British Open sends warning to BBC ahead of rights renewal

Cuts in sports coverage at UK public-service broadcaster the BBC are endangering its hold on British Open golf rights, the tournament’s rights-holder has warned.


Peter Dawson, the chief executive of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, the tournament’s rights-holder, told the Guardian newspaper: “They know we have got our eye on them. It hasn't just been in golf but with the likes of tennis as well. You have to stay in practice and keep up with advances in technology. You need to be in practice to do it well. We obviously want the Open Championship to be seen by as many people as we can. The BBC know they need to get off the financial plateau they are on with the Open Championship by the next time it comes around. Who knows who will be on the scene then?”


The BBC currently has a five-year deal for exclusive live coverage of the Open, from 2012 to 2016.


The broadcaster has cut its sports rights budget due to a government-imposed licence fee freeze. It has also faced increasing competition for golf rights from pay-television broadcasters, notably BSkyB. Sky three weeks ago snatched live rights for two UK-based European Tour events from the public-service broadcaster. BBC’s live coverage of men’s tournament golf has fallen from 24 days seven years ago to six days next year.


Dawson said that pay-television broadcaster ESPN’s UK channel was a potential rival for the BBC for the rights. ESPN would not be able to buy fully exclusive UK rights, as listed events legislation says that highlights or delayed coverage of the tournament must be shown on free-to-air television. ESPN’s US channel has an eight-year deal, from 2010 to 2017, to show live coverage of the Open.


The Guardian said talks for the next cycle of domestic British Open rights were scheduled to get underway in 2015.