The men’s final is currently in a rain delay here in Queens with the rain expected to conclude sometime in the next 30 minutes.
But in a stunning move, CBS has decided to abandon its coverage of the Men’s Final in order to maintain its primetime lineup, and the rest of the match will air on ESPN2.
Dollars and cents wise, this obviously makes sense for CBS. Monday night is a big ratings night for them, and to get it pushed back more than two hours would translate into a lot of angry advertisers. But the USTA should take this as a big hint that it needs to end its relationship with CBS as soon as possible.
Let’s go through the problems.
1. Last night, the men’s match was called off just after 6 p.m. It had technically only been in a delay for just over 90 minutes. That relatively quick decision came from a tournament whose leaders love–just love–night matches. Obviously, making the fans and players wait and wait for a rain delay has to be considered (not a kind thing to do!), but finishing the men’s final on Sunday night would have been the best case scenario for all involved (maybe except Novak Djokovic). And guess what happened? The rain stopped in New York last night at 7:30 p.m. Yes, it would have been a three-hour delay in total, but it also would have given tennis an opportunity to play in primetime. CBS gave away its primetime lineup to the women’s final on a Sunday night two years ago–which was also pushed back due to rain–and obviously the 3.3 Nielsen rating wasn’t good enough to justify that action again (last year, when the women’s final was also pushed to a Sunday night, CBS happily gave up the rights to ESPN2). So the USTA pulled the plug pretty early last night, and I’m sure CBS was a big part of that decision.
2. No doubt CBS played a heavy hand in deciding that there would be a 4 p.m. start-time today, too. It’s late enough to draw halfway respectable ratings, but early enough so tennis wouldn’t eat into their ratings block again. Nevertheless, as of very early this morning, there was forecast for rain late in the day today. And guess what? It hit us, and it’s hitting us pretty good right now. Had this match started at noon or at 1 p.m., the tennis would have been completed.
3. And this one really takes the cake: After contributing to the early cancellation last night, and locking up the–evidently wet!–late afternoon start today, CBS is abandoning its coverage. They’re finished. The rest of the match will air on ESPN2. When was the last time a broadcast network gave up its coverage in the middle of a major American sporting event? I have no idea, but I’m assuming this hasn’t happened more than once or twice over the last several decades. This match probably won’t resume–at the earliest–until 7:30. We’re in the second set. All signs seemed to indicate we could be headed for a good long match. Rafa won the first set, and we’re at 4-4 and 30-30 in the second set. This actually provides a lot of potential for the U.S. Open and men’s tennis. At least the ratings tonight would be through the roof–a primetime audience for an excellent tennis match! But CBS wants no part of it. They’re cutting it off, and ESPN2 is left to pick up the rest of the coverage. This is truly mind-boggling. How are fans supposed to even know where to find it? I know because a friend IMed me. But other than word-of-mouth? You’re finished. And the ratings will surely be ugly.
It’s great that the USTA has had a relationship with CBS for so long. They’ve broadcast the U.S. Open for 43 years. And nope, there’s no roof here and there probably won’t be for some time, and the USTA has to sleep in the bed it made for itself. But with CBS pulling the plug this should send a loud-and-clear message that they really shouldn’t be the home for the tournament any longer. This is the showcase event for tennis in the United States and CBS won’t bother finishing airing it. If the USTA wants a broadcast home, they should call up NBC, which already broadcasts the French Open and Wimbledon. Or just put the whole thing on ESPN anyway, since viewers hardly know the difference between cable and broadcast anymore. Either way, this is a bad moment for tennis, and for CBS.
UPDATE, 11:17 p.m.: The rest of the match was aired on ESPN2, but it’s a good thing that Rafa won that last set 6-2. If the match had lasted any longer it would have been kicked over to–wait for it–ESPN Classic to make way for the NFL on ESPN2. Now, maybe this match would have been deserving of showing up on ESPN Classic some day, but wow. The men’s final getting kicked off to that channel? Does anyone even know how to find that channel? Not a clue over here! In any event, they were able to finish the match, but in this rather hilarious video taken by Pat Kiernan, we can see how elegantly and smoothly ESPN2 cut away from Rafa’s trophy celebration to go to the football game (thanks to reader Eric Kuo for pointing us to it).
Follow John Koblin via RSS.