The 2020 Masters was a Masters unlike any other thanks to the pandemic. For the first time in the tournament’s storied history, it took place in November. And like many other current sports, it didn’t have any fans, or patrons as they like to call them at Augusta National.
Despite those dramatic changes, the tournament itself was entertaining as Dustin Johnson won in record-setting fashion with a score of 20-under and finished five shots clear of the field. It was also history-making in another way that CBS and Augusta National officials would soon like to forget. This year’s Masters will be remembered for receiving the lowest-ever television ratings in the tournament’s long history.
Dustin Johnson wins Masters
Dustin Johnson is the No. 1 golfer in the world for a reason. Heading into the Masters, Johnson had played an impressive stretch in his previous six events, finishing sixth in one event along with three runners-up finishes and a couple of victories.
At Augusta National Golf Club, Johnson came out of the gates fast and after the first round he shared the lead at an impressive 7-under with two other golfers. Johnson remained steady in rounds two and three and stayed atop the leaderboard, with various golfers joining him at the top, only to fall by the wayside.
Dustin Johnson held a four-shot lead at 16-under heading into the final round at Augusta. On Sunday, he nervously stumbled with a couple of bogeys early in the round, which dredged up bad memories of collapses in his past, but he recovered and pulled away from the field on the back nine finishing with a history-making 20-under par, breaking the previous record of 18-under held by Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods.
Masters ratings set historic lows
While the whole Masters’ experience this year was unique, being held in November and absent fans, as well as entertaining with Dustin Johnson’s record-setting performance, the event itself was record-setting and not in a good way.
According to Nielsen, Sunday’s round averaged 5.59 million viewers and a 3.4 household rating. Those numbers are the fewest viewers dating all the way back to 1957 when Doug Ford beat Sam Snead. That one-hour broadcast averaged a 3.0 rating.
By comparison, since 2010, the final rounds at the Masters have averaged 13.3 million viewers on CBS. The final round of last year’s event, which saw Tiger Woods win his fifth green jacket and 15th major title, averaged 10.8 million viewers or double the number of 2020 viewers and a 6.6. rating. Last year’s numbers were lower because tournament officials moved up the final round tee times by six hours to avoid potential inclement weather later in the day.
Why were the ratings so low?
Similar to last year’s event, CBS had to move up the schedule for the 2020 version of the Masters because of the network’s contractual obligations to broadcast the NFL in the afternoon.
Speaking of the NFL, that’s one of the major factors contributing to the decline in viewership at this year’s Masters as the tournament had to compete with the mammoth ratings hog for the first time ever. The NFL on Fox had five early games featuring big-market teams, including New York, Philadelphia, Houston, and Washington D.C. that averaged 18.2 million viewers and a 10.2 rating.
The Tiger factor also contributed to fewer viewers since Woods was never in contention on Sunday and not shown with any regularity.
Finally, it’s 2020 and viewership has been down across the board in record numbers in all sports with the pandemic-induced shifting of schedules. The final round of the U.S. Open in September on NBC suffered the lowest TV ratings on record, averaging just 3.21 million viewers and a 2.0 rating. The NBA Finals, World Series, and Kentucky Derby all endured record-low ratings this year.
As the year comes to a close, networks, leagues, teams, and ultimately, fans are desperately hoping for a return to normalcy. If that happens, and the various sports return to their traditional spots on the calendar, expect an increase in viewers. And the 2021 Masters will be one of the first events to test that theory in April.