Game And Set: Tennis Channel, ESPN Swap Matches

In an unusual programming swap, the Tennis Channel will give ESPN the rights to carry part of one Grand Slam in exchange for gaining coverage of another. The Tennis Channel, which acquired rights to the French Open in August, will share coverage of the event with ESPN, and in turn, obtain rights to carry part of the Australian Open.

The deal includes coverage of the tournaments on TV as well as broadband, plus some cross-promotion, a potential boon to the smaller Tennis Channel.

For ESPN, the deal allows it to continue covering the French Open, which it has done since 2002. Meanwhile, the Tennis Channel, which is seeking to gain distribution and visibility, will now have a role in carrying two of tennis' marquee events.

The networks said they would share coverage of both events starting with the French Open in June, followed by the 2008 Australian Open.

NBC continues to own broadcast rights to the French Open, while ESPN has been the sole domestic network carrying the Australian Open since 1984. The 2007 Melbourne tournament finished this weekend with a surprising win on the female side by unseeded Serena Williams.

The ESPN/Tennis Channel arrangement runs through 2011. ESPN will use its ESPN2 network for the events.

When the 3-year-old Tennis Channel acquired rights to the French Open last year, speculation centered on whether it would sell part of the rights to another carrier, but the "swap" appears to be a new idea.

The Tennis Channel will produce the French Open coverage that will air on ESPN, although each network will use its own announcers.

Similarly, ESPN will produce the Australian Open coverage with each network using its own commentators. The Tennis Channel will air Australian Open coverage when ESPN2 is not covering the event.

Last year, the United States Tennis Association invested in the Tennis Channel, a sign that its viability may be on the upswing.

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