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Volume 22 No. 14
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Open seeks U.S. rights increase

British Open organizers have contacted most of the major U.S. TV networks in hopes of creating a bidding war for the tournament’s rights, according to several sources familiar with the outreach.

Network executives have been told that the R&A, the organizational body of the British Open, is expecting to at least double the $25 million per year deal ESPN signed in 2008 and that took effect in 2010. The current deal ends in 2017, but sources said the group wants to have a new deal completed by this summer.

ESPN is looking to renew its deal, but it faces stiff competition for the rights.

The R&A hopes to have a new TV rights deal for the British Open by this summer.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
Fox Sports is interested in getting British Open rights to supplement the deal it made in 2013 for the U.S. Golf Association’s U.S. Open. That deal takes effect this year. Fox outbid NBC Sports Group for those rights with a 12-year contract covering the U.S. Open and additional USGA events worth around $100 million per year.

NBC Sports Group also plans to be aggressive in pursuing British Open rights in a deal that would put a major golf championship on Golf Channel for the first time.

The R&A has had talks with Turner Sports and CBS Sports, as well, sources said, but those channels are not considered by those same sources as likely to be serious bidders.

Open audiences

ESPN has carried the British Open solely on cable TV for the past five years.


YEAR

AVG. FOUR-ROUND VIEWERSHIP


NOTES

2014

1.50 million viewers

Rory McIlroy won; Tiger Woods finished 69th

2013

2.09 million viewers

Phil Mickelson won; Woods: tied for 6th

2012

2.15 million viewers

Ernie Els won; Woods: tied for 3rd

2011

1.43 million viewers

Darren Clarke won; Woods: did not play;

Mickelson: finished 2nd

2010

1.83 million viewers

Louis Oosthuizen won; Woods: tied for 23rd

Source: SportsBusiness Daily archives

The tournament, which is played in July and airs live in the morning hours on the East Coast, fits in with NBC Sports Group’s programming schedule. The network has created an effective weekend morning window for sports through its deals with the English Premier League and Formula One.

The tournament brings in the lowest TV numbers of golf’s four majors. In the last five years, average viewership has cracked 2 million only twice (2012 and 2013). Not coincidentally, those are the only recent years when Tiger Woods finished in the top 10 in the event. Still, the tournament provides valuable programming in the middle of the summer, and TV executives value the event for its hospitality opportunities. Over the past half-decade, many ESPN client meetings have been conducted on British golf courses before, during and after the tournament.

The British Open’s most recent deal with ESPN was significant in that it moved the entire tournament to cable for the first time. It is the only major championship in men’s golf to have all four rounds carried solely on cable.

The tournament has been a part of the broader ESPN family since 1962, when ABC started carrying it.

IMG is representing the R&A in pursuing the new U.S. rights deal.