Turner Sports Passes on British Open Contract

Turner Sports on Wednesday elected against renewing its seven-year British Open contract, a decision that gives ESPN an unobstructed shot at picking up the rights to the PGA’s oldest major.

TNT has had a lock on the cable rights to the British Open since 2002, when it signed a $30 million deal with Open organizer R&A. Since the following July, TNT has carried all-day coverage of the tournament’s Thursday and Friday rounds, while offering two hours of morning golf in both the third and fourth rounds. (ABC broadcasts the weekend afternoon action.)

As is generally the case with sports rights negotiations, pricing played a decisive role.

“We are disciplined in our approach to negotiating programming rights,” said Turner Sports president David Levy. “While we were unable to reach terms on future rights that made economic sense for our company, we respect and value the R&A and our partnership of the past six years, and look forward in 2009 to TNT’s final year of covering The Open.”

TNT will close out its association with the Open on July 16-19, telecasting 28 hours of golf from windswept Turnberry, Scotland.

ESPN is expected to enter a bid for a seven-year partnership with the R&A, which takes its name from The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. While corporate sibling ABC has been a broadcast partner of the Open for 47 years, it seems increasingly likely that ESPN will be the exclusive TV home of the British Open when the 2010 tourney tees off.