Sky Sports and the R&A have signed a new five-year deal that gives the network the rights to broadcast the British Open beginning in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, the R&A announced Feb. 3.
The tournament was previously shown live by the BBC, which, as part of the new deal, will televise a two-hour daily highlight show from 8-10 p.m. GMT during the event, in addition to providing radio coverage. The BBC has held the exclusive rights to the British Open for nearly 60 years, and will conclude its run with its 2016 broadcast of the event from Royal Troon in Scotland.
Concerns have been raised over the move to Sky Sports, a satellite television network, with many saying grow-the-game efforts will suffer with the British Open telecast no longer available on “free-to-air” television.
R&A chief executive Peter Dawson addressed these concerns in an open letter on the R&A’s website:
“We have looked at this issue very carefully and believe it is not possible to make an informed case that participation is simply and directly linked to free-to-air television viewing,” wrote Dawson. “Golf’s reported recent decline in participation coincides with The Open, Women’s British Open and the Masters Tournament being shown on free-to-air television.
“During that same period we have also seen participation in other sports, shown frequently on free-to-air television, decrease while some others, shown exclusively on subscription television, have seen an increase.”
Dawson added that viewers without access to Sky Sports can watch via NOW TV, an online TV service that offers short-term packages without a contract. He also added that the new deal will allow the organization to further support the development of golf in the U.K. and Ireland and that the R&A will “ensure that golf feels the full benefit of the enhanced resources available.”
It’s worth noting that the deal comes about 18 months after Fox Sports announced a 12-year, $1.1 billion deal with the USGA to broadcast its events including the U.S. Open. Fox Sports and Sky Sports are both owned by Rupert Murdoch’s media giant News Corporation.