The possibility of live coverage of the Open Championship being shown on free-to-air TV channels in the future has been debated in the House of Lords.
A report by the Lords’ Select Committee on Communications and Digital entitled ‘Public service broadcasting: as vital as ever’, looked at the role of public service broadcasting in covering a wide range of subjects, including key sporting events.
While the Olympics, FIFA World Cup, Grand National, The Derby, Wimbledon tennis finals, and the Rugby Union and Rugby League World Cup finals are all ring-fenced for live public broadcast, two of golf’s biggest events, The Open and the Ryder Cup, fall into a second category which only demands that highlights of these tournaments should be made available to free-to-air channels.
However, there are calls to bring the Open Championship back to the ‘Category A’ list, which is reserved for live coverage.
Roger Mosey, former Director of Sport and Director of London 2012 at the BBC, said: “I would be in favour of modestly increasing the list: perhaps including the Champions League final and the Open Championship as the kind of events that can bring significant sports-interested parts of the nation together for shared moments.”
The report said: “The listed events regime provides important protection for the availability of major sports events. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport should consult sporting bodies, broadcasters and the public with a view to increasing modestly the number of listed events. This could include events such as The Ashes and The Open Golf Championship.”
The Open was last on free-to-air television in 2015, when the BBC showed live coverage from all four rounds at St Andrews. Since then, Sky Sports, for which viewers have to pay a monthly subscription, has had exclusive rights to live coverage of the tournament, with the BBC showing a highlights package of the day’s play later that evening.
The peak television audience for the 2016 Open final round on Sky was 1.1 million, compared to 4.7 million on the BBC in 2015 and 5.5 million in 2014.
Sky Sports has recently extended its TV rights contract with the R&A to air live coverage of The Open until 2024.