The sports world got a jolt of good news on Monday morning when the governing bodies of golf released revised schedules for the 2020 major championships, including new dates for the Masters, pushed back to November 9-15.
It's the first time any sports organization set dates to play again since the national quarantine began and the fact that it came on what was supposed to be the beginning of Masters week felt apt, considering this is when the general public is most tuned into golf.
But while the anticipated date for when the Masters will be played in 2020 gave us azalea-lovers something to look forward to (albeit eight months from now), it also created a massive quandary for CBS: How does it broadcast the Masters, SEC football and NFL over the same weekend on one channel?
The Big Lead reached out to CBS for a comment on that challenge and received the following statement: "We are working very closely with our partners to ensure coverage of our live sports programming."
That makes sense. Obviously CBS hadn't planned for the marquee golf event of the year to be played at the same time as football. Still, they'll have to make the decision of which gets nationally broadcast on CBS and which gets moved to cable. It's not an easy question to answer.
On one side you have the NFL, the most popular sport in America and the most important in terms of commercial deals for every broadcaster. CBS makes the most money and drives the largest audience to its channel by broadcasting on national television. Throw in the fact that CBS and other networks are also currently bidding for future NFL broadcasting rights, and you can see how important they are for CBS.
On another side you have the Masters, the most important golf event of the year and the crown jewel of the network's golf coverage. Augusta National's members are also some of the richest and most powerful people in the world and would not want to play second fiddle to anyone. Then there's the issue of Masters broadcasts on Sunday lasting from 2-8 p.m. EST, which is right when the NFL plays. Players will have to tee off earlier the fall, when sunset hits around 5:30 p.m. EST in Augusta, but still, you're talking about noon-5 p.m. on CBS, which would interfere with the pregame show and 1 p.m. time slot, which is when the majority of teams play on Sunday. Not an easy nut to crack, especially when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is a member of the club.
As for the SEC, CBS already lost broadcasting rights for them starting after the 2023 season, so perhaps they'll be the odd man out and sent to cable. Looking at the schedule, the best SEC game that week projects to be Tennessee-Georgia, so it's likely the Masters would get preferential treatment on moving day. Still, the SEC is king down south and commercial partners won't pay as big a premium for a game being broadcast on cable, so there would be issues moving it off CBS.
There's also the matter of Jim Nantz, who is the voice of the Masters on CBS and the lead play-by-play man for NFL coverage on CBS. I wonder which he would pick, though I think he would lean toward the Masters.
Obviously this doesn't get us any closer to the answer of what CBS will do. That's because it's impossible to answer. Neither the Masters nor the NFL will be happy being relegated to a cable broadcast, but one of them will have to be. At least for a period of time.
Ultimately, revenue and ratings rules sports broadcasting (it's probably even more important to media companies who have been struggling with revenue because of the COVID-19 shutdown), so if I had to guess, I'd say the NFL will be broadcast on CBS and the Masters will be pushed to cable. Perhaps Augusta National will even use this as an opportunity to drive more viewership to their site, which broadcasts high-quality live streaming already. Or maybe CBS has the national NFL game at 1 p.m., doesn't broadcast a game at 4 p.m. (lost revenue), and then moves the Masters to CBS at 4 p.m. Either way, concessions must be made.
There's no perfect answer here, but it's going to be a busy weekend at CBS, and that's good news for all of us sports lovers.