Golf returns to BBC with deal to show USPGA Championship
The BBC will announce on Wednesday that it has secured the live rights to the US PGA Championship, meaning that from next month it will once again show all four days of a major championship. Peter Alliss lives again.
It will be a huge coup for the corporation which came under flak last year when, after 61 years, the Open switched to Sky Sports. The subscription giants are this week’s broadcasters, with the BBC limited to highlights.
Many assumed, even within Broadcasting House, that it heralded the end of BBC TV as a serious player in golf, with the powers-that-be finding it too expensive to cover with its budget slashed. The BBC was unable to convince the R&A to adopt a similar model used for the Masters, which would have seen the corporation retain two days of live coverage.
Even Alliss, the veteran commentator who has become synonymous with BBC’s golf output expressed his sorrow, sounding resigned to his employer never being the main broadcasters of a major again. In a decade, he had seen the BBC go from showing 24 days of live professional men’s golf to only two in 2017.
“It saddens me because I have been working since 1961 but it really saddens me because all golfers throughout Britain and Europe will miss the BBC,” he said. “I don’t think there will be a golfer that won’t be bitterly disappointed at the news.”
However, this opportunity arose after Sky’s contract negotiations last week broke down with the PGA of America, which runs the season’s final major, and the BBC was quick to act, proving it does retain an interest in the ancient game.
“It was too good a deal to pass by,” a BBC insider told The Daily Telegraph, revealing that BT Sport and Twitter were also in the hunt. However, the PGA of America was seduced by the reach of the BBC as a free-to-air terrestrial provider, as well as by its website and social media capabilities.
It is understood that this will be no one-off, but instead a multi-year deal, with the PGA of America taking the financial hit to ensure it will be the most watched of any of the four majors this year. Apparently, the only sticking point was that this year’s tournament at Quail Hollow clashes with the World Athletics Championships in London, for which the BBC has the rights. The golf will be on the red button until the athletics ends at 10.30pm. It means the finale will be shown live on the main channel and, from next year, normal service will resume.
It is a blow for Sky, which has been screened the US PGA since 1992. The timing could hardly be worse as, only last week, the broadcaster announced the launch of a dedicated golf channel. Sky has become the home of TV golf in the UK, with its blanket coverage of the PGA and European Tours.
Last year, the arrival of the Open to his screens meant Sky became the live broadcaster of all four majors. It was confident of securing the US PGA despite the renegotiations going to the wire. It is understood the PGA of America asked for twice as much as the digital subscriber was willing to pay. Jeff Price, the chief commercial officer, announced the end of the relationship last Friday.
“We had a good partnership with Sky but the 2017 US PGA Championship will not be on Sky,” he told The Guardian. “It was a multi-year deal that was up. Ultimately one of the key things for us is scale of distribution and obviously with all the new platforms that consumers are engaging with, we want to make sure we reach all of them.
“Broad distribution, multi-platform distribution is the key objective for us. I’m not in a position yet to share all the details but we want the ability to engage golf fans of all ages across all platforms. We are very excited about the plan we have in place.”
Price’s comments suggest the organisation was ready to move away from traditional TV rights, causing much chatter in the industry. The USGA, which runs the US Open, is believed to be disappointment with its UK reach with Sky and last year’s Open at Troon inevitably attracted far fewer viewers than it did on the BBC. It will be interesting to see if and how this affects Sky’s Masters coverage. Last week, The Daily Telegraph reported that there is no deal in place for next year.
When contacted, a PGA of America spokesman said: “Live coverage of the entire 2017 PGA Championship will be available to golf fans across the UK. Tune-in information will be forthcoming in the very near future.”