Masters' TV sponsors: IBM, Exxon, SBC

Updated: August 27, 2004, 9:21 PM ET
Associated Press

The Masters is no longer commercial-free, signing up three television sponsors Friday for the first time since Martha Burk led a corporate campaign against Augusta National and its all-male membership.

Club chairman Hootie Johnson said the Masters would add 90 minutes of television coverage and go back to its four minutes of advertising every hour.

Johnson dropped the Masters' only TV sponsors -- IBM, Coca-Cola and Citigroup -- two years ago to keep them from being pressured by Burk and her National Council of Women's Organizations. Burk had sent letters to each company saying that sponsorship of the Masters endorsed sex discrimination.

IBM is the only company that returns for the 2005 Masters. The club also signed sponsorship deals with ExxonMobil and SBC Communications, whose chairmen and CEOs are members of Augusta National.

A message left for Burk was not returned immediately.

"We're sponsoring a tournament," ExxonMobil spokesman Lauren Kerr said. "The Augusta membership is a decision for their board. But the Masters Tournament stands as one of the world's leading sporting events, and that's where our focus is."

The Masters became the first commercial-free sports event on network television in 2003 as it tried to deflect pressure from corporate sponsors. Even though Burk's protest during the third round of the Masters fizzled in a grassy lot down the street from the golf course, the Masters went without commercials again this past April.

Johnson had said the club could go on "indefinitely" without TV advertising revenue, a testament to the deep pockets of its 300 members. Still, it raised four-day ticket prices to last year's Masters from $125 to $175.

In a release from the club, Johnson did not say the Masters had decided to return to television sponsors, only that fans of the Masters would be pleased with the additional TV coverage. The club said Johnson would have no further comment.

USA Network will add an additional 30 minutes of coverage in the first two rounds (4-7 p.m. ET), and CBS Sports will add 30 minutes to its coverage of the third round (3:30-7 p.m. ET). Coverage of the final round remains 2:30-7 p.m.

Phil Mickelson, who recently signed a deal with ExxonMobil to promote math and science education, will be the defending champion.

Although Augusta National does not have a membership policy, it has not had a female member in its 70-year history.

In a June 12, 2002, letter to Johnson, Burk urged Augusta National to invite a female member to join so that it would not become an issue at the next Masters.

Johnson took that as a threat and fired off a three-page statement in which he said Augusta National would not be bullied or intimidated. In what became a slogan to the 10-month campaign, Johnson said the club might one day have a female member on its own timetable but "not at the point of a bayonet."

Burk launched her campaign by attacking television sponsors (which Johnson dismissed) and CBS Sports (which continued to broadcast the Masters). She later started a Web site (www.augustadiscriminates.org) that included a "Hall of Hypocrisy," in which the NCWO listed corporations that said they had policies against sex discrimination but whose CEOs were members at Augusta National.

A federal appeals court ruled in April that Burk should have been allowed to demonstrate outside the gates at Augusta National. City officials, citing safety concerns, made her go to a grassy lot down the street.

Burk did not return in April 2004, and has not said whether she will do so in the future.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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