Masters Is Back to Commercials

Times Staff Writer

The free ride for golf fans is over. When CBS and the USA network televise the Masters tournament from Augusta National in Georgia next April, there will be commercials.

After two years of no commercials, the old format of only four minutes of commercials an hour will be reinstated.

Most telecasts have at least twice that many minutes an hour.

Commercials were dropped in 2003 at the request of Augusta National Chairman Hootie Johnson because of a threatened boycott against the tournament’s three sponsors.


Martha Burk and the National Council of Women’s Organizations were protesting that Augusta National has an all-male membership.

Augusta National does not have a membership policy, but it has not had a female member in its 70-year history.

Johnson, in announcing Friday that there would be an additional 90 minutes of television coverage over the first three days of the tournament, also welcomed three television sponsors -- ExxonMobil, IBM and SBC. IBM is the lone returning sponsor.

All three corporations have members at Augusta National.

The addition of the sponsors could give Burk and her campaign new life.

“I’m shocked that any responsible company would want to be identified with the blatant sex discrimination practiced by Augusta National,” Burk said. “Perhaps these companies think the controversy has gone away. It has not. It will not.”

Burk’s protest of the 2003 Masters fizzled in a grassy lot a half-mile from the club, where her 40 supporters were dwarfed by media and police.

A federal appeals court ruled four months ago that Augusta city officials should not have kept Burk from protesting outside the gates of the golf course.

Burk said it was too early to tell if she would return for the 2005 Masters, but added that “nothing is stopping us.”

The television sponsors at the Masters before the all-male membership became an issue were IBM, Coca-Cola and Citigroup. Spokesmen at Coca-Cola and Citigroup declined comment when asked if they had a chance to return.

“We’re sponsoring a tournament,” ExxonMobil spokesman Lauren Kerr said. “The Augusta membership is a decision for their board. But the Masters tournament stands as one of the world’s leading sporting events, and that’s where our focus is.”

Defending champion Phil Mickelson recently signed a deal with ExxonMobil to promote math and science education.

An SBC spokesman referred to a statement on its website that said it was a great opportunity, as one of only three television sponsors, to reach millions of viewers.

A spokesman for CBS said the network had no comment.

Johnson had earlier said the club could go on “indefinitely” without TV advertising revenue.

Still, Augusta National raised four-day ticket prices to last year’s Masters from $125 to $175, and the Masters reaps revenue from merchandise sales and international TV rights. The Masters is broadcast in 190 countries.

In a news release from the club that was also posted on the website, Johnson did not say why the Masters decided to return to television sponsors, only that the fans would be pleased with the additional TV coverage, and that the sponsors are leaders in their fields that “will make a positive contribution to this tournament.”

USA Network will add 30 minutes of coverage for each of the first two rounds and CBS will add 30 minutes for the third round. Coverage of the final round will remain from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Associated Press contributed to this report.