There’s no better match of event and season than the Masters and the spring. When you take the Masters out of the spring, turns out you lose an awful lot of your audience.
Ratings for the Masters are out, and, well ... they’re a Bryson DeChambeau drive from being good. As reported by Sports Media Watch, Sunday’s final round of the Masters averaged 5.59 million viewers and a 3.4 rating, making it the lowest-rated Masters since 1957 and the least-watched Masters since viewership totals were kept beginning in 1995.
Sunday’s round marked the first time the tournament had faced the NFL, and the Masters suffered. Ratings were down from last year’s Tiger Woods victory, which 10.81 million people watched in the same timeslot but in a typical April airing.
On the plus side, the Masters delivered the highest numbers of any golf event in 2020, and ESPN’s College GameDay likewise had its best weekend numbers-wise.
The Masters is now the latest marquee event to see its numbers drop precipitously in the pandemic. As Sports Media Watch notes, the NBA Finals and World Series both recorded all-time lows for viewership, while the Stanley Cup was the least-watched in 13 years and all three Triple Crown races were down by at least a third of their 2019 numbers.
What’s causing the decline? If this were the NFL or the NBA, there’d be a contingent declaring that progressive politics have turned off a sizable percentage of the viewership. But nobody’s kneeling during the Masters — the national anthem isn’t even played — and, if anything, this is the most conservative sport of them all. Jack Nicklaus, the Masters’ ceremonial starter, openly endorsed President Trump, and players including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and new Masters champion Dustin Johnson have all teed it up with the president.
So without politics as a handy go-to rationale, what’s left? Well, the NFL, of course; the last half of Johnson’s winning round on Sunday went down against the 1 p.m. slate of NFL games. The NFL owns Sunday, so much so that even the Masters consented to move its tee times up earlier to get out of the league’s way.
There’s also the narrative component: frankly, this wasn’t a particularly compelling Masters. Johnson had a huge lead to start Sunday, and only briefly let it slip to within one stroke before reasserting control. The second nine was less a round of golf and more a parade to a green jacket coronation. Plus, without Tiger Woods in the mix, as he was last year, casual interest suffers still more.
Also worth noting: the Masters now has one of the finest online components of any sport, all free of charge. On the Masters site, anyone can basically create their own broadcast, watching literally every single shot by every single player, every single day. The combination of individually curated highlights with comprehensive featured-group and featured-hole coverage may not have made a significant dent in the broadcast numbers, but the possibility is there for the future.
And then, of course, there’s the unspoken cloud that looms over this entire year: the pandemic and the effect it’s having not just on our schedules, but our psyches. Many casual fans who watch golf on a Sunday in April won’t much care on a Sunday right before Thanksgiving. Many who would love the distraction of golf in a normal year have much bigger concerns on their minds this one. Many who would revel in the sight of a full golf course in a normal year aren’t keen on the sight of players walking empty fairways during a pandemic.
Whatever the reason, the Masters isn’t going anywhere. It’s a boutique event and a perpetual gem in the broadcast lineups of CBS and ESPN. And in five months, we’ll have a chance to see it all unfold once again.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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