So there you are all ready to watch the 2011 U.S. Open when your wife reminds you that you were supposed to visit Aunt Millie. You say to yourself, “No problem … I'll catch the re-broadcast on the Tennis Channel tonight.” You get back from a visit with Aunt Millie, grab a cold one, relax and tune into your favorite cable channel for some great early round action of the U.S. Open and what’s on your screen? A message from Cablevision (or Verizon) telling you "Cablevision's contract with Tennis Channel has expired. Tennis Channel has decided not to renew our agreement and has unfortunately pulled their programming from our customers. You can still watch live coverage of the U.S. Open on CBS, ESPN2 and in 3D on iO TV Ch. 1300 ... or order Direct TV."
“Where’s my tennis!” you scream! All of us tennis enthusiasts were extremely disappointed by this sequence of events. For those of us who are more than just casual fans and true enthusiasts of the sport, it represents a real loss of all the wonderful content the Tennis Channel has to offer … The Minute Clinic, Bag Check, the classic matches, travel sites, celebrity tennis and all of the rest. But right in the middle of one of what is considered the biggest Grand Slam, the U.S. Open? I felt that we, the tennis community, were being manipulated by corporations who put profits over the public good in their decision-making. I decided to become an investigative reporter and interviewed, via phone and e mail, the three entities involved in this debacle, Cablevision (CVC), Tennis Channel (Tennis) and the National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC) representing hundreds of smaller cable operators, but including CVC and FIOS.
"Tennis" never had a direct agreement with CVC or Verizon. These are their statements as forwarded to me:
The Tennis Channel …
"We regret that Cablevision has elected to no longer carry Tennis Channel under the terms of the network's new agreement with NCTC—an organization Cablevision joined a few days before the 2009 U.S. Open seemingly only to get access to Tennis Channel under terms that the network had agreed to with much smaller operators seven years earlier. By not agreeing to the NCTC guidelines, as many other NCTC members have done, (i.e., change the status of broadcasting "Tennis" from a tiered sports package we pay extra for to part of the basic package), Cablevision has chosen to drop Tennis Channel.”
The old agreement expired on Sept. 3 of this year, (coincidentally, the middle weekend of The 2011 U.S. Open) and the new agreement, which commenced the next day, called for "Tennis" to be carried as part of a basic (no fee) service. CVC, Verizon and many cable companies of the co-op opted out of this agreement, but the majority agreed with it.
“We had an agreement that made Tennis Channel available to any Cablevision customer who wanted it. Tennis Channel refused to extend our agreement, and instead, pulled their channel off Cablevision, and dozens of other cable systems across the country, including Verizon FIOS. Tennis Channel now says it will not allow Cablevision to receive the programming unless all Cablevision customers are forced to pay for it (i.e., include it in basic) whether they have any interest in tennis or not. We think it is wrong for the management of Tennis Channel to change its course and deny its programming to its own viewers unless they receive millions of dollars in
Note that communications from NCTC, the co-op Cablevision belongs to, made no mention of additional fees nor does Cablevision acknowledge the fact that their basic package includes lots of channels many people have no interest in.
"Tennis Channel's newly-mandated additional carriage requirements did not meet the needs of some of the NCTC members who carried the Tennis Channel. This was a hard-fought point in the negotiations to which Tennis Channel held firm. We had a significant number of the members in the previous agreement decide to discontinue carrying Tennis Channel. While more members renewed than dropped the network, the overall loss of subscribers was substantial. The NCTC/Tennis Channel renewal agreement does provide other members an efficient means to continue carriage. If Tennis Channel had allowed continued carriage on a sports tier, where the channel could be enjoyed by the tennis fans, it is likely additional members would have continued carriage."
The motivation on the part of Tennis Channel was to expose the sport to the maximum number of households, rather than just fans of the sport by helping "grow the game" as we all wish to do. The motivation on the part of CVC and Verizon was to try and retain Tennis Channel as part of the sports package to which viewers would pay a fee. CVC has approximately 150,000 households paying $6.95 per month for the sports tier out of three million subscribers. I am told their cost per household is 15 cents … talk about a mark-up!
Now it appears direct negotiations with Verizon are about to take place and CVC should take notice: It does not make sense for them to hold out hope that they will be able to carry the Tennis Channel once again as part of a tiered sports package. That horse has left the barn. It behooves the game that the most number of households be exposed to the wonderful world of tennis and that means it should be carried as a basic channel. If Verizon agrees to this change, it does not make sense for CVC to risk losing thousands of customers in the Tri-State area to Verizon just to hold out for something what will not happen.
The best thing the tennis community can do is let our voices be heard. If you feel the Tennis Channel should be part of basic programming, then contact your cable provider and insist on receiving Tennis Channel once again. I know I will.
Steve Haar is a PTR-certified tennis professional and USTA/Eastern-Long Island
Region QuickStart specialist. He may be reached by phone at (516) 376-5797 or e-mail