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The BBC: they think it’s all over...

When the Royal & Ancient Golf Club held its annual media day ahead of the Open Championship this past April, Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, made it perfectly plain that the BBC might not be the chief broadcaster once the existing television contract had run its course, after the 2016 championship. “The BBC know that they need to get off the financial plateau they are on with the Open Championship,” said Dawson. “Who knows who will be in the market by then?”

I guess it’s safe to include BSkyB among the prospective suitors. Privately Sky executives felt, at least until this year, that the R&A would always stick with the BBC, partly because of the long-standing relationship and partly because they felt the R&A would feel it necessary to maximize the domestic television audience in order to fulfil its evangelical obligations to ‘spread the word’ about the game.

Indeed, at his press conference at Lytham in April, Dawson said: “We want the Open Championship to be seen by as many people as we can.” But he added, perhaps tellingly: “We also know that people’s choices in how they consume the championship, through the internet and smart phones, are widening. It’s not just television anymore.”

It certainly isn’t. In June, the Premier League announced that its new TV deal, effective from the 2013 season, would be worth just over a billion pounds a year and would be with Sky and…BT. ESPN was out of the action, replaced by the giant telecoms provider. As the Daily Mail pointed out, that works out at £6.53 million per match, or £72,555 a minute. Now, when it comes to money as well as to other things, golf is not football (at plus-£72K a minute, Ben Crane might manage to play even slower) but the revealing of BT as the other main broadcaster is surely a harbinger of the way that live sports will be put in the public domain in the future.

Over the past couple of years, coverage of the Masters and BMW PGA Championship has evolved, with what was once the BBC’s unchallenged fiefdom being breached by Sky. I don’t think it would surprise anyone too much if, come 2017, Sky was showing the Open even if the BBC retained rights as well, at least on the weekend. What I do know, and welcome, is the R&A’s entry into the modern world with the announcement that at this year’s Open Championship, the spectators – meaning everyone, not just officials, media, players and their assorted family, friends and hangers-on – will, instead of being treated like recalcitrant imbeciles, be permitted to use their mobiles in designated areas of the course. (These presumably being a bit away from the tees, fairways and greens.)

“There is no denying the attachment people feel to their phones, both in terms of gathering information and staying in touch with family and friends,” observed Dawson in a statement of the blindingly obvious. “We understand this and allowing their use at the championship will enrich the Open experience.”

So common sense has prevailed. The move is a little belated but, to be fair, perhaps the R&A felt more able to do this now that Monty has pretty much retired as a competitor.

THE COVERAGE OF THE US OPEN IN BRITAIN WAS, OF course, on Sky. Excellent it was, too. The thing is, when the last group isn’t teeing off until 11.10 on Sunday evening, you have to make the same sort of commitment to the task in hand that the players require in order to extricate themselves from that fiendish greenside rough. That Webb Simpson emerged victorious in San Francisco was no shock. Not only is he a fine player, having won twice on the PGA Tour last season and finished second in the FedEx Cup, but Olympic down the years has tended to produce unexpected (some would say inappropriate) winners – Jack Fleck and not Ben Hogan (1955); Billy Casper, not Arnold Palmer (1966); Scott Simpson, not Tom Watson (1987); Lee Janzen, not Payne Stewart (1998) – and all of them, like Simpson, American. Whatever, if you win the US Open, you deserve it, and Simpson assuredly did with his last-round 68. And when Graeme McDowell’s 20-footer on the 18th green to force a playoff went by the hole, Simpson had made it 15 different winners of the past 15 major championships, the last nine of them celebrating winning their first one.

July 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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