The Masters Tournament has traditionally taken a conservative approach toward media coverage. But with the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating a schedule change to November from its April start date, Augusta National Golf Club and TV partners CBS Sports and ESPN are planning several new media strategies.
To that end, the Masters is smartly trying to sidestep live NFL games, the highest-rated programming in all entertainment. CBS is planning earlier final round coverage on Sunday, Nov. 15.
The network’s final round coverage will air from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET. That will hopefully give CBS enough time for a wrap-up by longtime host Jim Nantz, and possible sudden-death playoff coverage, before shifting to its 4:05 p.m. telecast of the Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos.
That means final round coverage will start three hours earlier than the first three rounds. ESPN will televise Rounds 1 and 2 from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 12-13. CBS will air Round 3 coverage from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 14.
Still, the shift to November makes it inevitable that football will steal some would-be Masters viewers. CBS’ weekend coverage will have to compete with a full slate of college football and NFL games on Nov. 14-15.
The Masters says it has also teamed with CBS to “showcase distinctive angles and shots from around the course” without providing specifics — CBS declined to comment.
Due to the coronavirus, there won’t be any fans allowed during the tournament from Nov. 9-15. In another blow to the global golf industry, the 2020 British Open was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
“Given the circumstances brought about by the pandemic, the delivery of quality content is as important as ever to the storytelling of the Masters Tournament,” said Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley in a statement. “While we will dearly miss our patrons at Augusta National this fall, we are excited to showcase what promises to be a truly memorable Masters in a variety of ways for viewers around the world.”
Meanwhile, ESPN will televise “College GameDay” live from the grounds of Augusta on Saturday, Nov. 14.
Airing from 9 a.m. to noon ET, the pregame show will originate from the Par 3 course. Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the “College GameDay” team will talk college football from a studio overlooking Ike’s Pond and the 9th green of the Par 3 course. Again, due to the coronavirus, this year’s Par 3 Contest was canceled.
“Anytime ‘College GameDay’ travels to a new destination it’s special, and the opportunity to be on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters is extraordinary,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and Sports Content in a statement.
There’s hope that golf’s final major tournament of the season will defy the alarming TV ratings drops suffered by the World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, and other events this year. Especially with superstar Tiger Woods teeing it up after winning his fifth green jacket in 2019.
Here are some of the other media wrinkles in the Masters’ 2020 media strategy:
- For the first time, Masters Digital will unveil a “My Group” feature that will invite fans to create their own personally tailored feed of every shot by their favorite players.
- Everybody’s launching newsletters, including the green jackets at Augusta. The Masters is inviting golf fans to sign up for a free daily email newsletter, which it promises will deliver “exclusive content and highlights of the day’s action.”
- ESPN+ subscribers will be able to watch new “featured holes” coverage of Holes 4, 5, and 6 for all four days of the tournament. It’s the first time those three holes have gotten special coverage. Additionally, ESPN+ subscribers will be able to watch live streams of Amen Corner (Holes 11-13 ) as well as Holes 15-16.
- Marty Smith of ESPN will again host the Masters’ official podcast, “Fore Please! Now Driving,” featuring tournament storylines and guests from sports and pop culture.
- Live coverage of the Masters will be telecast to more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. The American Forces Network will provide live coverage to U.S. military bases around the globe.