The PGA Tour needs a popularity transfusion. As the tour begins its talks with the TV networks, the contract story is a perplexing one indeed. As Tigers wins are down to the lowest point of his career (one, equaling 1998), so is the money professional golf can expect in the future from television.
Television is a true believer in the adage that as Tiger goes, so goes the PGA Tour. And statistics back them up.
The ratings for last weeks Deutsche Bank Open tell an eye-opening story, typifying just how much Eldrick means to the big eye ' and to the tour. With Tiger and Vijay Singh battling not only for the win, but for the No. 1 world ranking, the event drew a 4.3 rating and 9 share in the overnight markets on Labor Day. And that doesnt even include six major markets in Florida that couldnt report because of Hurricane Francis. A 4.3 is right on par with what the majors did this year.
Woods win at the 97 Masters drew a ratings number of 14.1, an all-time record for golf in the cable-TV era. He won by a whopping 12 shots ' not much drama there, but oh, so many people were watching on the telly!
Contrast that with the ratings for this years Masters. Phil Mickelson birdied five of the last seven holes, including an 18-footer at No. 18, to overtake Ernie Els in a thrilling victory. Both players are at the top of their profession. Mickelson, by all accounts, is second only to Woods in fan appeal. You dont get much more drama than this one had.
And the Masters this year could pull no more than 7.3. Thats little more than half the 14.1 of 98.
Its no wonder that the tour is quietly pulling hard to Woods to snap out of his drought by the end of the year. The tour is silently saying he should go back to Butch Harmon, he should go back to his old swing, go back to anything that might have helped him win 40 victories. And by the way, do it quickly! There isnt much time left!
Apparently, if Tiger isnt going to be winning eight times, as he did in 99, or nine times, as he did in 2000, you the public just dont have as much interest in golf. And if you the public dont have as much interest, the networks certainly dont. There are not many things worse than having a tournament with Jim Nantz whispering in reverence while nobody bothers to watch.
In 1997, with Tigers immaculate timing at the Masters, television was willing to cough up about $650 million for the next four years. That was almost twice as much as the previous four years. The previous four years showcased Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Nick Price and Fred Couples, but you the public didnt really get into it the way you did with Woods.
The next TV contract was even more of a windfall. After Woods had completed his Tiger Slam, winning four majors in succession, television stepped up big to the tune of $900 million. That is the contract under which the networks are laboring now - a mega-fortune that, frankly, is not supported by ratings.
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem reasons that the ratings have taken such a drastic slide because of the overall economic slump since 9/11. That probably does provide a partial explanation. But Finchem has to hang his negotiating hat on SOMETHING ' and the ol 9/11 thing is as good as any. A Tiger rebound, though, would blow the 9/11 theory completely out of the water. And a continued Tiger slumber would continue to limit the tour vis--vis TV contracts.
You might feel a bit more sympathy for the tour were it not so ruthless in demanding more-more-more from the individual tournaments since Tiger came on the scene. A rising tide floats all boats, so the theory goes, and all the tournaments must pitch in when a cash cow (read Tiger) shows up once a century or so. Tiger is never going to play in Houston or Honda or at the Bob Hope, for example, but those events had to pitch in with a much higher purse just as if Woods were on the marquee. Finchem has twisted arms until these tournaments were ready to cry uncle, and dont you believe that theyll ever see any revenue from the Great Woods Experiment.
More sponsors are waiting, though. The Associated Press reports that 10 sponsors have signed up through 2010. But Ill bet a dollar to a dingbat that they are not Bank of America, Valero, 84 Lumber or the Southern Farm Bureau ' all sponsors of tournaments in which Tiger doesnt participate.
Certainly, a part of golfs appeal to sponsors is based on the caliber of the audience. Golfers have more money to spend, ergo golf is going to attract businesses that have products to sell. That appeal is endless, whether Tiger is around to help sell or not. And there is much anecdotal evidence that Tiger attracts a large number of fans that are not in the ideal demographic range. Many are younger, and many are below the desired income level.
But lets face it ' Tiger Woods has the ability to attract a huge audience base. And its an ability that no other golfer has. The PGA Tour is quite cognizant of this.
Unfortunately for the tour, so are the networks. Remember ' as Tiger goes, so goes the tours pocketbook.
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