R&A's outgoing Chief Executive explains "controversial" decision to end British Open's BBC relationship
The R&A announced on Monday what many had feared would be the case: that, starting in 2017, British Open would move away from the BBC, which has broadcast the tournament for more than 60 years, and over to Sky Sports.
Naturally, the decision sparked an immediate outcry from those who hoped the tournament would stay put. Lee Westwood called the decision a "disgrace," and was joined by plenty of others on social media.
"Our new agreement will enable us to take our support of golf's development in the UK and Ireland to unprecedented levels," Dawson writes. "We are undertaking a comprehensive strategic review on the subject of golf participation in the UK and Ireland and we will ensure that golf feels the full benefit of the enhanced resources available."
The full letter:
An Open Letter from Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of The R&A
We are excited to have announced today a new broadcast model and a significant change in the way The Open will be covered from 2017. We believe this new arrangement, which will see The Open broadcast live on Sky with prime-time highlights on the BBC, will allow golf's oldest championship to maintain its position as one of the world's premier sporting events.
I want to express my gratitude to the BBC, our trusted broadcast partner for 60 years. Our relationship developed through The Open's renaissance in the early 1960s, golf's boom years in the 1970s and 80s and more recently the height of its global appeal during the 90s and 2000s. We are delighted that the BBC remains a broadcast partner of The Open Championship for 2017 and beyond and, we hope, for a great many years to come.
I recognise that this new broadcast model represents a significant change and I understand that change, particularly where it involves the BBC, is controversial. We have observed, over several years, that the way the majority of people are choosing to consume sport is changing. Time pressures, multi-channel viewing providing sport and entertainment from all over the world, the second screen phenomenon, social media and digital consumption are all important factors in considering how we reach fans of all ages but particularly the younger generation. We have to cater for that changing environment and deliver the best viewing experience possible to golf fans.
Numerous factors were weighed in this process such as quality of coverage, household reach, innovations in the broadcast, commercial considerations and promotion of The Open and our sport throughout the year. We have considered this new agreement extremely carefully and firmly believe that by working with the two leading sports broadcasters for the UK and Ireland we have achieved the best result not just for the future of The Open but for golf as a whole.
In Sky, we have an excellent broadcast partner for the coming years. It is now well established as the home of live golf in the UK and Ireland and it has demonstrated tremendous enthusiasm and admiration for The Open. Sky submitted a very strong proposal stressing its commitment to innovation and a determination to enhance live coverage of the Championship and the quality of its bid was a significant factor. It is essential to invest in our Championship to ensure that it remains at the pinnacle of our sport. The R&A is committed to delivering the best possible experience for spectators, players and viewers and believe the new arrangement supports this mission.
Another important consideration in our decision was that fans of The Open do not need to be Sky subscribers to enjoy live coverage of the Championship. Through 'NOW TV' viewers can watch The Open, taking a daily or weekly package without the need for a contract. Our agreement with Sky also includes a limitation on advertising to a maximum of four minutes per hour, with each break lasting just 60 seconds.
I know there are many who are concerned that The Open no longer being shown live on the BBC will lead to a reduction in participation in our sport and I wanted to take this opportunity to address this specific point. 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.
On the contrary, golf's reported recent decline in participation coincides with The Open, Women's British Open and the Masters Tournament being shown on free-to-air television. And, during that same period we have also seen participation in other sports, shown frequently on free-to-air television, decrease while some others, shown exclusively on subscription television, have seen an increase. Exposure is important, but is just one of many ingredients required to generate growth in participation.
Significantly, our new agreement will enable us to take our support of golf's development in the UK and Ireland to unprecedented levels and we have the support of both Sky and the BBC and their active sports engagement initiatives. Additionally, we are undertaking a comprehensive strategic review on the subject of golf participation in the UK and Ireland and we will ensure that golf feels the full benefit of the enhanced resources available.
I'd like to reassure you that The R&A approaches change with caution and a great deal of consideration. We are aware that our new agreement will sadden some fans, particularly those who have cherished so many wonderful and iconic moments of The Open Championship on the BBC. Those moments will continue but through an exciting new partnership incorporating both Sky and the BBC.
Chief Executive, The R&A