Last summer, ESPN won a landmark 12-year deal to be the sole US broadcaster of the Wimbledon Championships. In the second part of an exclusive interview, John Skipper, the president of ESPN, tells The Tennis Space about how this could be just the start, how the US Open is on his radar and about the importance of tennis to ESPN.
So I am guessing that it would be a dream for you to have the exclusive rights to the US Open?
We’re less than 10 years into our US Open deal – I guess we’re still auditioning. We love the US Open, it’s a fabulous event, we love our relationship with the US Open and we’re always anxious to talk about doing more.
After all the problems last year with scheduling, if they were to make a Monday final a regular thing, that would be good for you in your negotiations?
We have the ability at ESPN to be flexible because we have multiple networks and we are fine broadcasting games during the day, on Monday, we find pretty big audiences for that. The US Open has had a little bit of bad luck in the last couple of years, where the matches have got squeezed to the back end. I don’t think they have announced any changes but I know they are looking at the schedule.
So if they wanted a TV partner for a Monday final, you would be happy with that?
We would have no problems with a Monday final.
How important is tennis to ESPN?
We think it’s a critical product. We made a decision five or six years ago to emphasise that championships were played and won on ESPN and tennis seemed like a good place for us to inject some of that. We had the rights to the Australian Open. We got rights to the French Open, we just recently got all of Wimbledon. Our first goal was to get all the four majors, and then we acquired all of Wimbledon. We have all the Australian Open, and a nice position in the US Open and the French Open, so we think it’s a fabulous project for us to stake the ground that championship events and world-class events happen on ESPN.
Does the fact that America does not have any real stars in the men’s game make a difference?
I don’t think it does, because of the magnitude of the stars, particularly on the men’s side, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Djokovic, they are transcendent stars and I don’t think we have a lot of concern that they aren’t Americans. We have benefitted from the Williams sisters and their level of play and personalities, on the women’s side, and I think it’s really more about the star power, the charisma and the talent of the individual players more than the nationality now.
I mean, if you had two sisters from Morocco, who were fabulous tennis players and had the kind of outsized personalities that the Williams sisters have, I think you’d be fine. My guess with the Williams sisters is that they miss them in Europe, they miss them in South America and everywhere, just because they are big, outsized personalities. We take the point of view in tennis that not having Americans is not a big problem. Now would we love to have a transcendent American – I don’t want to be misleading here – we would love to have a transcendent American man in that quartet of superstars but we don’t right now and we’re fine.
Does the star power of tennis players match that of the NFL or NBA, for example?
Oh yeah. I mean, think about it. Nadal and Federer – there are not many bigger rivalries in the whole of sports. Just this weekend we had a wonderful Kobe Bryant-Lebron James game and that was fabulous but I think Nadal and Federer is right up there with that.