Tiger at Core of TV Talks
Tiger Woods shattered records at the 1997 Masters, becoming the youngest winner (21) by the widest margin (12 shots) and giving golf its highest TV rating (14.1) in the cable era. The tour met with networks a month later and reached a four-year deal worth about $650 million, twice as much as the previous contract.
The summer after Woods completed his 'Tiger Slam' by winning his fourth straight major at the '01 Masters, the tour negotiated the 2003-06 contract that was worth close to $900 million. What also helped is that the deal was done in July, two months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks plunged the economy into a deep recession.
The next round of negotiations might be a little more sticky.
The tour is expected to start meeting with networks next summer, and Tigermania is at an all-time low. Woods has gone 10 majors without winning, matching the longest drought of his career. His only victory this year was in February, and three players - Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson - have grabbed most of the headlines.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is optimistic as ever.
Even though Woods has proven to be the only player who can spike ratings, Finchem finds compelling story lines with Mickelson winning his first major and contending in the other three; and with Singh pursuing Woods at No. 1 in the world ranking and having a chance to break his single-season earnings record.
Finchem also notes that with the economy slowly turning around, the tour already has signed up 10 title sponsors through 2010, the end of the next TV contract.
'I think we're in a reasonably good place,' Finchem said in a recent interview. 'I don't think we're going to see the kind of growth rate over the next five years that we've seen in the last five or six years. On the other hand, we're going to see growth in our charitable contributions, growth in our purses and growth in the overall fan base.
'And that's what is important in the long run.'
Complicating matters is that the PGA Tour probably will have to get in line when it comes to a new TV contract. The networks face a busy year in negotiating deals with the NFL and NASCAR
'It's going to limit golf's flexibility,' said Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports. 'One is, they take a lot of money out of the market. Whatever happens with the NFL and NASCAR will influence PGA negotiations.'
What also concerns Pilson is the rising cost of doing business in golf. He said network profit margins are not nearly as high as they were, although Pilson is not convinced that networks are losing money on golf.
Finchem attributes any shrinking margins to the state of the economy.
'We just had a three-year recession,' Finchem said. 'No one made money during the recession. But I think it's improving nicely. And again, you have to remember that a very significant percentage of all revenue that goes to the networks is from sponsors, and we've been fully sponsored.'
One area where there is little room for debate is the ratings, which indelibly are tied to Woods' performance.
David Toms recently asked Finchem what he thought about so many international players winning. What prompted the question was upcoming TV negotiations.
'I've had a couple of older players, even Senior tour players, say with the TV deal coming up, it would be great for Tiger to be winning and dominating,' Toms said. 'Because TV ratings go up when he's playing well.'
That much was clear at the Masters, which many believe was the most thrilling Sunday at Augusta National since Jack Nicklaus won in 1986 at age 46. Mickelson birdied five of his last seven holes, making an 18-foot birdie on the 18th to win by one shot over Els.
And yet, the Sunday overnight rating of 7.3 was down about 20 percent from the previous year, when Mike Weir defeated Len Mattiace in a playoff. Woods didn't contend in either Masters.
At the PGA Championship, which featured the first three-way playoff at that major, the overnight rating of 4.9 was slightly higher than when Shaun Micheel won at Oak Hill in 2003 - but it was down 41 percent from 2002, when Rich Beem held off Woods at Hazeltine.
The Los Angeles Times reported that going into the NEC Invitational, ratings were down from last year in 17 of the 30 rounds Woods has played on the weekend.
And if Woods does turn his game around in time for the next round of contracts?
'I think there was more of a forecast the last time around on the surge in golf with Tiger hitting his stride,' said David Carter of Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group. 'The Tiger factor was built into the last contract. You wonder if the next time around, whether they can draw upon that even further.'
Pilson, however, does not believe TV negotiations are tied to one player - even if that one player is golf's biggest star. The reason Woods spikes ratings is because he attracts the mainstream audience, while everyone else appeals to strictly golf fans.
But as Pilson points out, golf fans aren't a bad audience for advertisers.
'Both the PGA Tour and the networks understood that Tiger wasn't going to win every tournament, and he was probably on a run that could not be sustained,' Pilson said. 'Golf has a solid, reliable audience - a good demographic mix, well-educated, affluent. What they basically win or lose with Tiger is the casual golf audience.
'What they fundamentally sell is the golf audience.'
Still, it all goes back to the time Woods was holding court with Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke, regaling them with adventurous tales and some of the risks involved with diving.
'Just be careful down there,' Bjorn told him. 'Our future earnings depend on you.'
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”
McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks
The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.
McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.
“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”
At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.”
And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.
“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.
“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic
No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.
Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.
With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.
“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”
Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.