BBC set to end live Open golf coverage early after 60-year relationship
The Guardian, by Ewan Murray
The BBC’s live screening of the Open Championship could cease after this year’s event at St Andrews, with consideration being given to ending the broadcast arrangement 12 months earlier than originally planned.
It was confirmed by the R&A in February that Sky will assume live Open TV rights from 2017, an issue that triggered anger in certain quarters.
The partnership is one of the longest running in sport, spanning six decades, but BBC television is soon to retain only the highlights. Critics insisted the removal of the Open from live, free-to-air television would damage golf, a claim strongly countered by the outgoing R&A chief executive Peter Dawson.
Then, as now, it seemed curious to have a protracted divorce, with the BBC screening the 2015 and 2016 championships when little appetite for golf exists at the broadcaster. Sky, conversely, has considerably increased its golfing presence both in Europe and on the PGA Tour.
Sources at the BBC have now admitted they are serious about cutting short the Open deal. There would be a logical financial motivation for this: BBC Sport has already suffered a series of recent budget cuts and is anxious to protect existing, longer-term arrangements with the likes of Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Six Nations.
Not showing the 2016 Open could save the BBC around £7m. Privately, senior figures at the R&A are understood to be aware of this option, but it has not yet been formally proposed to them.
The barriers to such a move involve reputation – whether the BBC would consider it too much of a publicity risk to withdraw from golf almost immediately – and if the existing contract could easily be terminated pre-2017.
Sky would need to fill the void for the 2016 championship at Royal Troon. It seems inconceivable, though, that the subscription broadcaster would knock back such a scenario if on offer.
The R&A is already close to a fresh, highly lucrative contract to sell Open rights in North America, which golf’s governing body hopes will span 10 years from 2017. ESPN is thought to be unwilling to extend its current deal.
Confirmation of that arrangement, which has been negotiated by IMG from the early part of this year, is expected to arrive before Rory McIlroy defends the Claret Jug in Fife.