Another blow for spring sports as Augusta postpones the Masters

Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee reacted to the news with characteristic equanimity. Speaking on the NBC-owned cable network’s “Live From” program, Chamblee this afternoon said the postponement was Augusta’s only option. “We were here earlier this week talking about how unpredictable this golf course is, this championship is. Now we’re talking about how unpredictable life is,” Chamblee said, before adding that holding off on the start of a golf tournament was “really insignificant … compared to the scale of the destruction that, as of yet is still unknown.”

Besides being one of the world’s most mythologized sporting events, the Masters is a singular media property. As the late Pat Summerall revealed in his 2008 autobiography “Summerall: On and Off the Air,” CBS maintains the rights to broadcast the Masters as part of a “year-to-year handshake agreement with the club.” As part of this unconventional arrangement, CBS agrees to forever do things the Augusta way, limiting its commercial breaks to four minutes of air time per hour (roughly a quarter of the average broadcast spot load), while keeping a tight grip on the language of the guys in the booth.

According to Summerall’s book, CBS broadcasters aren’t allowed to mention the Masters’ $11.5 million purse or acknowledge the existence of logos worn by the duffers. “To this day, announcers can’t mention what brands of shoes or clothes a player is wearing or what equipment he is using,” Summerall wrote. “That would be free advertising.”

Unlike the NCAA tournament, which per Kantar generated $910 million in ad sales revenue, the derailment of the Masters doesn’t impose a terrible financial burden on CBS. In addition to the stingy ad breaks, the event boasts just three official on-air sponsors in AT&T, IBM and Mercedes-Benz, which leaves CBS with a relatively spartan haul of around $25 million in sales.

The postponement arrives on the heels of the PGA’s decisions to cancel its flagship event, the Players Championship, after a single round. This morning, PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan told reporters that while it was disappointing to have to bring a halt to the tournament, concern for the safety of golfers, PGA staff and fans and the closing of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando—venues approximately 150 miles southwest of the TPC Sawgrass course—made it impossible to entertain thoughts of finishing out the Players Championship.

“When you look to that moment in time, where you have two theme parks that are located between Jacksonville and Tampa cancel, to me that really was the final thing that we had heard that said, ‘you know what, even though we feel like we have a safe environment and we’ve done all the right things, we can’t proceed,’” Monahan said. “It’s not right to proceed.”

Monahan went on to say that rescheduling the Players Championship is “not a possibility” for the PGA. “As you look into the rest of the season, tournaments in every market are well on their way towards playing their events,” Monahan said. “We’re going to continue to go forward with the schedule that we’ve outlined and hopefully we can get back and play as soon as possible.”

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