SKY Sports is on the brink of paying £10 million a year to take exclusive live coverage of the Open Championship away from the BBC.
An announcement on a new television contract for the golf’s oldest major is expected early this week.
The BBC has enjoyed ownership of the live rights for the past 59 years, but that run is almost certainly about to end and could even happen sooner than expected.
The R&A’s current deal was believed to have covered both this year’s Open at St Andrews and also the 2016 staging at Royal Troon.
However, it is now understood that the latter will be the first under the new arrangement with Sky Sports.
The new deal is expected to earn the game’s ruling body £3m more per year than the current contract.
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The news comes days after it emerged that the BBC is paying £204m to keep Match Of The Day, its highlight programme for top-flight English football.
The R&A had hoped live rights for the Open could have been shared between Sky and the BBC, an arrangement that is in place for the Masters. But it appears that will not be happening, leaving the BBC with the consolation prize of a deal for highlights.
Peter Alliss, the BBC’s voice of golf, admitted recently that the writing had been on the wall for years because of the vast amounts of money spent on golf by Sky.
“In one sense it seems to me it’s like playing poker against Donald Trump or Warren Buffett in that the BBC can’t compete against Sky’s bottomless pockets of money,” he said. “And you can’t deny Sky do a fantastic job.
“You might be annoyed at the adverts but they go to faraway places and cover these events even though there might be only eight people watching on a Thursday.”
The loss of the Open would leave the BBC with the Ricoh Women’s British Open as its only live golf event over four days. The Scottish Open had a spell where it had shared rights, but the BBC now only has highlights.
Paul Lawrie, the 1999 Open champion, said it was a “little sad” to see the event being lost by the BBC but admitted it was a sign of the times.
“I watched the Open as a kid on BBC, I watched Sandy [Lyle] win it,” said the Aberdonian of his fellow Scot’s success at Sandwich in 1985.
“That was the first big tournament I watched a Scottish guy win, but it doesn’t really matter to the players what channel it’s on.
“Sky put in a lot of money to the Tour and are very important to the Tour.”
World No 1 Rory McIlroy said it was a “shame” but agreed with Lawrie. “I guess it’s just the way it’s gone – money talks, you know,” he commented. “It would have been nice if they could have come to some sort of resolution but there it is.”
Fellow former US Open champion Graeme McDowell added: “It’s sad I suppose for everyone involved, but the media is so digital these days and how do you argue with these companies who have all this cash?”
Lee Westwood, a former world No 1, expressed his disappointment, saying: “I cannot believe the Open isn’t protected as one of the crown jewels – that is an absolute disgrace.”