Masters To Go Commercial-Free Again

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Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson thought the commercial-free broadcast of the Masters turned out so well he plans to do it again.
 
Johnson, who dropped his television sponsors last year to keep them out of the controversy over the club's all-male membership, said Tuesday the 2004 Masters again would have no sponsors or commercial interruptions.
 
'There were many aspects of last year's broadcast that were favorable,' Johnson said in a statement. 'The response from our TV viewers about the ability to watch strictly golf was very positive.'
 
Final-round coverage on CBS Sports -- 41/2 hours without commercials -- attracted 34.5 million viewers, the third-highest for Sunday at the Masters. Mike Weir became the first Canadian to win a major, defeating Len Mattiace in a sudden-death playoff.
 
The Masters drew even more attention this year because of the club's all-male membership. Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women's Organization, led a campaign to demand the club invite a female member.
 
Johnson responded with a terse, three-page statement in which he said Augusta National would invite a woman on its own timetable, 'and not at the point of a bayonet.'
 
Johnson then dropped the Masters' three television sponsors -- Coca-Cola, Citigroup and IBM -- to shield them from controversy.
 
Burk could not be reached for comment. A message on her cell phone said she was on vacation in the Galapagos Islands until Sunday.
 
The club lost an undisclosed amount of money because there was no advertising revenue. It was believed Augusta National also helped CBS Sports pay for the production costs.
 
Johnson said during the Masters there was a 'good chance' of TV sponsors returning. Asked how long the tournament could go without sponsors, he said, 'Indefinitely.'
 
The loss of revenues did not affect charity. Augusta National also said Tuesday it has given $3.2 million to various organizations, plus a $100,000 donation to the Sept. 11 Relief Fund. The club contributed $3.3 million to charity last year.
 
The membership controversy lasted nine months, and resulted in the resignation of club member Thomas Wyman and Treasury Secretary John Snow, who quit Augusta National so it wouldn't be a topic at his confirmation hearings.
 
Burk protested on Saturday of the Masters in a grassy lot about a half-mile from the club entrance, although only about 40 supporters were on hand.
 
She has continued her campaign. Two weeks ago, she criticized Bank of America for offering an exemption to Annika Sorenstam to play in the Colonial, while at the same time allowing its chief executive to keep his membership at Augusta National.
 
Club spokesman Glenn Greenspan said the decision to go commercial-free next year was no indication the membership debate remained a problem for corporate sponsors.
 
'We had no discussions with our past sponsors or any potential sponsors,' Greenspan said. 'We received a great deal of positive feedback about the broadcast of this year's tournament, and based on that, the club decided the Masters would continue the commercial-free format for another year.'
 

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