After 43 years on NBC, Wimbledon is now the exclusive broadcast property of ESPN. The timing is a little odd, as NBC launched the all-sports channel NBC Sports Network this year, and expanded coverage of the most famous tennis tournament in the world seems like it would've been great filler for airtime that is currently being filled with Olympic Trials, IndyCar racing and MLS soccer.
In the end though, ESPN's 12-year, $400 million offer was too rich for Comcast, the parent company of NBC, and the cable giant landed the jewel of the All England Club, which was keen to have all of it's matches broadcast live - something ESPN is in much better position to deliver.
Coverage begins with the very first match on Monday, June 25, with day-long marathon telecasts through to the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Finals, Saturday, July 7, and Sunday, July 8, respectively. The network will carry 140 live hours on ESPN & ESPN2 including "Cross Court Coverage," highlights on ABC, nine screens worth of matches on ESPN3.
Also coming over to ESPN is the iconic brand Breakfast at Wimbledon presented by US Trust. This pregame tradition will debut on Saturday, June 30th.
Hosting the coverage will be split among Chris Fowler, Hannah Storm and Mike Tirico. Fowler and Tirico will also call select matches. Hall of Famer John McEnroe will work his first Wimbledon for ESPN, and returning analysts include Darren Cahill, Cliff Drysdale, Mary Joe Fernandez, Brad Gilbert, Patrick McEnroe and Pam Shriver.
Many of the ESPN personalities were asked to share their most memorable Wimbledon moment. Some, like Brad Gilbert took a serious approach.
"The first time I walked through the gates of Wimbledon at age 21 it was a surreal experience," said Gilbert. "The place is a cathedral, full of history that you’ve seen on TV so often. Your eyes get wide and you just go ‘Whoa’ as you take it all in the first time. But even now I think about that first time every year I go back and step on the grounds. I get the same feeling. Just being there is the best. It’s like nowhere else."
Others, like Chris Evert and Cliff Drysdale, tie the tournament with personal loves. Evert says: "I won Wimbledon three times, plus one more in doubles, but my favorite memory is the first one, 1974. It was not the most memorable match – 6-0, 6-4 over Olga Morozova. However, not only was it special to win my first title on Centre Court amidst all the history and tradition, but my fiancé won the men’s singles title. Jimmy Connors defeated Ken Rosewall, and it was also his first Wimbledon championship. We then paired in the Mixed Doubles at the US Open and fell in the final, and our partnership off the court ended soon thereafter. But we remain good friends and I remember 1974 very fondly.
Drysdale recalls: "I’ve been going to Wimbledon since 1962, and reached the semifinals twice (1965 and ’66) and three more times in doubles, but in 1968 I had the most interesting day. I got married in the morning in the Chelsea section of London and played on Centre Court in the afternoon. My bride, Jean, was the sister of my Davis Cup teammate Gordon Forbes. And my partner that day – on the court – was Torben Ulrich, father of musician Lars Ulrich. We lost the match but it was a beautiful time."
Then there is John McEnroe, who can always be counted on to provide something different. "Sure, I played many memorable matches at Wimbledon and won the championship three times … those were all special. But you asked memorable. Well, before the 1996 men’s final between Richard Krijicek and Mal Washington, Dick Enberg and I were live on TV standing courtside previewing the match when a woman with no clothes on runs onto the court. A streaker at Centre Court Wimbledon! And as Dick was quoted later, she was a very healthy woman! On the air, I said ‘We need a replay from every possible angle!’ My distinguished partner Mr. Enberg reminded me that it was a ‘family show.’ So I replied, ‘My family would love it!’"
What memories will this year's Wimbledon bring?