Free-to-air coverage of the oldest golf major in the world is under threat as the Open Championship seeks to secure a new broadcasting deal.
The Daily Telegraph reports that the tender process for The Open broadcast rights is under way, and could see the BBC lose exclusive live rights for the first time in the tournament’s history.
Sky Sports is said to be interested in securing live coverage to the 155-year-old tournament from 2016. The bidding process is managed by golf’s governing body the R&A.
This will be the 60th year the BBC has held exclusive rights to The Open, but given the financial clout of rival pay-TV broadcasters the diamond anniversary could be the last.
The Open golf is no longer considered a “crown jewel” sporting event, meaning that there is no obligation for a terrestrial broadcaster to hold live coverage. The tournament is currently classified as a ‘Group B’ designated event by Ofcom, which means that a terrestrial broadcaster must be able to show TV highlights.
There is still a chance that the BBC could show live Open coverage in some form. Under the current US Masters deal, for example, Sky Sports broadcasts live coverage of all four days of the tournament. The BBC has highlights of play on Thursday and Friday, before showing live coverage of the weekend’s final two rounds.
It is unclear whether a similar deal could be agreed for the Open.
Sky broadcasts live European and PGA Tour golf every week, has exclusive live TV coverage for the Ryder Cup and US Open, and has already outbid the BBC for coverage of the PGA Championship and Scottish Open.
The amount of live golf coverage on the BBC has fallen dramatically in the past 10 years. Golf correspondent James Corrigan says in the Telegraph, “A decade ago, the BBC showed 24 days of live professional men’s golf. This year it will show six and, as we now know, these are in severe jeopardy.”
The bidding process for the Open comes as speculation mounts over whether the BBC will be able to hold on to Premier League Match of the Day highlights. ITV is said to be interested in bidding for Premier League highlights after losing live Champions League coverage to BT Sport.
The existing deal for the Open was agreed in 2010 but expires after this year’s tournament. If Sky do succeed in securing rights, this will be the first time in the championship’s history that it has not been live on the BBC.