Sky Sports will exclusively broadcast The Open Championship live from 2017 after signing a ground-breaking five-year deal with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
Golf’s oldest major will be broadcast by Sky’s award-winning golf team from 2017, meaning subscribers can enjoy a live golf schedule offering over 100 tournaments a year, including all four majors, the Ryder Cup, and every event on the European Tour and PGA Tour.
Sky Sports promises to extend and enhance coverage of The Open Championship, including live coverage of all four days’ play in their entirety across TV, online, tablet and mobile devices, while the new rights agreement includes exclusively live coverage of the Walker Cup in 2019, the men’s amateur version of the Ryder Cup between Great Britain & Ireland and the United States, at Royal Liverpool.
The reported £75m five-year partnership will also enable The R&A to provide significantly increased financial support to boost golf participation initiatives in the UK, as well as working with Sky Sports to “excite and engage viewers through the innovative coverage”.
Though widely expected, the move is expected to intensify concern from some in the game that it will further impact on declining participation figures and reopen the debate about the crown jewels list of major sporting events protected for free-to-air TV, of which the Open is only the B-list for terrestrial highlights.
While Sky Sports celebrates adding the final piece of the jigsaw to its live golf portfolio, the deal brings to an end of one of sport’s longest-running broadcast partnerships as the golf’s governing body decided against renewing its exclusive contract with the BBC.
The corporation refused to compete with an offer from Sky thought to be in the region of double the £7 million a year it is paying under the current deal, which means the 2016 tournament at Royal Troon will signal the end of the BBC’s 61-year run of providing exclusive live coverage of the Open.
From 2017 onwards, the BBC will air prime-time free-to-air highlights from 8.00pm to 10.00pm each night during the tournament, while BBC Radio 5 live will continue offer extensive live coverage.
Both Sky Sports and the BBC will provide extensive coverage of the event through their digital channels ensuring golf fans throughout the UK will have numerous ways to enjoy golf’s oldest and most international championship.
Commenting on the deal with Sky Sports, Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A, said: “We believe this is the best result for The Open and for golf.
“The way people consume live sport is changing significantly and this new agreement ensures fans have a range of options for enjoying the Championship on television, on radio and through digital channels.
“Sky Sports has an excellent track record in covering golf across its platforms and has become the home of live golf coverage over recent years. We are very much looking forward to working with them to develop and enhance the coverage of The Open.
“We have enjoyed a long and successful relationship with the BBC and, although the nature of that relationship is changing from 2017, we are delighted that the BBC will broadcast prime-time highlights and that the Championship will continue to benefit from extensive live coverage on Radio 5 Live and online.
“Importantly, the new agreement will enable us to increase substantially our support for golf in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That our increased commitment to golf in both countries is to be supported by both Sky Sports and the BBC is a hugely positive step for our sport.”
Sky Sports provides live coverage of all four days of the Masters tournament, the US Open, the US PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup in the UK, and also holds the exclusive rights to cover the European Tour, PGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and LPGA Tour in the UK and Ireland.
Under the new agreement, the number of commercial breaks during the television coverage of The Open will be kept to a maximum of four minutes per hour, with each break running for just 60 seconds.
Golf coverage features on Sky Sports every week of the year and the studio’s golf analysis team, with some of the sport’s biggest names, and over 200 tournament wins and 43 Ryder Cup appearances between them, including Jack Nicklaus, Colin Montgomerie, Butch Harmon and Paul McGinley.
Sky has pioneered golf innovations to continually develop the coverage and to bring fans closer to the sport, including showing all three days in full of The Ryder Cup, HD, 3D, interactive and multi-platform coverage, and more in-depth analysis through the Shot Centre and Sky Cart.
Barney Francis, Sky Sports Managing Director, said: “The Open is the world’s preeminent golf championship and we are committed to taking coverage of the event to new levels.
“We offer something for every sports fan and this exciting agreement for The Open means our customers can now enjoy all four Majors live.
“Sky Sports has a passion for golf that has spanned two decades, offering unrivalled commitment, airtime and promotion as well as year-round innovative coverage.
“We look forward to working with The R&A to entertain and engage new and existing golf fans through our innovative multi-platform coverage and also at the grassroots level via Sky Academy.”
The Open Championship is the latest major event to migrate from free-to-air to pay-TV with the BBC now left only with prime-time highlights of the one of the most iconic events on the British sporting calendar.
BBC Sport’s two hour highlights package will be shown between 8.00pm and 10.00pm each day of the tournament and will sit alongside its limited portfolio of other golf rights.
These include highlights of the Wentworth PGA Championship, Scottish Open and Ryder Cup, while the corporation will continue to screen live coverage of the final two days of the Masters Tournament, as well as the 2016 Olympic competitions in Rio de Janeiro.
Barbara Slater, Director of Sport at the BBC, said, “We’re obviously disappointed that we were unable to retain live TV coverage of The Open Championship.
“However, we’re delighted to be continuing our 60 year partnership with The R&A and feel that a comprehensive two hour highlights programme – a format which has already proven successful – in a prime-time slot over four days will allow us to continue to bring all the best action and key moments from The Open to a large free-to-air audience on TV, radio and online.”
The R&A’s decision to sign an exclusive live deal with Sky, chief executive Peter Dawson’s last significant move before he steps down later this year, will not do anything to help golf’s falling participation figures and the move to Sky been widely criticised by numerous big names in the sport, including Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and veteran BBC golf broadcaster Peter Alliss.
In an open letter, Dawson said: “I want to express my gratitude to the BBC, our trusted broadcast partner for 60 years.
“Our relationship developed through The Open’s renaissance in the early 1960s, golf’s boom years in the 1970s and 80s and more recently the height of its global appeal during the 90s and 2000s.
“We are delighted that the BBC remains a broadcast partner of The Open Championship for 2017 and beyond and, we hope, for a great many years to come.
“I recognise that this new broadcast model represents a significant change and I understand that change, particularly where it involves the BBC, is controversial. We have observed, over several years, that the way the majority of people are choosing to consume sport is changing.
“Time pressures, multi-channel viewing providing sport and entertainment from all over the world, the second screen phenomenon, social media and digital consumption are all important factors in considering how we reach fans of all ages but particularly the younger generation.
“We have to cater for that changing environment and deliver the best viewing experience possible to golf fans.
“Numerous factors were weighed in this process such as quality of coverage, household reach, innovations in the broadcast, commercial considerations and promotion of The Open and our sport throughout the year.
“We have considered this new agreement extremely carefully and firmly believe that by working with the two leading sports broadcasters for the UK and Ireland we have achieved the best result not just for the future of The Open but for golf as a whole.