Bye-Bye watch The Open on Sky

The Royal & Ancient (R&A) is reported to have sold the television rights of The Open Championship to Sky for £10m from 2016, thus bringing to an end 59 years of coverage from the BBC. No official statement has been made at the time of writing to confirm the reports which, given the criticism that the R&A and terrestrial broadcaster are likely to come in for, is hardly surprising.

The BBC is far keener to trumpet its new £204m deal to bring late night Premier League football highlights to our screens on Match of the Day until 2019. The decision to sacrifice The Open has been treated with shock and anger from golfers and golfing broadcasters alike, especially as the £10m deal appears so cheap in comparison to what Sky pays in other sporting fields. Former Arsenal star, Thierry Henry, receives a staggering £4m a year to act as a professional pundit on Sky’s televised, live Sunday football programme.

What becomes increasingly apparent each year is that BBC is no longer the natural TV channel of major sport and one wonders if its phenomenally well paid executives are even that interested in the subject. One only has to look at its Sports’ Personality of the Year award programme to realise just how little quality sport is still shown on the channel.

Its rugby coverage still retains the annual six nations tournament but all England’s matches before Christmas are the preserve of Sky as are the British & Irish Lions rugby tours. International test cricket vanished some time ago.

Those viewers who have grown up with the great British institutions of televised sport will recall with affection men such as Henry Longhurst with his unique and idiosyncratic golf commentary whilst also mourning the departure of other greats such as Harry Carpenter on boxing, David Coleman on athletics and football, Kenneth Wolstenholme on football, John Arlott on cricket and Dan Maskell on tennis.

Peter Alliss may well be approaching his dotage but his is still the most readily identifiable voice in televised golf. Sky is able to offer some great television shots but try and name some of its commentators? Bill McLaren defined rugby union on the BBC although only the keenest follower would be able to name Sky’s rugby front man.

And apart from a dearth of world class broadcasters Sky coverage reaches far fewer viewers. Many people will go down to a pub to watch live broadcast football and rugby but how many will do the same for golf? And how many pubs would even show it?

Rory McIlroy’s failure to sufficiently capture the viewing public’s imagination to win the 2014 Sports’ Personality of the Year after a stellar season capturing two majors clearly shows that fewer people are engaged with golf these days, surely even more reason for the BBC to have retained the Open and invested in the sort of technology available on Sky to enhance viewers understanding and enjoyment of the game.

Peter Alliss has been vocal about the decision, saying, ‘Hand on heart, I can’t not criticise the BBC. They are far and away the R&A’s biggest television client, so why haven’t they said to them: “You know, we’re struggling against the financial might of Sky but why don’t we also cover some of the other events you run, like the Amateur Championship and the Boys Championship and the Walker Cup?”’

But the BBC is not the only guilty party in this deal. If the R & A wants to encourage more young people to get involved in the game, especially with the downward spiral in those playing these days, it should appreciate that getting money in from Sky is not the only way of helping reverse the trend. Showing the top players compete on terrestrial television can do much to disprove the increasingly held perception that golf is purely the preserve of the old, affluent and snooty.

Lee Westwood, on hearing of the deal said that the BBC, ‘Was doing golf no favours. Look at the viewing figures for Sky compared to the BBC and you have to question this decision, especially when the number of golfers is dwindling. The R&A is at fault too. They are supposed to be the guardians of the game. But this seems to be money driven, with Sky willing to pay more.’

The Daily Mail was sufficiently moved before tend decision was made to ask its readers to write to Peter Dawson before he steps down as R&A chief executive, stating ‘I am writing to urge you not to move The Open Championship to satellite television. Keeping it on terrestrial TV is crucial to golf’s future. Please don’t make the mistake of alienating so many fans.’ But Dawson was clearly unmoved.

When the announcement is finally made the R&A will doubtless say in some carefully worded press release how Sky’s money will be made available to the grass roots of the game and help to get more people engaged whilst the BBC will inevitably come up with some mealy-mouthed politically correct statement of prudent house-keeping which will be seen by many as ironic, coming from a corporation that paid its staff £24m to move from London to its new headquarters in Salford.

But whatever the press releases say none will be able to disguise what is a very sad day indeed for British golf and an equally bad one for British broadcasting.





