For the second edition in a row, the Masters will conclude early on Sunday afternoon. This time, though, that’s going to be the plan all along.
In 2019, the Masters moved tee times up early on Sunday in order to beat storms, which meant Tiger Woods completed his stunning comeback in front of a smaller television audience than he would have with better circumstances. (On the other hand, the storms did arrive, and the alternative was probably finishing on Monday morning anyway. Tiger and his surgically-repaired back were certainly thankful to get things completed in four days.)
Now, with Covid forcing Augusta National to reschedule from April to this November, an entirely different set of circumstances will see CBS airing Saturday and Sunday coverage much earlier in the day than normal: football commitments.
? CBS revealed its 2020 Masters broadcast plan ?
On Saturday, the third round will end around 5:30 ET as a lead-in to LSU vs. Alabama.
On Sunday, the final round will end between 2-2:45 ET prior to late afternoon NFL games. pic.twitter.com/wrO8FXQmP3
— GOLF.com (@GOLF_com) September 8, 2020
On a call with reporters and outlets including Awful Announcing, CBS Sports chief Sean McManus outlined how and why this was happening, framing it as a win-win for all the parties involved:
“We obviously worked really closely with the NFL, the management of Augusta National, including chairman Fred Ridley, and the folks at the SEC for Saturday. Going to Sunday first, we were fortunate that the NFL accommodated us and gave us only late games on the Sunday of the Masters, so we were able to do approximately what we did this past year, come on the air at 9 o’clock and finish by approximately 2:30 or 2:45 and then go right into NFL football.
Likewise, with our Saturday coverage of the Masters, the SEC accommodated us and moved the start time to 6 p.m. so we can get off the air with Masters coverage on Saturday at around 5:30.
The word ‘partner’ is thrown around a lot in this industry, but I think this was really a good example of partnership; everyone gave a little bit at the office to accommodate this. And I think it’s just going to be an amazing week for CBS Sports.
And I think the NFL will be helped by the lead-in the Masters will give it in our 4:05 window, which is good for the NFL. And I think our Alabama-LSU game that Saturday will benefit greatly by having a Masters lead-in. And I think the Masters will do really well being on this high-profile weekend, having NFL coverage follow it and having Alabama-LSU follow it.
I think it worked out really well for everybody; everybody benefits, everybody was cooperative, and it’s just a really good example of how partnerships in the world of sports television can really work out so that everyone benefits.”
In fact, McManus even noted the similarity to the coverage window from the 2019 final round:
“It’s going to end somewhere around 2:30 or 3 o’clock, which leaves us time for a potential playoff. It’s very similar to what happened this past year when we came on the air at nine o’clock and ended in the early afternoon. It’s something we have some experience with, and it will allow us to accommodate NFL football and the Masters on one day.”
For golf fans and viewers, it does suck to lose the more traditional afternoon finishing window, but this still means network coverage for the end of the event. The NFL clearing out one early window on CBS was already a big ask, and forcing CBS to choose between the Masters and the NFL was apparently too much for even Augusta National, an entity that doesn’t shy away from pushing CBS around if necessary. (That Roger Goodell is an Augusta member can’t have hurt anything.)
But there’s one reality that even the famously meticulous Augusta National couldn’t have helped: it gets darker a lot sooner on November 15th than it does in the traditional April slot. The 2020 date is already after the end of Daylight Savings Time, and sunset time is 5:24 PM ET. Even if the Masters did want a more traditional finish, it would have been fairly impossible; even hoping to end just a few hours sooner would have left no time for a potential playoff. And though they have the resources for it and it would probably look cool as hell, there was no way they’d consider adding lights to the course as a contingency plan. (Though, again, cool as hell visuals.)
So this is what we have: a Masters that’s going to be played without patrons, in the middle of November, and finishing early in the afternoon on the weekend so as not to risk running into the NFL’s late window or a huge SEC contest. None of that is ideal. It is, however, much better than losing the Masters entirely.