Exclusive: Cost-cutting BBC to axe Masters golf TV coverage

BBC to axe Masters golf highlights as cost-cutting bites - Getty Images/Andrew Redington
BBC to axe Masters golf highlights as cost-cutting bites - Getty Images/Andrew Redington

BBC TV executives are set to ditch their 56-year association with the Masters amid cost-cutting efforts at the corporation, Telegraph Sport understands.

The opening major of the season is little more than two months away, but there has been no word of an extension to the contract that ran out last April.

An 11th hour deal could be salvaged, but sources indicate the BBC are moving towards cutting ties with the revered tournament it first broadcast in 1967.

If Barbara Slater, the BBC’s director of sport, does pull the plug on the Augusta showpiece it will inevitably add more substance to the growing conviction that the corporation has lost interest in golf.

The BBC have shown every Masters since 1986 when they wrested the coverage back off Channel 4. However, in 2011, Sky secured rights to broadcast all four days, with the terrestrial channel having live footage from the weekend action. This was reduced to a highlights programme in 2020 with Sky Sports - courtesy of an annual fee in excess of £10million per year - finally landing the exclusive deal it had coveted.

During last year’s Masters, Sky announced that it had signed a multi-year extension with the greenjackets, but there was conspicuously nothing from the BBC. It is believed that the per annum cost for the highlights was in excess of £1million and, as they seek to cut their outgoings, this apparently has, at the very least, convinced Slater to hesitate in the negotiations.

Sources close to ITV have ruled the rival free-to-air broadcaster out of the running. Channel 4, which has been expanding its sporting offering in recent years, was unavailable for comment.

Golf is no doubt an expensive sport to cover, but there will be scepticism of the BBC’s efforts to keep hold of the vestiges of its TV output anyway, because the decline has been incredibly swift as the budgets have tightened.

In 2005, Peter Alliss and Co presented 28 days of live broadcasts from tournaments ranging from The Open  to the Women’s Open to regular European Tour events such as the PGA Championship from Wentworth and the Scottish Open. All have been lost to Sky.

Peter Alliss at the 1995 Masters - Getty Images/David Cannon
Peter Alliss at the 1995 Masters - Getty Images/David Cannon

In 2016, the Open moved over to the subscription service after 61 years on the BBC, with a highlights package only available since 2016.

In 2020, there were no days of live golf shown on the BBC for the first time in 55 years. Last month, the Sports Personality of the Year Awards show came under heavy flak for the absence of Matt Fitzpatrick, the US Open champion, on the shortlist, with even presenter Gary Lineker expressing surprise. And there have been repeated controversies at recent Women’s Opens due to the highlights going out “in the graveyard shift”.

Augusta has always seen value in their major reaching the widest audience possible, but will counter any criticism of its long-standing commitment to free-to-air coverage and “growing the game” by pointing to the advances of live golf on its  website.
Since 2019, users have been able to watch every shot hit within a few minutes of it being struck, as well as all 18 holes from featured groups and rolling coverage from selected holes.

The rapid expansion of its digital operation runs in direct contrast into the annual “controversy” concerning the lack of TV coverage, a tradition dating back to Clifford Roberts, the co-founder of Augusta, who decided to limit coverage. Fred Ridley, the current Augusta chairman, is a modernist.

Augusta had been repeatedly contacted for comment by Telegraph Sport. The BBC also declined to comment. “We do not comment on sports rights negotiations," a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the LIV Golf League has published its full schedule for 2023 and it now finishes in Jeddah in November. It is understood that originally Saudi Arabia was not going to host one of the 14 events, despite the breakaway Tour being funded by the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund.

However, the Saudis unsurprisingly wanted their country’s involvement and have taken the grand team finale from Donald Trump’s Doral resort.

The former US president’s Miami course will host the penultimate event - where the individual title is decided - in October. Centurion, the St Albans layout, is again staging the England stop, two weeks before The Open in July.