Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 26
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

NBC, Golf Channel ending ABC/ESPN British Open reign

The British Open will end a relationship that spans more than half a century with ABC and ESPN and move over to NBC and Golf Channel in 2017 as part of a deal that doubles the value of the golf tournament’s media rights, according to several sources.

The move to NBC Sports Group is a huge win for Golf Channel, in particular, which long has coveted the rights to one of golf’s four major tournaments.

It also officially ends a relationship that the R&A, operator of the British Open, has had with ABC and its sister network, ESPN, that will have reached 55 years at the end of the deal. ABC started carrying the British Open in 1962. In its most recent deal, signed in 2008, all four rounds moved to ESPN.

The British Open, won by Rory McIlroy in 2014, is a top summer draw.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
ESPN was scheduled to carry the tournament in 2017, but the R&A opted out of that final year to sign with NBC Sports Group.

The NBC deal has yet to be signed — it’s in legal, sources said last week — but NBC and the R&A have agreed to terms. Starting in 2017, the British Open’s weekend rounds will return to broadcast television. NBC will pay an average of $50 million per year for more than 10 years, sources said, an amount that doubles the current $25 million per year from ESPN from a deal that took effect in 2010.

NBC outbid both ESPN and Fox Sports, which made an aggressive play for the rights. Few details could be determined about the specific talks.

In addition to the increased rights fee, the R&A was swayed by NBC’s plans to cover the tournament. NBC Sports Group has found success with weekend morning European programming, like the Premier League and Formula One racing. Sources said the R&A was most energized by NBC’s commitment to market the event along the lines of “Breakfast at Wimbledon,” which the network pioneered in the 1970s around the Wimbledon finals.

For the first time since its 1995 launch, Golf Channel will obtain live match rights to one of golf’s four major tournaments, a significant coup for a channel that is in 78 million homes. Golf Channel will carry the tournament’s first and second rounds live.

News of the deal leaked at the same time the network laid off around 30 people as part of a cost-cutting move.
The deal comes around two years after NBC lost the rights to the U.S. Open to Fox, which signed a 12-year, $100 million per year deal with the U.S. Golf Association that takes effect this year. The loss of those rights shook the golf media, and NBC executives viewed the British Open as a way for NBC Sports to get back into producing one of golf’s major tournaments.

Neither NBC Sports Group nor IMG, which represents the R&A, would comment.

The tournament, which is played in July and airs live in the morning hours on the East Coast, brings in the lowest TV viewership 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 at some of the most famous golf courses in the world. Over the past half-decade, many ESPN client meetings have been conducted on British golf courses before, during and after the tournament.

The move is a rare loss for ESPN and leaves it with a golf portfolio that includes the first and second rounds of the Masters, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and Latin America Amateur Championship.