New Deal Brings More Women’s Tennis to Tennis Channel Express News

As part of a lucrative five-year global television deal that provided a needed cash infusion in 2016, the WTA sold the rights to its overseas tennis tournaments to beIN Sports, beginning with the 2017 season.

But it was fans who often paid the price. From the start, they were frustrated by beIN Sports’ often intermittent and inattentive coverage of women’s tennis, which was frequently relegated in the United States in favor of other sports, particularly soccer.

Eventually, WTA officials grew frustrated, too. The WTA cut short the United States portion of its worldwide rights deal with beIN Sports and returned to Tennis Channel in an agreement announced Monday.

The new five-year deal with Tennis Channel includes television and digital streaming components, giving ample real estate to the WTA tour, which now produces television broadcasts of more than 2,000 matches annually. Tennis Channel also holds the U.S. rights to the men’s tour.

The WTA and beIN had mutually agreed to end the American part of its contract less than 18 months after it started. The WTA put its U.S. broadcast rights back on the market in June; its partnerships with beIN Sports continue elsewhere.

“BeIN has a heavy focus on its professional team sports, the soccer relationships that they have,” said Steve Simon, the WTA’s chief executive. “Sitting down and looking at their strategies and ours, they saw that this would probably be a better situation for the WTA long-term.”

BeIN Sports is available in less than half as many American homes as Tennis Channel. And with beIN Sports, many pivotal weekend semifinal and final matches were pre-empted by the network’s soccer priorities.

The highest-profile match during beIN Sports’ tenure — Maria Sharapova’s return from a doping suspension in April 2017 — was abandoned midway through the first set in favor of a soccer game. Last month, when Naomi Osaka took the court in front of a home crowd in Tokyo for her first match since winning the U.S. Open, beIN Sports was showing an infomercial featuring Larry King.

Tennis Channel, which had held the WTA rights previously and continued to air American events, was awarded the rights over ESPN and Amazon, both of which would have focused more on streaming than television broadcasts.

Tennis Channel had not come close to matching beIN Sports’ bid in the previous rights cycle, offering less than 10 percent of what the Qatar-based network proffered.

Simon said that money was not as primary of a concern at present as it returned to Tennis Channel.

“This was not a financially driven discussion, at this point in time,” he said.

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