The Open Championship will appear exclusively live on Sky from next year after the BBC opted to end its existing deal one year early.
The BBC’s move was mooted during this year’s Open after Sky won the rights to golf’s oldest major in a £15m-a-year deal that runs until 2021.
The BBC director of sport Barbara Slater said the decision had been taken for pragmatic financial reasons in light of the ongoing debate over the licence fee and charter renewal.
“Following the announcement that Sky had been awarded the live TV rights to the Open and in light of financial developments since, the choice to amend the current contract from next year was a pragmatic one,” she said in a blog on the BBC website.
“We know that many fans are unhappy with the loss of rights and in an ideal world the BBC would still be the home of live coverage of the Open.”
The BBC, which had broadcast the event live for more than 60 years, will continue to show two hours of highlights in prime time.
The BBC, she said, was “faced with some challenging financial savings targets. Sport on the BBC is not immune to those pressures and they are compounded by the highly inflationary nature of the rights market”.
When the deal was done, the then Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson said that the BBC withdrew from the bidding for live rights as he attempted to deflect criticism over the move to pay TV amid concern over the effect on the sport.
“The BBC made it clear the highlight feed was the way they wanted to go. I think this is important; the BBC did bid for live rights initially and so it’s not true to say they didn’t want them, I don’t think,” he said.
“Later on in the process, they switched emphasis. I am not 100% sure why. It was financially driven, I am guessing, but you would have to ask them.”
The decision to end the contract now has echoes of the BBC’s decision to end its exclusive Formula One deal prematurely in favour of a shared arrangement with Sky and the early termination of its Six Nations rugby agreement for a new contract under which it will share rights with ITV.
Sports rights at the BBC have come under increasing pressure over the last two years, with the corporation also losing control of the Olympics from 2022 after the International Olympic Committee agreed a pan-European deal with Discovery.
However, there is still a chance the BBC could sub-license some of those rights. Slater insisted its portfolio was still strong, pointing to a recent deal to extend its exclusive rights to Wimbledon to 2020 as well as deals covering the next two Football World Cups, Match of the Day until 2019, Six Nations to 2021 and the next three Olympic Games.
The agreement means that Sky, locked in a bruising battle with BT Sport, will be able to claim that from 2016 it will have exclusive coverage of all four golf majors as well as the Ryder Cup.
Increasingly, it is pointing non-subscribers towards the fact that they can dip in and out of its coverage on a daily or weekly basis through Now TV in the hope of picking up fans of particular sports who don’t want to subscribe all year round.
“We’re pleased to begin our commitment to the Open a year early and look forward to bringing unprecedented coverage of this wonderful championship,” said the Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis. “We have exciting plans to take coverage of the Open to the next level across our TV, mobile and digital outlets.”
The BBC’s Formula One deal, under which it screens half of the races live and shows highlights of the rest while Sky broadcasts the whole season, could be the next to come under pressure.
The current agreement ends in 2018 and while the Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone has said he is keen for the joint deal between the BBC and Sky to continue, the corporation’s cost pressures could make it difficult.
“We’re not interested in the money. We’re interested in entertaining the public and doing a service,” insisted Ecclestone in August.
“That’s what we are there for. The continuation of the Sky/BBC deal would be good. It works at the moment so there is no reason why we should change.”