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Sky gains from BBC live golf reappraisal in Masters renewal

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 14: Tiger Woods (L) of the United States celebrates on the 18th green after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

  • Pay-TV broadcaster gets live exclusivity, BBC pivots to highlights
  • Sky pays around $14m per year for 2020, 2021 with option for 2022
  • BBC pays around $2m per year, budget pressures force review of golf priorities

Sky achieved its long-held ambition of exclusive live coverage of the US Masters in the UK because its co-incumbent, the BBC, decided live golf is no longer a strategic priority.

Pay-television broadcaster Sky announced in November its deal with the Augusta National Golf Club for the rights to the prestigious tournament. The deal is understood to cover 2020 and 2021 with an option to renew for 2022 that both parties must agree to exercise. The deal was struck in private negotiations.

It is thought Sky is paying about $14m (€12.6m) per year for multi-platform rights. The broadcaster is thought to have paid between $8m and $9m for non-exclusive live rights to the 2019 edition.

Sky will continue to show all four days of the Masters on its dedicated golf channel, with associated coverage on Sky Sports News and Sky Sports’ social and digital platforms.

The deal is Sky’s first multi-year Masters contract since the expiry of its 2015 to 2017 agreement with Augusta. Under that deal, Sky also showed all four days of the Masters, but only had exclusivity over the Thursday and Friday. UK public broadcaster the BBC also showed live coverage of the Saturday and Sunday, along with highlights from Thursday and Friday under a separate deal.

This coverage split continued in 2018 and 2019, with the BBC paying between $7m and $8m per year over the period, while Sky agreed one-year rolling deals for 2018 and 2019.

Sky has coveted full live exclusivity of the Masters since it first started broadcasting the tournament in 2011 but had been frustrated in its pursuit, leading to tensions between the broadcaster and Augusta. These tensions were the primary reason why the parties could only agree one-year rolling deals for the past two years.

Sky sees itself as the home of golf in the UK, and the Masters deal will shore up its position given the competition the PGA Tour and media giant Discovery-operated GolfTV could pose in the coming years.

This threat led Sky to pay £18m (€21.2m/$23.6m) per year to extend its rights to The Open until 2024 last year and reinstate its partnership with the US PGA Championship until 2023.

Sky holds exclusive PGA Tour rights until 2021-22, after which GolfTV will broadcast these events in the UK and Ireland. Sky also holds the live rights to the Ryder Cup and European Tour until 2022.

It held exclusive rights to the US Open from 2015 to 2019, paying $15m per year, and is still in discussions over a renewal.

BBC shift

Sky was able to achieve its long-held goal because of a change in the BBC’s golf strategy. The public broadcaster no longer considers live golf a priority and has switched to a ‘highlights’ relationship with Augusta. Budgetary pressures triggered the move.

One industry expert told SportBusiness Media: “It’s an expensive sport to cover for the audience it delivers.”

The BBC’s new Masters deal mirrors Sky’s in that it covers 2020 and 2021 with an option to continue into 2022. The public broadcaster will now show highlights across all four days. Each highlights programme will last between one and two hours, with a potentially longer edition on the final day. The BBC has also acquired rights to digital clips and radio commentary as part of the deal.

It is understood the BBC is paying around $2m per year for its rights.

The BBC first broadcast the Masters in 1963. While it is understood Augusta was keen for the BBC to retain live coverage because of the free-to-air exposure offered, the public broadcaster’s financial restrictions meant a deal for live coverage could not be reached.

It is understood the BBC’s appetite for continuing live Masters’ coverage, against a backdrop of tightening fiscal constraints, was also tempered by concerns over golf’s relatively narrow audience demographic and the tournament’s overnight timeslot in the UK.

SportBusiness Media understands that, contrary to a widely-held industry belief, the BBC did not have an option to extend its previous two-year deal into 2020, and so began negotiations with a clean slate.

The outcome of the Masters talks means the BBC will now no longer show any live golf on its television channels, following its decision in 2016 to end live coverage of the Open.

Ryder Cup renewal

The BBC’s Masters deal followed its renewal in September of highlights rights to the Ryder Cup and European Tour.  It paid only a marginal fee rise despite the addition to the package of the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

It is understood to be paying an average of around £1.1m per year for the four-year deal, which runs from 2019 to 2022. This is up from the approximately £1m per year it paid from 2013 to 2018. The annual fee the BBC pays for the highlights rights is slightly higher when the Ryder Cup is held in Europe as the content sits in a better time slot.

The new deal encompasses the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin and the 2022 tournament at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome, Italy. The BBC will provide television highlights, radio commentary and clips on the BBC Sport website.

In addition to the Ryder Cup, the deal also sees the BBC retain television highlights of the BMW PGA Championship and the Scottish Open, as well as the new addition, the DP World Tour Championship.

SportBusiness Media understands rights-holder the European Tour was keen to secure free-to-air coverage for the Dubai event as it is the climax of the season.

The deal was agreed in private negotiations. The European Tour is advised on its media-rights sales by the IMG agency, although the Tour takes the lead in discussions with the BBC and Sky.

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