We all love watching golf on TV. For the vast majority of golf fans that don’t have the time, or can’t afford, to watch golf live regularly – television coverage does a great job of capturing the emotion, passion and excitement of the professional game.
In the last year, however, we have seen the debate re-ignited about which company is best suited to covering golf tournaments – Sky or the BBC. The conflict came to a head in August, when the rights to show the PGA Championship were unexpectedly shifted from Sky to the BBC.
Plenty of debate surrounded this decision, as well as golf coverage in general, but ultimately it boils down to two key factors; price and viewership.
Talks between the PGA of America and Sky reportedly broke down in July due to a disagreement in price over renewing the contract to show the PGA Championship. Naturally, there are no definitive numbers being thrown around, but sources have suggested that the PGA wanted to negotiate a significant increase on the already high-cost multi-year agreement which had just finished – ‘up to double’ according to SportsMail. However, Sky, who had shown the last major of the year for the past 10 years without incident – ‘would not be held to ransom’ and refused. As a result, the BBC scooped a cut-price one-year contract, estimated to be around six-figures.
We spoke to our ambassador and ex-Ryder Cup captain, Bernard Gallacher, and asked his opinion on the prices television companies have to pay.
“I think a lot of people don’t often appreciate how much Sky Sports does for the game all year round”, he said. “Naturally, most people’s focus for television coverage is often on the majors and what channel they’re on. But to truly grow the game of golf from a grassroots level, it’s the small tournaments all across the world that need television coverage too, with the money and the exposure that the cameras provide. For me, the fact that Sky do consistently cover, them week in and week out, shows they are genuinely devoted to growing the sport outside of the majors. So, when the PGA of America suddenly want to ramp up the price to show the USPGA after the effort they’ve put in, I can see why Sky would be annoyed.”
Image credit: The Open
If price is one of the reasons behind golf being televised on one provider over another – the number of people expected to see it is clearly another enormous factor.
For instance, the BBC last year lost the rights to show The Open after 61 years of being the main broadcaster for the UK’s biggest golf tournament – with Sky Sports becoming the new broadcaster.
However – as the Telegraph reported earlier in the year – other golf authorities like the USGA, which runs the US Open, raised concerns after Sky’s coverage of last year’s Open at Troon attracted far fewer viewers than it did on the BBC – 75% less for the final day’s play!
Naturally, it’s always going to be more likely that a bigger audience will watch golf on a free-to-air terrestrial channel than a paid subscription service, but we can’t be surprised that questions were asked after such shocking numbers. Even if we accept that the PGA of America were wrong to suddenly demand a much higher-priced deal, might it because they were worried about the reduced viewership’s effect on the growth of golf as a whole?
“We had a good partnership with Sky” said the PGA of America’s chief commercial officer, Jeff Price.
“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.
From his comments, it suggests that the deal with the BBC might open the door to a wider shift away from Sky’s dominance of televised golf coverage – especially with rumours swirling that BT Sport might be in the running to show The Masters next year instead.
In the end, we have to ask ourselves where the balance lies. Should it be with Sky, who might have a smaller audience overall, but devote a great deal of time, money and effort into covering the entire golf scene. Or perhaps keep a place for the BBC – whose enormous domestic and global audience can only be a benefit for the countless thousands of people who might otherwise never be inspired to pick up a golf club? The choice is yours.