Monday 19 February 2018

Irish golf's grassroots to benefit from Open's new deal

From 2017 golf fans hoping to see Rory McIlroy replicate last year's Open success will have to do so on pay-per-view TV. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
From 2017 golf fans hoping to see Rory McIlroy replicate last year's Open success will have to do so on pay-per-view TV. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Karl MacGinty

Golf at grassroots level in Ireland will share the financial benefit of the R&A's decision to 'sell-out' to Sky, making the disappearance of live coverage of The Open Championship from free-to-air TV only a tad less unpalatable.

The five-year contract with the pay-per-view broadcaster, which runs from 2017 to 2022, reputedly is worth £75m.

That's double the value of the previous contract held by BBC TV and some £25m more than the latter's £10m-per-annum bid to remain as principal broadcaster of golf's biggest and oldest Major.

With live coverage rights of America's three Majors - the Masters, US Open and PGA Championship - already held by Sky, the satellite and cable channel will from 2017 hold the broadcasting equivalent of the 'Grand Slam' in these islands.

Sky have agreed to show 'live' every ball struck in all four rounds of the Open and doubtless will present a televisual package more innovative and exciting to modern viewers, with features like Pro-Tracer ball tracking and the Shot Cart.

Under the new agreement, Sky also vow that the number of commercial breaks during TV coverage of The Open will be kept to a maximum of four minutes per hour, with each break running for just 60 seconds.

Yet at a time in which golf clubs memberships are falling and the sport faces an uphill battle to attract youngsters, it behoves the sport to make the feats of exciting young players more accessible to the general TV audience in Great Britain and Ireland, not less.

For sure, the BBC will show two hours of highlights from all four rounds each night, but 'live' images of derring-do by the game's greatest heroes, especially as they close-in on the Claret Jug on Sunday afternoon, were the inspiration for legions of golfers.

Spectrum

With legendary figures across the age spectrum from Nick Faldo to Rory McIlroy acknowledging that their dreams of golfing success were inspired by watching The Open (and Masters) in childhood, the necessity to maintain this link with the general public is clear.

Sky certainly offer a great golf package to those who can afford it but viewing figures tell a story of their own. While four million (in Britain) tuned in to McIlroy's Sunday surge to Open victory at Hoylake last July, just one million reportedly watched Sky's coverage of the Ryder Cup climax at Gleneagles.

Yet the figures that truly count are in hard cash and, to this end, the R&A pledged yesterday that their agreement with Sky will allow them to "increase significantly funding and promotion of golf development initiatives in the UK and Ireland."

With funds from TV rights for The Open doubled, one can expect a similar increase in current grant-aid from the R&A to ventures they currently support on this island.

At present, they plough a cumulative six-figure sum into important projects like the new Confederation of Golf in Ireland, the umbrella body for the development of the men's and women's game, and important development and coaching initiatives for junior players.

Peter Dawson, chief executive of The R&A, said yesterday: "We believe this (deal) is the best result for The Open and for golf. The way people consume live sport is changing significantly and this new agreement ensures fans have a range of options for enjoying the Championship on television, on radio and through digital channels.

"Sky Sports has an excellent track record in covering golf across its platforms and has become the home of live golf coverage over recent years," he added. "We are very much looking forward to working with them to develop and enhance the coverage of The Open.

"We have enjoyed a long and successful relationship with the BBC and, although the nature of that relationship is changing from 2017, we are delighted that they will broadcast prime-time highlights and that the Championship will continue to benefit from extensive live coverage on Radio 5 Live and online.

"Importantly, the new agreement will enable us to increase substantially our support for golf in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That our increased commitment to golf in both countries is to be supported by both Sky Sports and the BBC is a hugely positive step for our sport."

Yet if that's the case, why did the announcement of such a significant development for the sport coincide with the opening day of the Rory McIlroy trial in Dublin, which attracted mainstream golf journalists from the Britain and Ireland to the Four Courts?

Irish Independent

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