When The Masters was moved to November and to an earlier weekend start, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus discussed that with “I think it worked out really well for everybody.” The idea was that the golf event would gain some extra viewership from people tuning in early ahead of NCAA or NFL football (to say nothing of studio-side things like ESPN sending College GameDay there), and that those football games would see a viewership boost from a Masters lead-in. But CBS has already lost the LSU-Alabama game set to follow Saturday’s Masters coverage (thanks to COVID-19 numbers at LSU), replacing that with college football studio content and then local and entertainment programming. And a Sports Business Journal report Thursday from John Ourand and David Rumsey indicates that CBS might not even to broadcast the highest-rated part of the Masters if that finish carries into the start of their NFL window after 4 p.m. Eastern, as the tournament could instead conclude on ABC (plus CBS Sports Network and streaming):
SBJ scoop this afternoon: the conclusion of the final round of #themasters on Sunday *could* be broadcast on ABC, if weather or a playoff extended the acton beyond 4pm, when CBS will transition to NFL coverage. Unlikely, but an interesting possibility.https://t.co/idcbA12q3x
— David Rumsey (@_DavidRumsey) November 12, 2020
Yes, as Rumsey says there, this is somewhat unlikely. The plan is for the Masters to end around 2:30 to 2:45 p.m. Eastern Sunday, so there’s already a significant cushion for a playoff and a championship presentation. But there are some potential delays, especially from Tropical Storm Eta, which caused weather that led to a brief first-round suspension Thursday. If the weather goes really off the rails Saturday or Sunday, that might make this a larger possibility.
A move like this is somewhat understandable from all sides. The Masters obviously wants broadcast-network exposure for their finish, and CBS isn’t in a place to provide that (thanks to their NFL contract) if the finish runs past 4 p.m. ET Sunday. ABC, by contrast, is the only major broadcast network without a regular NFL package (although they’re always trying to change that), and it’s a sister network to ESPN, which already has early-round and digital deals with The Masters. So ABC is the most logical network to shunt a late finish to if that winds up happening. But it’s certainly unusual to see a cross-company shift on a late finish, especially for an event as high-profile as The Masters.
If this does happen, what are the ratings impacts for CBS? It’s not entirely clear. The Masters’ finish obviously draws pretty well; last year saw 18.3 million viewers for the end of the tournament and an average of 10.8 million viewers for the whole final round, which was shifted to an early schedule (similar to this year) thanks to weather. But CBS’ NFL windows often draw more than that 10.8 million number, and sometimes more than the 18.3 million peak number; this past week’s CBS windows averaged 10.2 million viewers (early) and 22.7 million viewers (late).
And while this week’s late window (featuring Buffalo-Arizona, Denver-Las Vegas, and LA Chargers-Miami, depending on region) doesn’t look as strong from a markets/ratings perspective as last week’s (Pittsburgh-Dallas), it’s still going to draw well. So it’s not like going to the NFL is going to be disastrous for CBS if they’re forced to do that. But it would certainly be interesting to see The Masters’ final round finish on a different network than it started on. And it would certainly be a major boost for ABC if this happened.