The highest television rating ever for the Masters – or the final round of any major golf tournament, for that matter – came in 1997, when a 21-year-old Tiger Woods won the tournament for the first time in dominant fashion. More than 14 percent of all the homes with televisions in the United States tuned in.
If Woods is in contention on Sunday at Augusta National next month when he returns to golf after a sex scandal, expect the rating to blow that number away.
“My only prediction is when he comes back, it will be, other than the Obama inauguration, one of if not the biggest media spectacle in recent memory,” CBS Sports president Sean McManus, whose network televises the last two rounds of the Masters, told The Associated Press last week before Woods revealed when he would return.
“If we are involved in documenting that, it would make me very happy.”
Exactly how happy will he be? Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson predicted a rating in the 16-18 range if Woods has a chance at winning on the final day.
“I don’t think it would do a 20, but it might,” said Pilson, who now runs a media consulting firm. “There will be so much media focus on Tiger, especially if by Sunday if he’s back again and leading and at the top of the leader board or close to it.”
Pretty much everything on television draws lower ratings these days than they did in ’97, as the audience has become more fragmented. Last year’s Masters drew an 8.3 rating.
But then again, few events have managed to seep into as many of the numerous options viewers can now choose from. Woods’ saga has been all over the gossip magazines, not just the sports pages.
Whether CBS gets a big boost in ratings will depend on how Woods fares. ESPN, which airs the first two rounds, is guaranteed to draw interest in how he performs from the start.
The network’s coverage averaged 3.4 million viewers for Thursday and Friday last year. The final round on CBS averaged 14.3 million viewers.
“Tiger’s return to competitive golf at this year’s Masters Tournament will surely be one of the biggest stories the sporting world has seen,” ESPN executive vice president John Wildhack said in a statement.
Woods’ return benefits everybody involved in documenting the tournament. Tom Stathakes, Golf Channel’s senior vice president for programming, said the network won’t add a lot to its coverage since it can’t do much more than the extensive amount already offered. It might start its pregame shows earlier depending on when Woods tees off.
Stathakes predicted the channel’s ratings will increase 20-25 percent from last year. It will also have more competition, though, as he expects other networks will start showing Woods’ post-match news conferences live, when Golf Channel used to be the only one to do that.
“If he’s in the final group on Sunday,” Stathakes said, “it will be one of the highest-rated sporting events in years.”