Jul 18th, 2019
The Open should be free for all
So why do Sky have it and BBC the crumbs?
Words: GolfPunk Photography: Getty Images, R&A
Why is the golf now only on Sky TV in the UK with the BBC set to produce, if last year is anything to go by, a set of very ordinary highlights programmes? Who is to blame - Sky, the BBC, the politicians, the R&A or perhaps even Brexit?
The Cricket World Cup final was amazing. Never have I experienced such a roller coaster of emotions over such a short space of time watching a sporting event. To this day I will never know quite how England won but they did and me, and some 8 million folks, watched for free (well most of them). The news channels were jammed full of news reports on this national success and the impact it will have on the grass roots game.
Roll forward a week from that momentous occasion and the Open championship should be coming to a close over the links of Royal Portrush. Up until a few years ago millions would have been glued to the BBC watching the final pair coming up the eighteenth hole but alas, no more. The mighty Sky have all the rights except for a 2-hour highlights package every evening for the BBC.
The Open was a regular offering on the BBC for over 60 years when Sky stole the rights (well ok they bought them!) in 2015 and from 2017 it was to be live on Sky only. As it happens our friends at the BBC actually handed the rights back a year early to save some dosh and so Sky started their coverage at Troon in 2016.
"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." So the luvvies at the Beeb decided to jettison the ‘elite’ sport one year early.
The Open is a listed sporting event in The Broadcasting Act in the UK but sadly it is in the B list. The A list which is events for which full live coverage must be offered to the free-to-air channels includes events such as the Olympic Games, the FA Cup Final, the Grand National and Wimbledon. B list events may have live coverage on subscription television provided that secondary coverage is offered to free-to-air broadcasters.
The Labour government actually had a plan for just one list of “listed events” which included the Open but just as the consultation period ended Dodgy Dave and his sidekick Nick came along as the new coalition government and kicked the can down the road. Subsequent governments have continued to swerve the issue and the latest position is summed up by following from Margot James, the Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, who said last year:
“[It]is desirable for sports to try their best to maximise their audience and their income. I encourage sporting bodies to do their best to adhere to the voluntary broadcast principles of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, which include trying to ensure that at least highlights are shown on free-to-air television so that, for example, we can still watch golf highlights in that way…”
So, for those events not on the hallowed A list it is down to the governing body to decide how best to sell the rights to broadcasters – enter the R&A stage left!
It is believed Sky have bid £15 million pounds a year for the rights and the BBC were only prepared to go to £10 million. So, the R&A decided that £5 million in the bin was more important than ensuring that the Open reached as big an audience as possible in the UK. What price a four-day long advert for our great game?
I am sure they will argue that the £5 million has helped the game at the grass roots level and supports a number of activities that they can list. But, what better way to entice people, including particularly much needed youngsters, to the game than having it free to air for all to see? How much do you have to spend to make up for that lost opportunity?
Does rather feel a bit “Pass the port to the left old chap – ooh this is a fine vintage haven’t we all done well?”
And another thing....