R&A chief defends Sky’s Open deal

UK public-service broadcaster the BBC “switched emphasis” when bidding for the domestic rights to Britain’s Open Championship to focus on highlights after the first round of offers for live coverage in the recent auction, according to Peter Dawson, the outgoing chief executive of the R&A, which operates the golf tournament.

The R&A’s decision to take live coverage of the Open off free-to-air television and award rights to pay-television broadcaster Sky for five years, from 2017 to 2021, has been criticised by some viewers, with the BBC having had exclusive rights for 60 years.

The BBC will provide highlights of the tournament, and Dawson told the Guardian newspaper that the BBC showed a lack of interest in the live rights after the first round.

“Having got the first bids [in the tendering process] back, we then obviously had a lot of questions to ask,” he said. “We asked a lot of questions of both companies and at the end of that question and answer session, we went out for a second round of bids because there were so many points in the questions that could have affected things. At that stage, I think all I can say is that it was very clear the BBC at that point were interested in pursuing the highlights option."

He added: “The BBC made it clear the highlight feed was the way they wanted to go. I think this is important; the BBC did bid for live rights initially and so it’s not true to say they didn’t want them, I don’t think. Later on in the process, they switched emphasis. I am not 100 per cent sure why. It was financially driven, I am guessing, but you would have to ask them.”