Just in time for the year's first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open, Verizon FiOS customers now have the ability to catch even more tennis coverage -- on the Tennis Channel.
Verizon, the New York-based telephone and television company, said Tuesday that after a nearly five-month blackout, it had forged an agreement with the Santa Monica-based Tennis Channel to return the cable channel to many of Verizon's 4 million television customers.
That allowed the Tennis Channel on Tuesday to begin popping up on Verizon's FiOS TV ultimate package as well as a separate FiOS sports package offered to subscribers in California, upstate New York, Texas, Florida and other markets.
The independently owned Tennis Channel joined Verizon's lineup in 2005 during the early days of FiOS service. But last September, just as the marquee U.S. Open tournament was getting under way in New York, Verizon's carriage contract expired and the company lost its right to carry the channel.
At that time, the Tennis Channel also was removed from Cablevision Systems, which provides cable TV service to residents in the suburbs of New York, among other regions. The Tennis Channel and Cablevision have had a particularly testy relationship as the two companies have been unable to reach an agreement that would bring the Tennis Channel to most of Cablevision's customers.
The underdog Tennis Channel, which is available in about 30 million homes, has been challenging top-seeded cable giants -- including Cablevision and Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp -- in an effort to extend its reach and generate more revenue.
Separately on Tuesday, the Tennis Channel petitioned the courts to enforce a recent FCC administrative judge's ruling that Comcast must make the channel more widely available to its customers. Comcast said it would file a response to the Tennis Channel next week. The FCC is expected to decide on that dispute in the coming months.
Financial terms of the new multi-year Verizon FiOS TV-Tennis Channel agreement were not disclosed.
ESPN is providing the bulk of the TV coverage of the Australian Open for the U.S. audience. The Walt Disney Co.-owned sports operation turns over a few hours a day (4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Pacific during the early rounds) to the Tennis Channel. The Tennis Channel, which pairs retired tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Tracy Austin with veteran sportscaster Bill Macatee, plans live broadcasts of the Australian Open women's doubles, men's doubles and the mixed doubles finals as well as encore presentations of the men's and women's finals, which are scheduled to air live on ESPN2.
-- Meg James
Photo: Tennis star Serena Williams at this year's Australian Open in Melbourne. Credit: Quinn Rooney / Getty Images