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Masters Shuns Commercials

The Masters announced that it would become the only commercial-free sports telecast next year so advertisers would not be pressured by women's groups that have challenged Augusta National's all-male membership.

Club chairman Hootie Johnson notified the tournament's three sponsors on Friday that the Masters "will not request their participation" in 2003.

IBM, Citigroup and Coca-Cola were the only companies that had been allowed to run ads during the broadcast, which usually has the highest TV ratings in golf. The company's logos also appeared on the Masters' Web site.

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

The move also shields the club itself from pressure it may receive from the sponsors to admit women as members, The New York Times points out in its Saturday editions.

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 the club's membership.

The group recently asked the three sponsors to reconsider their support for the Masters because the club has no women among is 300 members, The Washington Post reports in its Saturday editions.

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

Now that the Masters has eliminated its television sponsors, Burk said Saturday she will urge CBS Sports to drop coverage of the tournament until the host club admits a female member.

Burk said she will not relent until the Masters fades as a major championship or until Augusta National admits a woman.

"We expect to have a conversation with CBS," Burk told The Associated Press. "It will be about whether they want to broadcast an event held in a venue that discriminates against half the population."

CBS Sports has had a series of one-year deals since 1956 to televise the Masters. Network spokeswoman Leslie Anne Wade declined comment, except to say that "CBS will broadcast the Masters next year."

A spokesman for USA Network, which televises part of the tournament, told the Times the cable network would continue carrying "this world-class tournament."

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.

A representative of one of the three advertisers, who requested anonymity, told the Post Johnson was "overdoing it" and that the three were working with the NCWO to resolve the conflict.

Coca-Cola spokesman Ben Deutsch confirmed the company received a letter from Burk, although he said it was not threatening.

"We had discussions with Augusta National officials and they recently informed us of their decision to conduct the tournament without sponsors," Deutsch said. "We enjoyed our one-year sponsorship of the Masters, and we wish them well."

IBM spokeswoman Deb Gotthimer would only confirm that the company received a letter from NCWO. "We respect the club's decision to hold the Masters without sponsors next year," she said.

Citigroup declined 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 in golf, void of corporate tents and exhibitions at Augusta National. Its deal with CBS Sports allowed only four minutes of commercials each hour.

The Masters, the year's first major tournament, is played every April at Augusta National, in Georgia. The event is a commercial anomaly in televised sports, limiting commercials to four minutes an hour to increase the number of viewers. No other sport is carried commercial-free; the closest approximation is soccer, in which commercials are shown only before the game and at halftime. During the games, the scoreboards carry the names of advertisers.

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