Open Championship enters new era with Sky deal

UK pay-television broadcaster Sky has confirmed a five-year deal with the R&A, which operates the Open Championship, for the acquisition of exclusive live rights to the British golf major.

The agreement, first reported at the weekend, was announced today (Tuesday) and takes in the five editions of the Open running from 2017 to 2021. The Open Championship will, for the first time, be shown live on Sky Sports with prime-time television highlights delivered by public-service broadcaster the BBC.

The deal means the BBC’s 60-year ownership of the exclusive live rights will end after the 2016 Open. The Open was recently removed from the list of events protected for free-to-air broadcast in the UK, which opened up the potential for deals with pay-television operators.

Sky’s acquisition means it will be able to offer its subscribers a live golf schedule comprised of more than 100 tournaments a year, including all four majors, the Ryder Cup, and every event on the European Tour and PGA Tour. Sky said the new rights agreement also includes exclusively live coverage of the 2019 Walker Cup biennial amateur golf contest between Great Britain and Ireland, and the United States.

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. 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 R&A stressed that, under the new agreement, the number of commercial breaks during Sky’s coverage of the Open will be kept to a maximum of four minutes per hour, with each break running for just 60 seconds.

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.

“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.”

The BBC has been awarded the right to broadcast primetime highlights of the Open. The two hour highlights package will be shown between 8pm and 10pm each day of the Championship.

Barbara Slater, director of sport at the BBC, added: “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.”