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Nine secures fourth tennis Grand Slam event with US Open rights deal

Nine Entertainment Co has secured the rights to exclusively broadcast the US Open tennis tournament as it looks to build out sports content for its free-to-air television network and streaming service Stan.

The US Open deal means that Nine, which is the owner of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, has now locked in coverage of all four of tennis’ Grand Slam events, having already bought the rights to the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon.

Nine’s chief sales officer Michael Stephenson

Nine’s chief sales officer Michael StephensonCredit:Wolter Peeters

Nine’s chief sales officer Michael Stephenson has said the media company will most likely look at acquiring the next Olympics broadcast rights package (which could include the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games) – if incumbent Seven passes on the opportunity – but said it would not do anything “irrational” to in an attempt to secure it.

“We will always talk to everybody about everything, but it needs to make sense commercially,” he said. Mr Stephenson’s comments were made ahead of Nine’s annual upfront, an event that presents the company’s offering across television, publishing and radio to advertisers and media buying agencies. Nine is the owner of this masthead.

Sport is a key pillar in Nine’s broadcast strategy for its television network and online streaming service, Stan. The company owns the broadcast rights to the NRL, rugby union and the UEFA Champions League. But the latest deal for the US Open means that Nine and its streaming service Stan also have the exclusive broadcast rights to four Grand Slam tennis tournaments – the US Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the Australian Open.

Seven’s coverage of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics broke ratings records this year, helped by a favourable timezone and lockdowns across Australia that meant more people were spending time at home. But the event – while attractive to advertisers and viewers – is expensive and often generates a loss.

“We are not going to be doing anything that’s irrational,” Mr Stephenson said. “If Seven didn’t exercise their rights [to negotiate as the incumbent partner], then you would have a conversation like you always would, but it would need to make commercial sense to do it. Selling short-term one off events, merchandising has always proven to be difficult.”

Nine used the upfronts event to confirm to advertisers that its key programs such as Married at First Sight and The Block would return to television screens next year. This means The Block will progress to an 18th season, while Married at First Sight – currently of television’s most successful programs – will air a 7th season. Legomasters is appearing for a third season and Ninja Warrior will be broadcast for the fifth time on Nine.

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