Even though ESPN's current deal to broadcast The Open, Senior Open and Walker Cup does not expire until after the 2017 championship season, SBJ's John Ourand and John Lombardo say the R&A hope to have a new rights deal sold by this summer (subscription required to read).
This could create a two-year lameduck status for ESPN, similar to the awkward spot BBC finds itself in after the R&A agreed to terms with Sky Sports beginning in 2017.
While Ourand and Lombardo report that ESPN is interested in retaining the rights, I've been hearing the opposite: that the worldwide leader wants to focus their rights fees elsewhere and are prepared to walk away from their $25 million a year deal.
SBJ reports that Fox Sports is interested, which I wrote in Golf World last year makes sense considering the potential synergy with Sky Sports, which is is 39.1% owned by News Corp. However, given the financial losses Fox is expected to experience on their USGA deal, the interest is not as strong as it might have been last summer.
NBC Sports Group also plans to be aggressive in pursuing British Open rights in a deal that would put a major golf championship on Golf Channel for the first time.
The R&A has had talks with Turner Sports and CBS Sports, as well, sources said, but those channels are not considered by those same sources as likely to be serious bidders.
I'm hearing the opposite: that CBS/Turner plan a robust bid and that this may end up a two-horse race with NBC/Golf Channel for the entity most likely to land the rights, though don't count out Fox closing down the middle!