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Open Championship deal is a win for Sky, but will audience gain?

Sky has won the exclusive rights to broadcast the Open Championship from 2017, after signing a five-year deal.

Sky has won the exclusive rights to broadcast the Open Championship from 2017, after signing a five-year deal. The R&A, which organises the Open and assumes responsibility of the Rules of Golf, announced this morning that the event will be shown live on Sky Sports, with primetime highlights and radio coverage remaining with the BBC.

The move marks the end of the BBC’s 60-year history broadcasting the Open, in an agreement which currently costs the broadcaster £7 million per year. It is thought that Sky are paying the R&A over double this amount for the broadcast rights.

Peter Dawson, chief executive of The R&A commented that, “the new agreement will enable us to increase substantially our support for golf in the United Kingdom and Ireland” and although he doesn’t elaborate as to how exactly this will be achieved, Barney Francis, Sky Sports managing director added that the company will work with 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.”

However, moving the Open Champion to Sky arguably limits the entertainment and engagement many golf fans will have with the sport, as those unable or unwilling to pay for Sky services will see only limited coverage of the event. The announcement was unsurprisingly one which sparked conversation across Twitter. National Club Golfer magazine (@NCGmagazine) asked: ‘Which golf coverage do you prefer, Sky’s or BBC?’ asking Twitter users to ‘retweet’ in support of the BBC, and ‘favourite’ the tweet if they prefer Sky coverage. Golf fans have overwhelmingly shown their support for the public service broadcaster, with 144 retweeting, compared with 39 who ‘favourited’ the tweet.

Former professional golfer Peter Alliss also took to social media to air his disapproval of the move: ‘Well done R&A. You see declining numbers in the sport you govern & then decide selling the rights of your show piece to a limited audience’ he tweeted yesterday.

As part of the deal, Sky will limit the number of commercial breaks during its live coverage to a maximum of four 60-second breaks per hour. However, this hardly seems a huge concession, considering Sky’s recent financial results. The Open rights deal comes in the same week that Sky reported its results for the six months ended 31 December, revealing group revenue up 5 per cent, operating profit up 16 per cent, and 204,000 new customers in the UK and Ireland.

Dawson used the argument that Sky’s existing golf coverage places it in good stead to assume a near-monopoly over the coverage of the sport. “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. Sky Sports has an excellent track record in covering golf across its platforms and has become the home of live golf coverage over recent years.”

Sky Sports provides live coverage of the Masters tournament, the US Open and the PGA Championship and broadcasts the Ryder Cup in the UK. It also holds the exclusive rights to cover the European Tour, PGA Tour, Ladies European Tour and LPGA Tour in the UK and Ireland.

The Open Championship is part of a List B of sporting events, protected by the Ofcom Code on Sports originally laid out in the Broadcasting Act 1996. The Code stipulates that highlights of List B sports – including the Open Championship – have to be shown on terrestrial television. As such, the BBC has been awarded the right to broadcast primetime highlights of The Open and has renewed its live radio rights. The two-hour highlights package will be shown between 8pm and 10pm each day of the Championship, joining the BBC’s sports highlights portfolio along with Match of the Day and the Ryder Cup.

Barbara Slater, director of sport at the BBC, admitted, “We’re obviously disappointed that we were unable to retain live TV coverage of The Open Championship.”