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Masters 2024: Early TV ratings are up at Augusta, which means more than you think

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Ben Walton

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The 2024 Masters was always going to be a litmus test of sorts for tour pros from the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf League to see how their games compared the first time they would be competing together in the same event. More intriguing, perhaps, was how the Masters might also serve as checkpoint for fan interest in the game, one that in recent months has seemed to sour as the schism in pro golf between the two rivals lingers with no resolution in immediate sight.

Judging by the early ratings from Augusta National, there would appear to a notable appetite for reconciliation. ESPN reported that its Thursday’s broadcast of the Masters earned the highest opening-round ratings since 2015. According to the network, the broadcast averaged 3.2 million viewers during its 3 p.m. to 8:06 p.m. ET coverage window (extended through to sunset and the stoppage of play after the round was delayed 2½ hours at the start), up 28 percent from 2023. The peak audience was 3.8 million. By comparison, last year’s first round averaged 2.5 million.

A day later, ESPN reported that Friday's second-round average was 3.6 million, up 69 percent from 2023. The audience peaked at 3.9 million viewers at around 5:30 p.m., roughly the time Tiger Woods finished Round 2. The combined two-day average of 3.4 million viewers was the best for the Masters since 2018.

The numbers come in the wake of several PGA Tour events seeing ratings declines in the first three months of 2024. Viewership of the final round of the WM Phoenix Open in February dropped 35 percent compared to 2023. That was followed by a 30 percent decrease for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of the PGA Tour’s signature events. Meanwhile, despite a dramatic finish with Scottie Scheffler charging back to repeat as the champion, the Players Championship saw a 15 percent drop for all four rounds of coverage.

Explanations over why there's been a viewership decrease—despite participation numbers in the sport increasing since the COVID-19 pandemic—have centered primarily around the theory that fans have become fed up with the friction in the men’s game that lingers as the PGA Tour and LIV Golf remain rivals.

“People are just sick of the narrative in golf being about, you know, contracts on LIV, purses on the tour,” said Peter Malnati, a member of the PGA Tour Policy Board who recently traveled to the Bahamas and participated in a meeting with PIF chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan. “They want to see sport, they want to see people who are the best in the world at what they do, do it at a high level and celebrate that, celebrate the athleticism, celebrate the achievement.”

In December, Jon Rahm became the latest marquee player to jump from the PGA Tour to LIV, joining Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Cameron Smith among recent major champions playing for LIV and thus no longer competing in PGA Tour events. Rahm’s move prevented him from defending his title in three early season tour events, an absence that amplified the tension as the two sides seem to be in a stalemate regarding whether come together as part of the newly created PGA Tour Enterprises.

When asked about the decline in ratings on the PGA Tour during his Wednesday pre-tournament press conference, Masters chairman Fred Ridley acknowledged that the friction caused by the split in the men’s pro game could be creating an apathy issue.

“It’s certainly one possibility,” Ridley said. “Certainly, the fact that the best players in the world are not convening very often is not helpful. Whether or not there’s a direct causal effect, I don’t know. But I think that it would be a lot better if they were together more often.”

Whether Thursday’s rise can be sustained is unclear. Last year’s final-round ratings for Rahm's victory on CBS averaged 12.06 million viewers, a 19-percent boost from 2022. It’s a high bar to hit. But if it happens, it would seem viewers might be sending a message about their interest in the two sides settling their feud and coming together again.

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