Golf club managers vent fury over loss of Open coverage

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 4, 2015 11:36

Several golf clubs and their managers have expressed their anger that the Open Championship will not be shown live on terrestrial television from 2017, after Sky Sports won the rights to broadcast the tournament in a five-year deal after it has appeared on the BBC for the last 60 years.

The announcement comes as a multitude of golf clubs are struggling with falling participation, and many have blamed the loss of top golf events on terrestrial television over the last 30 years as one of the main reasons why.

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While the mainstream media has focused on the comments of top golfers, such as Lee Westwood, who have lashed out at the decision, golf clubs seem to be equally furious.

Alastair Griffiths, general manager of Saddleworth Golf Club in Greater Manchester, said: “They just don’t get it. Golf needs free-to-air TV coverage to survive but it seems that the appeal of the money was too great to resist, even at the expense of the very game itself. When the last person leaves the building can they please remember to put the lights out.”

On social media Fynn Valley Golf Club retweeted messages that stated ‘sad day for golf’, ‘could be detrimental to participation’ and ‘disgraceful, money-driven and short-sighted’. Similarly, The Buckinghamshire retweeted a post stating that the decision ‘will consign golf to the margins’ and Allendale Golf Club simply wrote ‘The Open and Sky is about megabucks we never see at the other end of the scale. Not wild, bloody livid.’

Lee Westwood meanwhile said it was an “absolute disgrace” that the Open does not enjoy protected status as one of sport’s ‘crown jewels’ – a small list of events which must be broadcast on terrestrial television.

The BBC will show the next two Opens, and has retained live radio rights – as well as the rights to a daily, two-hour highlights programme every evening from 2017.

Golf’s governing body, The R&A, reportedly accepted a £10m-a-year deal from Sky, trumping the £7m that the BBC had been paying – and the organisation said extra funds will be put into helping develop the game at a grass roots level.

“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. There is no question that free-to-air sports broadcasts generate good exposure for sport, we see this time and again through the Olympic Games, the World Cup and Wimbledon. But, firm conclusions about their positive impact on participation cannot be drawn,” said R&A CEO Peter Dawson.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 4, 2015 11:36
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  1. Charles de Haan February 19, 15:49

    Like many, many others, to judge by the various blogs, articles and broadcasted opinions, I greeted the news about the R&A’s decision to switch the live televising rights for The Open to Sky from 2017 onwards with dismay and sadness. I have
    been happily watching all four days’ coverage live before and since I started playing golf, and that is nearly 50 years ago.

    However, whatever chief executive Peter Dawson may say in defence of the R&A’s decision, and whatever one may think about the comparative quality of the coverage and the commentators, the impact on participation, or the constant interruptions to the ebb and flow of the event by the proposed very short advertising bursts, the bottom line is the ratings.

    This is what Eurosport said as part of a much longer article on the 3rd of February 2015: “Only history will tell if Dawson is right or wrong – but given that 5.5 million people watched Rory McIlroy win The Open, he is throwing away a lot of viewers. The 2014 Ryder Cup audience peaked at 1.74m, while Sky’s highest-rated football match of last season (Chelsea v Liverpool) drew just 3m.”

    With Dawson’s imminent retirement and despite the many good things he’s achieved for golf, it would appear that as an unintended consequence he may go down in the history of British golf as the man who took The Open away from public broadcasting and 5.5 million viewers, and gave it away for a relatively paltry extra £3million a year to Sky and an audience of barely 30 per cent of the BBC’s.

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  2. Anonymous Golf Club Manager February 10, 17:40

    We are currently reviewing our Sky licence. In 12 months the monthly charge has increased from £330 + VAT to £399 + VAT. As we only get about 25% of our VAT back Sky costs us about £5.5k per year, representing approximately £11k in bar turnover. Sky does not generate £11k turnover at the bar. I have spoken to Sky about altering the package but there are no other options, it’s the one we have or nothing at all and £5k+ is a serious expenditure for something that plays away to itself most of the time.

    By removing the Open from Free to air TV in 2017 we could well be a golf club that cannot offer its members any live TV golf coverage at all which is quite bizarre. However, perhaps the RandA have a solution that they haven’t told us about yet. Perhaps they plan to give all the extra revenue back in equal shares to the 2800 UK clubs so that we can afford to keep buying what used to be free.

    It would be very interesting if a forum for debate could be created involving the RandA, the national golf unions and the golf owners / managers. Perhaps then the RandA may be persuaded to see things differently or are they so above everyone else that they adopt the “Let them eat cake” mentality.

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  3. David February 5, 19:49

    Sadly the R & A are cushioning them selves from the impact of all those club members already lost by this action. But with less coverage will come even less members and our governing bodies will suffer with lose of membership revenue and loss of clubs. Bad decision.
    For Peter Dawson to actually say that there are no firm conclusions on positive impact on participation of free to air sport is astounding; just look what happen to McIlroy and the Sports Personality of the year.

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  4. Oh Watt February 5, 18:48

    It’s interesting in the USA the golf authorities do not put all their golf eggs into one broadcasting basket. They spread the rights across several broadcasters. One event won’t have just one broadcaster and different events can be covered by different broadcasters. In this way the golf authorities use all the resources available, and golf is seen on both major networks and minor outlets alike.
    One can’t help but wonder if the R&A was commercially naïve. Regularly putting golf in front of the public eye, the fullest range of the public, has a value beyond cash. With many other initiatives the R&A go out for public and professional consultation. I wasn’t aware they did so before this decision. If it was taken rather quietly that would generate some concern.

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  5. bob February 5, 17:56

    Peter Dawson has lost the plot. He’s gone for big bucks and the service coverage and support of sky to golf will be rubbish. Sky don’t care about the sport they only care about the mone. I for one now vote withy feet I don’t have sky I used to watch the open now I won’t be able to and how many young people will be the same who can’t afford sky tv

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