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Published: Saturday, 8/31/2002

Masters drops commercials


AUGUSTA, Ga. - The Masters is going commercial-free, dropping its corporate sponsors to avoid pressure on them by a women's organization that challenged Augusta National's all-male membership.

Club chairman Hootie Johnson yesterday notified the tournament's three sponsors - IBM, Citigroup and Coca-Cola - that the Masters “will not request their participation” in 2003.

Those were the only companies that were allowed to run ads during the broadcast. Their logos also appeared on the Masters' Web site.

“This year's telecast will be conducted by the Masters Tournament,” Johnson said. “We appreciate everything our media sponsors have done for us, but under the circumstances, we think it is important to take this step.”

The Masters, which traditionally has the highest ratings in golf, will be the only commercial-free telecast in sports.

The friction began in June when Martha Burk, head of the National Council of Women's Organization, sent Johnson a letter urging him to add women to its membership.

Johnson said he canceled the one-year sponsorship contracts because the NCWO had started a corporate campaign against the club.

Johnson has said the club has no exclusionary policies, although it has never had a female member its 69-year history, and only welcomed its first black member in 1990.

In response to Burk's letter, Johnson defiantly said that Augusta National will not be “bullied, threatened or intimidated” to add female members. Burk was unavailable for comment.

“We are sorry, but not surprised, to see these corporations drawn into this matter,” Johnson said. “Augusta National is NCWO's true target. It is therefore unfair to the put the Masters' media sponsors in the position of having to deal with this pressure.”

The Masters already was the least commercialized tournament, void of corporate tents and exhibitions at Augusta National. Its deal with CBS Sports allowed only four minutes of commercials each hour.

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