Sky to make early start to Open coverage as BBC steps back

UK pay-television broadcaster Sky will assume live coverage of the Open Championship from the 2016 edition of the golf major after the acceptance of a proposal from public-service broadcaster the BBC to end its obligations a year early.

The R&A, which operates the British tournament, today (Wednesday) confirmed the news, stating it was approached in recent weeks by the BBC to discuss being released from its contract to provide live coverage of the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon in 2016. 

The R&A said in a statement: “After significant deliberation, the R&A has accepted the BBC’s proposal and agreed that the BBC be allowed to amend its broadcast arrangements for the Open 12 months early.

“As a result of these discussions, the R&A approached Sky Sports to assess its willingness to broadcast the Open from 2016 rather than 2017. The R&A is grateful to Sky Sports for agreeing to commence live broadcasting of the Open a year early. No additional revenue will be received by the R&A in 2016 as a result of this new arrangement.”

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

Under the amended deal, the BBC will broadcast prime time highlights starting in 2016 and will continue its radio coverage along with enhanced digital offerings. The R&A said it is now in the process of sourcing a new production partner to produce the world feed in the BBC’s absence.

Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A, said: “It is sad to see the BBC’s live coverage of the Open end and I know some fans will be disappointed. The relationship between the R&A and the BBC spans more than 60 years and we understand the challenging circumstances that the BBC is currently presented with.”

Writing in a blog post, Barbara Slater, director of BBC Sport, alluded to the financial pressures facing the corporation, adding the Open decision was a “pragmatic” one. Slater said: “Much has been written and spoken recently about the BBC’s finances and its offering to licence fee payers. The funding agreement announced in the Chancellor’s July budget and the overview of the BBC’s future finances outlined in the Charter Review proposals make it clear that the BBC is faced with some challenging financial savings targets. Sport on the BBC is not immune to those pressures and they are compounded by the highly inflationary nature of the rights market.

“Now, more than ever, it is critical that the BBC targets its resources to ensure maximum choice and value for money for licence fee payers. We have already made long term commitments to a wide range of major sporting events, including the Wimbledon Championships to 2020, the next two Football World Cups, Match of the Day to 2019, Six Nations to 2021 and the next three Olympic Games.

“So following the announcement that Sky had been awarded the live TV rights to the Open and in light of financial developments since, the choice to amend the current contract from next year was a pragmatic one. We know that many fans are unhappy with the loss of rights and in an ideal world the BBC would still be the home of live coverage of the Open.”