Monday, September 08, 2014

US.15 - As CBS Exits, ESPN Fully Enters... gulp?

A few words a few hours before the final U.S. Open broadcast to be aired by CBS Sports.

Today's men's singles final will mark the end of CBS' longtime coverage of the U.S. Open in the U.S., as ESPN will take over full coverage of the event next season. While I never had the connection to the CBS coverage that I did to, say, NBC's long-ago broadcasts of "Breakfast at Wimbledon" or, more so, HBO's great SW19 coverage and USA Network's U.S. Open shows (especially at night), I always looked at CBS' Open broadcasts as reliable sports television and, as ESPN reached (lowered itself to) new levels in ignoring great matches in some years of its coverage, the ability and willingness of CBS to move around the grounds and keep viewers updated on multiple simultaneous battles on some of the best days of the tournament, ala HBO's run at the AELTC, was much appreciated while ESPN usually simply passed off inattentiveness and incompetence with self-serving notes that if viewers wanted to actually watch the TOURNAMENT they could just go online to ESPN3.

CBS usually kept the feces-throwing chimps out of the control room. Hopefully, with multiple outlets on which to air matches, ESPN won't let the Open go the way of Charlton Heston.

As ESPN is "entrusted" with full coverage of the Open, only NBC's weekend and late-round coverage of Roland Garros remains as the last slam broadcasts aired on an over-the-air network in the U.S.. Granted, it's a different era now, with "cable" channels such as ESPN now being as mainstream as -- and usually more so than -- the "regular" networks like ABC, NBC and CBS, especially when it comes to sports. Eventually, even the Super Bowl will be broadcast, I'm sure, on ESPN within the next ten years. But, still, as the old guard American networks slowly have gotten out of the tennis business, it's hard to not notice that it has coincided with the shrinking of tennis' place on the U.S. sports landscape, which has also gone hand-in-hand with the dearth of home-grown stars, at least on the men's side. Over the last two seasons, while Serena has in some ways held up the sport on her back in the U.S. (with some help from the media-friendly and well-known Maria Sharapova), at least a new generation of achieving Bannerettes have emerged that MAY allow the sport to prevent itself from being marginalized even further in the American media and sports conversation as the Williams Sisters reach the twilight of their careers.

Coming in the wake of the NFL's opening Sunday, the league's first Monday Night broadcasts of the season, as well as another sideshow involving a player and domestic violence, today's men's final -- supposedly the centerpiece of the only slam in the U.S. -- will be about as anonymous a big sports event in this country as an LPGA major over the next 24 hours. Well, unless maybe if Michelle Wie wins it. If we'd gotten a Federer/Djokovic final, it would have cut through the clutter and been noticed, or even if the great story of Nishikori had been teamed with Federer's attempt at a (final?) late-career major win, ala Pete Sampras, it would have been a battle of great sports stories that would have been hard to overlook.

As it is, though, it'll be very easy to ignore.

ESPN needs to change that, and make an effort to push tennis far enough back into the spotlight that it doesn't need Serena, Federer, Nadal or Sharapova to be noticed. One would think it would be a smart business decision, considering (one would think) the desire to make all the money spent for broadcast rights worth it. But the four-letter network is often more worried about collecting properties so that it can tout the ownership of rights -- ala "the grand slam network" -- rather than building up the sport in question. The alternative X-Games events being the rare exception.

Of course, such a notion is likely pie-in-the-sky thinking. ESPN will continue to do what it always does when it comes to the slams. Some good. Some bad. Some Hannah and LZ. Sigh.

So, goodbye, CBS. You actually tried and seemed to care over the years. And even if that was the only legacy -- and it isn't -- the network's U.S. Open coverage left behind, it'd be more enough.

ESPN, it's your serve. It'd be nice if you could actually BE "the worldwide leader" for once.

All for now.


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