ITV will screen its first ever grand slam tennis tournament next year after acquiring the rights to the French Open.
In a landmark three-year deal with the French Tennis Federation, ITV will broadcast extensive live coverage from Roland Garros throughout the 15-day tournament, taking over from the BBC.
Around six hours of live action per day will be screened on ITV4, as well as highlights every night throughout the tournament.
Both the mens’ and women’s singles finals, along with two other full days of action, will be shown live on ITV1. All coverage will be streamed online via ITV.com.
“I’m hugely excited that we have agreed a major new deal to bring the French Open to ITV,” said Niall Sloane, ITV Controller of Sport.
“It’s the first time that a grand slam has been shown live on ITV and with around six hours of coverage over each day of the tournament we’ll be offering viewers more free-to-air coverage of the tournament than ever before.”
ITV’s new deal ends the BBC’s long association with the French Open just a day after the corporation extended its Wimbledon rights deal by a further three years to 2017.
The loss of French Open rights to their terrestrial rival is another blow to the BBC with the future of it’s Australian Open coverage also in doubt.
As the BBC’s sports portfolio tightens due to recently announced cost-cutting restraints, ITV4′s continues to grow.
French Open tennis joins Europa League football, Tour de France, IPL cricket and British Touring Cars as part of its live sports offerings.
“Live sports coverage now sits at the heart of ITV4′s schedules alongside a range of other entertainment content,” said Angela Jain, ITV Director of Digital Channels and Acquisitions.
“ITV4 now holds a terrific portfolio of sports rights and, alongside our new agreement for Europa League football, this major new deal to bring the Roland Garros tournament to the channel is great news for our viewers and advertisers.”
Rumours of ITV’s surprise interest in poaching the rights surfaced in September. Pay-TV rights to the tournament will be confirmed in due course.
It will be the first time that the ITV network has screened one of tennis’ four grand slam events.
The commercial broadcaster has sporadic heritage in tennis, having previously shown various indoor tournaments and Davis Cup tennis on its former flagship programme World of Sport during the 1970s and 80s.
Even Wimbledon was shown on ITV for a brief spell, with London regional broadcaster Rediffusion screening coverage of The Championships in the late 1960s.
More recently, ITV4 has covered the ATP Champions Tour event – the AEGON Masters – at London’s Royal Albert Hall since 2008, and the 2011 tournament will be shown on the channel in December.
The 2012 French Open takes place from May 27to June 10. ITV4 will become the home of both France’s showpiece summer sporting events, with the Tour de France also following on the channel in July.
Michel Grach, FFT Media & Sponsorship Director, added: “We are delighted that ITV will bring the clay of Roland Garros to British tennis fans.
“This new partnership will not only enhance the exposure and appeal of the tournament in the United Kingdom but is also an important first step in our new distribution strategy throughout Europe, working alongside MP & Silva to increase the free-to-air coverage of Roland Garros.”