6 thoughts on “Bye-Bye watch The Open on Sky

  1. Agree, it’s a great shame that The Open is no longer available to all on terrestrial t.v. At a time that golf is struggling to compete with alternative attractions, sporting & otherwise, it seems inconceivable that the R & A would sell the rights so cheaply to satellite Sky. However, with the Beeb showing little appetite for sport & Sky golf coverage & investment being across the board excellent, it’s a sad reflection on our golfing times.
    One would have thought that the Tiger era, followed by that of Rory & several other fine young players around the world, would have engendered much enthusiasm for the sport from the young. Sadly this appears not to have been the case in the UK & the challenges faced by golfing administrators & golf clubs will continue to grow.
    Fresh ideas & approaches need to be identified that resonate with the young… cashed in on 20/20, rugby on 7s, hockey on indoor 5 aside…new initiatives are needed in golf to attract the young.
    So, come on… the immortal words of Delia ” let’s be ‘aving you !”……who’s got some bright ideas ?

    • Thanks for this, Trevor. When you look at the healthy state of the game at junior international level it would appear that there is little to worry about. It is below this dizzy height and the golfers who want to simply play and have fun that are proving harder to attract and even harder to keep.
      Which sporty youngsters could fail to admire Rory McIlroy and Charlie Hull? Golf and indeed other sports’ problem is a dwindling number of sporty youngsters. Look at the quality of British tennis, Murray apart, if you really want to feel depressed.

  2. While I agree with the general thrust of your views I do feel the BBC has not moved forwards in it’s coverage and while I am of an age to fondly remember all the “great” commentators you mention I do feel that beyond Alliss who, while i still enjoy listening to him, nowadays is, to my mind, about idiosyncracy as opposed to golfing insight.
    By comparison while Ewan Murray has always irritated me I quite like Richard Boxall and Howard Clark and, as an avid golfer, feel their in studio analysis with Mark Roe, Denis Pugh etc are very interesting.
    For the general viewer I feel golf should be one of the “golden” protected sports which could not have been “sold off” as it has and the dearth of a non digital is to be deprecated.
    However I would, finally, return to the undoubted ” quality” and innovation of the sky product which has moved someway beyond the BBC efforts in recent years.

    • The BBC, sadly, does not seem too fussed about live coverage of sport generally these days. There are strong rumours that Wimbledon may be the next to go although the final weekend would still be broadcast live but not exclusively. The demise of fine BBC broadcasters is hardly coincidental when so much sport is now being aired elsewhere.

  3. So the BBC have lost The Open to Sky. So? Why is everyone so distraught about it? If you’re into your sport, and particularly golf, you’ve got Sky Sports already and you’re not going to miss out. What golf did the BBC ever show other than The Open? A couple of the days of The Masters and The Ryder Cup.

    As long as Peter Allis is still commentating and Iain Carter still gets to blog about it, nothing will change. In fact, in my opinion, Sky getting The Open is a good thing.

    If the argument is that the BBC losing The Open means that golf isn’t exposed to the masses, is that really true? Everyone has Sky these days.

    Even if I’m wrong and the majority don’t have a Sky Sports subscription, golf on the BBC isn’t bringing more people to the game. Lets be honest, a non-golfer isn’t going to watch people walk about in the wind and rain, watch a white ball in the grey sky land on a patch of grass all the while not understanding what is going on and then think, “That’s the game for me!” Even if Rory wins the event, is that going to be enough to attract more players to the game? He’s already world number 1, multiple major winner, Ryder Cup winner, has his face on a load of adverts and is doing his best to get his name in the papers for social reasons. Is a win at The Open really going to get the masses playing again?

    People don’t play golf because it’s too slow and too difficult (slow + difficult = boring).

    So, I think BBC losing The Open is great news! It will give the governing bodies of the sport and clubs a kick up the ass to do something about the game to get more people involved. Lets make the game quicker, easier and more interesting. Then, when these new players are attracted to this more exciting version of the game, they can progress to a more traditional format (if they want).

    I’m not talking about footgolf, that’s a different ‘sport’ altogether, but there are other changes that clubs can make to attract players to the game.

    Click here for just a few ideas that will get more players on the course.

    • Thanks so much for this, Oli. Our Blog is all about opinion although the prospect of adverts and Colin Montgomerie’s commentary on Sky for four days don’t appeal very much to this Blogger. To my mind the BBC should have got its act together earlier and pushed the likes of Andrew Cotter and Hazel Irvine to the fore. If golf is perceived as old, affluent and snooty by many youngsters then Peter Alliss is surely the embodiment of this.

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