The chief executive of golf’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient (R&A), has indicated that if the BBC does not increase its investment in sport and keep abreast of modern technology it could risk losing the rights to live coverage of The Open tournament.
Speaking at a media day on Monday (April 23) to discuss arrangements for this year’s Open, Peter Dawson said he had talked to the BBC about the situation. The R&A is particularly concerned at the reduced number of days of major championships the broadcaster is covering live.
“The BBC, because of the financial position they’re in more than anything else, are moving towards a policy of covering the biggest events that they can get,” he commented. “They [the BBC] have to stay in practice. They have to keep up with the advance in technology in broadcasting and they know we’ve got our eye on that for sure.”
A new deal for coverage of The Open was signed by the R&A and the BBC in July 2010. The contract included the possibility of covering the event in 3D, with Dawson saying at the time that the organisers would be watching developments in this technology.
The 2010 Open was the first to be broadcast in HD by the BBC, which was criticised for lagging behind other broadcasters after coverage of other major golf tournaments had already switched to the format.
The Open is on the B List of protected televised sporting events in the UK. This means that only highlights are guaranteed for free-to-air, giving the opportunity for satellite or cable broadcasters to bid for the live rights. The BBC’s contract on The Open runs until 2016 and Dawson acknowledged that Sky was a contender, although the R&A does not want to affect the potential number of viewers.
“We obviously want The Open Championship to be seen by as many spectators as we possibly can,” he said. “We also know that over time, as things are converging, the choice for people to consume the championship is forever widening. It’s not just a television issue, it’s a digital media issue, as well. The BBC know that they need to get off the financial plateau that they’re on with the Open Championship at the moment next time around. We’ll have to see what happens. Who knows who else will be in the market by then? ESPN maybe for all I know. The scene is forever changing.”
A BBC spokesperson commented on Dawson’s statements: “The BBC has only recently signed a new deal for the Open Golf until 2016. We are completely committed to this event and are looking forward to bringing the Championship to audiences for the next five years.”
The 2012 Open takes place at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s, Lancashire from 15 to 22 July.