The Open on Sky

When I started this blog I stated that it wouldn’t be a news site and it won’t be one but there was a development this week in the world of golf that I feel compelled to write a few words about.

This week, it was announced that from 2017 the BBC would lose the rights to broadcast the Open live. Sky will be taking over and the Beeb will be left with just a two hour package in the evenings.

As I have talked about elsewhere, I have only fairly recently rediscovered the joy of golf so my experience of watching it on the TV is quite limited but I did watch the Open last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. I did not watch the evening highlights…

It may just be my personal opinion but to me the whole point about watching golf on the box (as opposed to going out playing myself) is the drama that unfolds as all the different permutations of who plays which shot and gets what score. While there will be of course some amazing shots which are quite entertaining to watch, I don’t personally think it is like football where the highlights are an acceptable substitute for watching a game live. To me, watching golf requires a context.

My most enjoyable experience watching golf was Tom Watson’s battle for the 2009 Open. At the time I was living in Japan so the final afternoon’s action was unfolding late at night on the Sunday. As I had Monday off work I relaxed and followed the game over a few beers as it unfolded. That to me epitomises the experience of watching golf live. Sure, you could review the final day’s action over the highlights and appreciate Watson’s achievement but it just wouldn’t be the same experience.

There are of course those who argue that the quality of Sky’s coverage will benefit the competition and I can see where they are coming from. I would hypothesise that the folk saying that will be comfortably off golfers who already pay out for a Sky subscription to enjoy the other tournaments it covers. (I have watched a few competitions on Sky 4 and they do cover the sport well, I will freely admit this.) With falling participation levels, this is not the kind of person that golf needs to reach out to.

I’m sure I am not along in having childhood memories of digging out the old tennis racket and whacking a ball up and down the street outside alongside all the other neighbourhood kids during the Wimbledon fortnight. That is what golf needs, not to consolidate its coverage with a core market that are happy to pay for it.

The R&A’s argument that giving the rights to Sky who will invest in the game and will mean more money injected into grassroots golf to me misses a huge point – if there are fewer people watching the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, how much of a grassroots game will survive?

I have had a good few rants on Twitter about the Scotland National Team games being exclusively live on Sky the last couple of years (interesting that the England games seem to be protected on terrestrial TV but that is another topic for another day and probably another blog) so to see the Open go the same way is pretty galling to be honest.

I have no idea whether Sky will hire Peter Aliss or not but this move could also mean the end of his words of wisdom and that would indeed be a sad day.

What is certain is that the Open will now be seen by fewer people. I for one am not currently a Sky subscriber and have no plans in becoming one and certainly not paying the exorbitant rates they charge for their sports channels. Even when I previously had a Sky package I had no interest in the sports or movies channels.

And to me it is that simple. Which channel/ medium will ensure the highest live audience?  That can’t be Sky. I have seen and heard arguments about the BBC viewing figures being poor in the last few years. Well, handing over broadcast rights to a channel that has significantly fewer viewers is not exactly going to fix that problem is it?

So, it is with regret that I will most likely be watching the Open live for the last time next year. I seriously don’t want golf to be in the same position as football when it is a trip to the pub to watch something live (final round Sunday afternoon?). That is not going to help matters whatsoever to bring in fresh blood to the game (the kids we need to come and play can’t go the pub after all…).

I suppose the only glimmer of hope if that it is an initial five year contract. We can only hope that some common sense prevails during those five years and the Open returns to free terrestrial TV in 2022. (Again, a topic for another day but it is entirely probable that Scotland will regain its independence during this period which would require an SBC to negotiate with R&A; maybe that will result in a more favourable outcome for the average golf fan.)

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