Another April, another television visit to scenic Augusta National Golf Club -- "A tradition like none other" as Jim Nantz states.
But lost in all of The Masters' traditions, hidden behind the green jacket, the champions dinner, the pimento cheese sandwiches, and even the azaleas that are packed in ice prior to the tournament to ensure timely blooming, is the tradition of ultimate control of the rights holder's presentation of its product.
CBS has televised The Masters for 45 consecutive years, and its production has evolved from coverage of only the final four holes to its current partnership with ESPN for early-round coverage, followed by full-round airing of weekend activity. Despite the evolution, progress has been slow due to control by the extremely exclusive Augusta National Club.
CBS is now synonymous with The Masters, but it has only earned that reputation by renewing it's contract with Augusta National on an annual basis. Without longtime contractual security, the network has not been able to wrestle control of the production look, sound, or format.
There have been controversial aspects to this tense relationship. It is clear that CBS's Masters coverage is unlike any other golf event the network produces. Longtime announcers Jack Whitaker and Gary McCord have been removed from telecasts at the behest of the club for perceived disparaging comments about the tournament or course -- Whitaker took a jab at the club's exclusive nature and McCord joked that the 17th green was so fast that it was "bikini waxed".
But where Augusta National has exerted its most influence has been in its mandate of minimal commercial interruption and limited production. A typical golf tournament will be interrupted by approximately 12 minutes of advertising per hour, as opposed to the four hours during Masters coverage. The club also does not allow CBS to promote any additional programming during the telecast or during commercial breaks. As for coverage of the tournament, daily productions are limited in nature so as not to dilute ratings. By limiting early-round coverage to only four hours per day as opposed to round-the-clock production of the other majors tournaments, there is a sense of exclusivity and importance.
While many of these television "traditions" are antiquated, they should serve as inspirations to professional leagues and collegiate conferences who regularly compromise their traditions and standards to their rights holders.
Case in point is Major League Baseball, which continues to alienate younger viewers by allowing its postseason rights holders to place nearly all productions in late primetime time slots. The late starts ensure higher ratings but are pushing the viewership toward the high end of the lucrative 18-49 year old demographic.
Or how about college football's Bowl Championship Series, which in the name of exclusivity, took traditional bowl games away from their regular New Year's Day slots and littered them across the calendar days after all the confetti had been cleaned up at Times Square.
As outdated and downright silly as some of Augusta National's control over it's rights holder are, they still serve notice that it is the content, not the messenger, that should still take precedent.