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British Open Moving To Cable

With Turner saying it was giving up its rights to the early rounds of the [British] Open Golf Championship, ESPN has jumped in, and will move the last two rounds off of broadcast TV (ABC) and on to the cable network.

The sports net said it has signed an eight-year deal to carry all four rounds on ESPN starting in 2010, an ESPN spokeswoman confirmed.

ABC will air a highlight show round-up on Saturday and Sunday afternoons (because of the time difference, the tournament is usually over by mid-afternoon).

ESPN will cover the first and second rounds live, beginning at 5 a.m. each day.

The deal also includes U.S. coverage of the Senior Open Championship and the next two Walker Cups in the U.K.  (2011 and 2015).

So, does ESPN’s move mean the other three major golf championships will be heading to cable anytime soon, and could that upset regulators in Washington concerned about access to sports programming?

Neal Pilson, former head of CBS Sports, says no. "I think the American public and Washington are well aware that many sports events are gravitating to cable. I don't think the British Open is the type of event that would get anyone's attention in terms of any possible regulatory issues."

CBS has The Masters, NBC has the U.S. Open and CBS has the PGA. "Those are events based in the United States and each of them gets significantly higher ratings than the British Open," he says. "I don't see the championships moving totally to cable."

He points out that a lot of the early rounds are already on cable, pointing out that he was responsible for the first such split-coverage when CBS asked USA if they were interested in the first two rounds. They were.

Pilson currently runs his own sports consulting firm, Pilson Communications.