Sky Sports secure exclusive live TV rights to British Open

Five-year deal from 2017 ends the 60-year association with BBC’s free-to-air service

The Swilcan Bridge on the the Old Course at St Andrews. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty

The Swilcan Bridge on the the Old Course at St Andrews. Photograph: David Cannon/Getty

 

As George Bernard Shaw once put it, “progress is impossible without change”.

For sure, he didn’t have golf in mind when providing the benefit of his wisdom but the R&A’s decision to give Sky Sports exclusive live television rights to the British Open – thus ending the 60-year association with BBC’s free-to-air service – demonstrates a changing landscape in how the sport is broadcast.

Although BBC will have the right to a nightly highlights package, Sky Sports have scooped the real jackpot and will have exclusive rights in these parts to screen golf’s oldest Major championship from 2017 on in a five-year deal which is understood to net the R&A some €13.3 million (£10 million) annually.

Promoting golf

If the move to Sky Sports – which will have exclusive live rights to all four Majors – was inevitable, at least the R&A have put in a provision to limit advertising throughout the broadcasts.

Under the agreement, the number of commercial breaks during the television coverage will be kept to a maximum of four minutes per hour, with each break running for just 60 seconds.

The BBC’s current deal with the R&A means this year’s Open at St Andrews and the 2016 championship at Royal Troon will be screened on the station, with Sky’s deal kicking into place for the 2017 event at Royal Birkdale.

The deal with Sky takes in the period 2017 to 2021 inclusive and also gives the satellite station live rights to the 2019 Walker Cup match.

In setting out the R&A’s reasoning for switching to Sky, chief executive Peter Dawson explained: “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.

Live coverage

Winning the rights to the Open is akin to the last piece of a jigsaw falling into place for Sky, who already have the rights to the US Masters, the US Open, the US PGA and the Ryder Cup. The station also has live rights to the European Tour and the PGA Tour in the United States.

Dawson added: “Importantly, the new agreement will enable us to increase substantially our support for golf.”

Among the projects is one to conduct a strategic review on golf participation in Britain and Ireland, where there has been a significant fall off in golf club memberships during the economic recession.

The BBC has been awarded the right to broadcast prime-time highlights of the Open and has renewed its live radio rights.

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