ESPN prepares for Masters blitz

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ESPN prepares for Masters blitz

PGA Tour

ESPN prepares for Masters blitz

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that no TV network does blanket coverage like ESPN. The latest example is the upcoming Masters.

CBS will be producing live Masters coverage in the U.S. for the 63rd consecutive year, but ESPN, which airs the early-round coverage, will employ its many platforms to bombard golf fans with all things Masters.

ESPN will kick off its television coverage by airing four hours of Masters news conferences on April 3, then show 13 hours of “SportsCenter at the Masters” over the next three days prior to live coverage. ESPN will air the Par 3 Contest on April 4, then air live early-round coverage from 3-7:30 p.m. Eastern time April 5-6.

In a conference call with the media, some of ESPN’s announcers echoed their counterparts at CBS about the excitement entering this year’s Masters.

“This is a Masters that I anticipate to be one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Andy North said.

Like CBS anchor Jim Nantz earlier this week, North cited strong recent play by Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the fact that many under-30 players are in top form, and two recent victories by Bubba Watson, who North called the “wild card.”

“Every year there’s that sense of anticipation, this year more so than ever,” said Scott Van Pelt, who will anchor ESPN’s coverage. “Outside of Jordan Spieth … the stars are playing well.”

The big change in this year’s production will be CBS’ addition of shot-tracing technology on five holes – Nos. 9, 10, 13, 15 and 18.

“The tracer technology showing up at Augusta is the greatest thing since, uh, whatever, sliced bread,” Curtis Strange said. “… I’m addicted to it. I want to know where the ball’s going. It was invented for a guy like Bubba Watson.”

ESPN historically has tried to push the envelope on technology, but at the Masters, it has to follow the lead of CBS, which produces all of the live coverage, and Augusta National, which maintains a heavy hand in the look and feel of the live shows. The belated introduction of tracer technology on CBS’ Masters coverage, even if only on five holes, is welcome news to the ESPN crew. (Tracer technology was used last year on the Masters Live digital coverage.)

“When you’re watching (live coverage), just like the first-down line in football or the score bug on the screen, we’ve become so used to technology that enhances the viewing that when it isn’t there, it’s noticeable,” Van Pelt said. “… Shot-tracer has become this sort of ubiquitous thing. Augusta National hasn’t gone head-first into the idea of technology and availing themselves of everything they could. But I think this is a move toward understanding that this enhances the viewing and people have come to expect it.”

“I like that they’re moving in the right direction,” Strange added. “… Consumers have come not just to expect it, but embrace it.”

ESPN’s coverage will be interspersed with features, including Marty Smith’s interviews with Woods and Rory McIlroy. ESPN Radio will be airing live interviews, starting early in the morning with the “Golic & Wingo” show. ESPN Classic will air 43 hours of Masters highlights starting at 8 p.m. Eastern on April 3.

In addition, ESPN International will air the Masters in 53 countries on television, mobile, online and broadband platforms.

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