channel will have a co-branded French wine guide available on the the Vivino homepage to their three million-plus unique users, as well as content in a newsletter to Vivino's 1.3 million subscribers, and social media support.
French Open official marketing partners include lead partner BNP Paribas, Emirates, IBM, FedEx, LaCoste, Longines, Perrier, Peugeot, adidas, Accor Hotels, Häagen-Dazs, MasterCard, LavAzza, Moët & Chandon and Tropicana.
Serena Williams' partners include Nike, Gatorade, Wilson, Mission AthleteCare and OPI.
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