2021 Masters TV preview: What’s changing from CBS, ESPN’s coverage at Augusta National
AUGUSTA, Ga. — When members of the ESPN broadcast team were asked how this year’s Masters broadcast will look different to those viewing from home, the answers were literal.
“There will be flowers,” Curtis Strange said. “There will be pollen, plenty of pollen. When you get to your car, you couldn’t figure out which one is yours because they all were yellow.”
“It won’t be 20 under,” added Scott Van Pelt.
“When I had a chance to win there in ’85, I went to the 10th tee with a four-shot lead, and I didn’t think my caddie was going to make it for the last nine holes,” Strange continued. “He had such bad asthma and allergies, I thought I was going to have to carry this bag. Wouldn’t that have been a sight, coming up the last hole [carrying my bag].”
When the folks at CBS were asked the same question, they opted for ambiguity.
“We learned a lot from November. I know I didn’t produce it, but I was in the [production truck],” said Sellers Shy, coordinating producer of Golf on CBS. “I think the excitement over our drones, I think the excitement over our RF jibs, I think the excitement over all the technology that you saw was undeniable. I would just say, stay tuned for a similar presentation, however with slight enhancements around those core technology pieces.”
In some sense, the coy responses represent a central theme of the Masters on TV: less is more. Every year, the television broadcast represents a brief trek into a halcyon era of golf television, in large part due to Augusta National’s preference toward deference. The frenetic, even hectic pace of coverage many viewers love is not welcome at the Masters; sacrificed in favor of docile cutaways, serene leaderboard transitions and of course, that palliative Masters theme song.
Shot tracer wasn’t implemented at the event until 2019 (and is still used only sparingly) and drones not until 2020; the purse is never to be discussed on the broadcast; and announcers have departed acrimoniously after questionable comments about both the course and its spectators.
You can do that when you’re Augusta National, particularly given the importance of the television product in developing the Masters’ modern aura.
Even in years such as this one, when significant changes are expected in a few key places, the event’s media stakeholders provide only clues toward the entertainment product soon to be beamed into millions of homes throughout the world.
Some changes are already known. Most notably, CBS will be equipped at Augusta National with a Sony Venice ultra-high-definition camera. The Venice shoots footage in 8K resolution — twice as sharp as 4K, and nearly eight times sharper than 1080p. The camera first earned a cultlike following in the fall among football fans, who were wowed by the depth and clarity of its visuals. This isn’t the first time the Venice has been used on a golf broadcast (that honor would belong to The Match), but it’s not difficult to understand why CBS is excited about its application at golf’s most scenic venue.
On the production side, ESPN will do some jostling to fill the seat vacated by Tom Rinaldi. The network has added to Michael Eaves’ responsibilities in Augusta, giving him post-round interview duties in addition to his typical SportsCenter live hits. In Sellers Shy, CBS welcomes only its third coordinating producer to the Masters since Dwight Eisenhower was splitting his days between Augusta National and the White House in the 50s. This year marks Shy’s first in the producer’s chair for the Masters, though his early PGA Tour work with CBS has been a bright spot for the network.
As for demystifying Shy’s earlier answer, CBS will experiment with expanding a handful of innovations. Fans should expect to see RF (or remote frequency) jibs — wireless cameras attached to long, maneuverable arms that provide dynamic scenic shots — at Amen Corner and the 18th green, along with some of Augusta National’s other eye-popping visual settings. CBS will also return drone footage into the fold at Augusta after a successful (if underutilized) debut in November. New camera angles that were installed behind the 9th and 18th greens in the fall will once again be used, even with patrons in attendance at this year’s event.
In all, the big picture has not changed for the Masters’ television product, and with the newly re-signed Jim Nantz preparing to call his 35th tournament this weekend, it’s unlikely it will any time soon. The shifts presented by ESPN and CBS largely represent details at the corners — corners they aren’t quite ready to show you yet.