When Peter Dawson, Chief Executive of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, announced that The Open from 2017 was to be broadcast on Sky, the world of golf bellowed in rage. Participation will inevitably decline! Youngsters will no longer take up the game! Westwood labelled it ‘an outrage’, with Jacklin lamenting a ‘sad day’.
Need we be so defeatist? Initial reactions against the Murdoch empire are understandable. What was once free for BBC license holders to watch, has now been swallowed up by the Sky behemoth. Here are three long term effects of the decision;
1. Sky do an excellent job. Their golf coverage is extensive, insightful and innovative. If you can occasionally put up with Mark Roe – telling you (again) how he would have beaten Tiger Woods in the 2003 Open if he hadn’t been disqualified – the Sky Sports team are an excellent commentary team. Whilst, the reported £15 million per year acquired from the new deal, will do great things when reinvested into the game by the R&A.
2. The BBC’s golf coverage has been stagnating with only 1 million viewers tuning in to The Open on average each year. This is a pathetic number for programming that is beamed into every British home. Sky’s audience is more than ten years younger than the BBC, therefore engaging with a younger demographic must be a priority to revitalise an ageing sport. The two hours of nightly highlights that the BBC did secure, should be the catalyst to activate their viewers in a Match of the Day style.
3. This reflects a transitional period for the game of golf as a whole. Tiger Woods’ recent decline has encouraged a new vanguard of youth to fill this power vacuum. The television coverage needs to reflect that Spieth, Fowler, Mcilroy and Kaymer are the future of this sport. Innovations such as; the shot tracer, the sky cart, and limited advertisements (only four minutes for every hour of coverage), embody this modernisation.
Therefore, yes the R&A made this decision for the money. However, the long term effects of this will be increased investment in the game, an improved television experience for viewers and innovation in a space that has been stagnating in recent years. Free BBC coverage has done nothing to buck the declining participation trend.
Change was needed, and is now being delivered.