After an association with the BBC spanning six decades, live coverage of the sport’s oldest major was due to switch to the subscription broadcaster in 2017 following a five-year deal announced in February that was reported to be worth £15 million per year to the St Andrews-based R&A.
However, the R&A revealed yesterday it had been approached in “recent weeks” by the BBC to discuss being released from its contract to provide live coverage of next year’s tournament.
It means that Peter Alliss, for so long the “Voice of Golf” on the BBC, and fellow commentator Ken Brown, as well as popular presenter Hazel Irvine, will no longer be involved in live coverage of the event as Sky Sports take over with a team that already covers the game’s other three majors as well as the Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, European Tour and PGA Tour.
Barbara Slater, BBC’s director of sport, said the decision to end the deal early had been made because of the corporation being faced with “some challenging financial savings targets”. It has been claimed that the early release could save the BBC around £7 million.
She added: “The choice to amend the current contract from next year was a pragmatic one. We know that many fans are unhappy with the loss of rights and in an ideal world the BBC would still be the home of live coverage of The Open.
“But, with the live radio coverage unaffected and scope to provide something fresh and new on our mobile services, we are confident our overall offering will remain a compelling one.”
According to the R&A, the early release was only permitted after “significant deliberation”, which has led to Sky Sports effectively getting an extra year in its initial deal for free.
“The R&A is grateful to Sky Sports for agreeing to commence live broadcasting of the Open a year early. No additional revenue will be received by the R&A in 2016 as a result of this new arrangement,” it said.
Martin Slumbers, the new R&A chief executive, offered his thanks to Sky Sports for “stepping in a year early” and said he is “looking forward to world-class coverage of The Open”.
He added: “It is sad to see the BBC’s live coverage of The Open end and I know some fans will be disappointed.”