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Serena Williams’ goodbye to U.S. Open, boon to ESPN

2022 Sep 08, 18:39, NEW YORK
Serena Williams (Photo via AP)

Serena Williams’ long goodbye to the U.S. Open proved a boon to ESPN.

Facing down the possibility of a first-round knockout, Williams instead gave the sports network four nights of prime-time programming last week, with her eventual loss to Ajla Tomljanovic reaching the largest audience of any tennis match in ESPN’s 43-year history.

ESPN happily adjusted on the fly, asking Open officials to move Williams’ doubles match with her sister Venus to Thursday evening, and moving a college football game off its main network on Friday to make room for the match with Tomljanovic.

That Friday match reached 4.8 million viewers, peaking at 6.9 million, the Nielsen company said. It beat the previous record-holder, the 2012 Wimbledon men’s final between Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

“We knew it was going to be a huge story,” said John Suchenski, ESPN’s programming director, on Wednesday. “I’m not sure we knew how much it was going to play out, audience-wise. Obviously, we’re thrilled by the numbers.”

Williams’ first-round victory over Danka Kovinic last Monday, along with a post-match ceremony, was seen by 2.7 million people — or 289% above comparable first round coverage in 2021, Nielsen said. Wednesday’s victory over Anett Kontaveit reached 3.6 million. Thursday’s sister act, the first time ESPN has shown a doubles match in prime time, averaged 2.2 million.

ESPN led all the cable networks with an average of 2.58 million, Fox News had 2.1 million, MSNBC had 1.36 million, HGTV had 870,000 and USA had 842,000.


Serena Williams ESPN US Open Nielsen company Fox News
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