You may not realize it, but with Sunday evening upon us, we've reached the eve of one of the greatest weeks of the year. Some people may try to convince you that the seven day stretch with Christmas and New Year's is the best, with the vacation days, parties, food, and the holiday spirit, but it's lacking one essential quality: summer! The week of the Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite times of year. Fireworks, grilling, hot summer weather, some of the longest days of the year, and the second week of Wimbledon. If any of those ingredients were missing, it wouldn't be the same.
Some of my fondest childhood memories involve spending the week at my grandparents' house, watching Wimbledon every morning during the second week of the tournament. During that second week, NBC also had a nightly Wimbledon update after the 10PM news, with John McEnroe and Mary Carillo providing highlights from the day's matches. Even though I'd watched them all, I loved staying up to see the recap. At the end of the week, I'd wake up early for NBC's "Breakfast at Wimbledon" coverage of the finals on Saturday and Sunday. Wimbledon was one of the few tennis tournaments that was covered on network TV, and it's what got me interested in the game and convinced me to start playing.
Over the years, I've kept the Wimbledon tradition alive. Though working has kept me from watching the weekday coverage (don't get me started on how much I miss summer vacation...), I never miss the nightly Wimbledon updates or the "Breakfast at Wimbledon" coverage on the final Saturday and Sunday of the tournament. I could tell you where I was when I watched just about every one of the finals matches over the past fifteen years, and NBC's Wimbledon theme music is the practically the summer soundtrack to my childhood:
Last week, I watched some of the early round matches at ESPN3.com. I don't have cable, but I was able to watch online since ESPN covers the first week of the tournament and Comcast subscribers have access to ESPN3. I caught a few minutes of tennis every day before work, but the first week has never been too interesting to me...watching two guys I've never heard of battle it out on court 32 for the chance to get crushed by a good player the next round just doesn't keep me entertained. I did notice that John McEnroe was calling some of the matches on ESPN, which surprised me, since he was always a commentator for NBC. I didn't think much of it at the time...
Yesterday afternoon, I turned on the TV and flipped to NBC, hoping to watch the last day of action in the first week...but Wimbledon was nowhere to be found. I went to the NBC website and looked at their programming schedule, and Wimbledon didn't show up anywhere for the entire upcoming week. I searched some more and was absolutely crushed by what I learned. ESPN bought the rights to the entire two weeks of Wimbledon coverage, leaving NBC with nothing after 43 consecutive years of coverage. This was announced last summer, but I'd somehow missed it...or perhaps repressed the bad memory.
Since I have access to ESPN3.com, this should be little more than a minor inconvenience--I can watch the matches live on the computer. But I'm heading back to Iowa for the 4th of July, and my parents don't have cable, nor do they have access to ESPN3.com. So not only does NBC's lack of coverage mean that there will be no Wimbledon theme music, no nightly Wimbledon updates, and no Breakfast at Wimbledon next weekend...it means that there will be no Wimbledon at all for me! How can they do this to me? That's more than fifteen years of tradition, stopped dead in its tracks! Watching England's most prestigious tennis tournament is as important a part of celebrating America's independence as the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
There's a bit of a silver lining to this dark cloud, but it's so pathetic that I'd consider it more of an aluminum or tin lining. ESPN is the only channel offering live coverage of the finals, but ABC will show replays later in the afternoon on Saturday and Sunday next weekend. There will be no Breakfast at Wimbledon for me, and I'll have to go out of my way to avoid watching TV, going online, or checking my phone so I don't accidentally see who won before I watch the replay.
Maybe 2012 will mark the beginning of a sad new "Late Lunch At Wimbledon" tradition, but I already know that it won't come anywhere close to measuring up. Worse yet, I have little hope for the future--ESPN has locked up the rights to Wimbledon coverage through the end of the decade. R.I.P. classic Wimbledon tradition...I feel strangely older and more bitter and jaded than I did yesterday...