BBC TV executives are ready to ditch their 56-year partnership with the Masters as part of an effort to cut costs within the corporation, Telegraph Sport understands.
The season-opening Major is just over two months away, but there has been no talk of renewing his contract, which expired last April.
The 11-hour deal could be salvaged, but sources indicate the BBC is moving in the direction of severing ties with the respected tournament it first aired in 1967.
If Barbara Slater, the BBC’s sports director, pulls the plug on Augusta’s business card, it will inevitably reinforce the growing perception that the corporation has lost interest in golf.
The BBC has shown every Masters since 1986 when they snatched the transmission from Channel 4. However, in 2011 Sky secured the broadcasting rights for all four days and the terrestrial channel had live footage of the weekend action. This has been reduced to a 2020 highlights program with Sky Sports – thanks to an annual fee of more than £10m a year – finally securing a coveted exclusive deal.
At last year’s Masters, Sky announced it had signed a multi-year extension with the greenjackets, but the BBC apparently did nothing. The annual cost of highlights is believed to have been in excess of £1m, and as they are trying to cut expenses, this apparently persuaded Slater to at least hesitate in the negotiations.
Sources close to ITV ruled out a rival free-to-air broadcaster. Channel 4, which has been expanding its sports offerings in recent years, was unavailable for comment.
Golf is no doubt an expensive sport to report, but the BBC’s efforts to preserve the remnants of television production will be skeptical anyway as the decline has been incredibly fast as budgets have tightened.
In 2005, Peter Alliss and Co presented live tournament coverage for 28 days from The Open to the Women’s Open to regular European Tour events such as the PGA Championship from Wentworth and the Scottish Open. They were all lost to Sky.
In 2016, Open moved to a subscription service after 61 years with the BBC, with the highlights package only available from 2016.
In 2020, there will be no live golf days on the BBC for the first time in 55 years. Last month’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards was heavily criticized for the absence of US Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick from the shortlist, with even presenter Gary Lineker expressing surprise. Recent Women’s Open tournaments have repeatedly seen controversy over the appearance of highlights “on the graveyard shift”.
Augusta has always seen value in reaching the widest possible audience, but will defy any criticism of her longtime commitment to free coverage and “growing the game” by pointing out golf progress live on her website.
As of 2019, users can watch every shot hit within minutes of being hit, as well as all 18 holes from featured groups and rolling range from selected holes.
The explosive growth of its digital business contrasts with the annual “controversy” over the lack of TV coverage, a tradition dating back to Augusta co-founder Clifford Roberts, who decided to reduce coverage. Fred Ridley, the current president of Augusta, is a modernist.
Telegraph Sport has contacted Augusta multiple times for comment. The BBC also declined to comment. “We do not comment on sports rights negotiations,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the LIV Golf League has released its full 2023 schedule and ends in Jeddah in November. It is understood that Saudi Arabia was not originally intended to host one of the 14 events, even though the Tour breakaway was funded by the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund.
However, as expected, the Saudis wanted their country involved and attended the grand team final from Donald Trump’s Doral resort.
The former US president’s course in Miami will host the penultimate event – where the individual title will be decided – in October. Centurion, the St Albans layout, is again making a stop in England, two weeks ahead of The Open in July.