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Masters going commerical-free after booting sponso
by Doug Ferguson

The Masters is going commercial-free, dropping its corporate sponsors to avoid pressure on them by a women's organization that challenged Augusta National's all-male membership.

Club chairman Hootie Johnson notified the tournament's three sponsors - IBM, Citigroup and Coca-Cola - on Friday that the Masters "will not request their participation" in 2003.

Those were the only companies that were allowed to run ads during the broadcast. Their 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 Masters, which traditionally has the highest ratings in golf, will be the only commercial-free telecast in sports.

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 its membership.

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

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.

Burk was at a conference in Maine on Friday. Calls to her cell phone were not immediately returned.

Coca-Cola spokesman Ben Deutsch confirmed the company did receive 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.

The companies also had a small chalet at Augusta National during the Masters. It was not immediately clear whether they would be able to use them next year.

"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.

CBS spokeswoman Robin Brendle said the network would have no comment.


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