Tiger Woods IS the needle
June 23, 2014
By Dan Daly
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Whether you want to call them “old school” fans, diehard fans, purists, traditionalists or some other description, every sport has fans that just can’t accept or embrace certain things when it comes to their sport. While they range in degree of enthusiasm and principle, one thing is constant; no matter what you say or what facts you present you are never going to change their mind. Well, this is my attempt to do just that.
The baseball ‘purist’ will tell you how horrible replay is and how “Baseball doesn’t need technology…human error is part of the game and has been since the beginning.” Those are the same people that still use fax machines instead of email.
The “old school” football fan will tell you that they are ruining the game with all the new rules to protect players safety and “the NFL is becoming unwatchable and will be flag football sooner than later.” Really? It’s the most popular sport in America and it’s not even close so they are clearly doing something right. Oh, and smoking cigarettes and full-time boozing while pregnant was also not a big deal once upon a time.
I could go on and on with each sport but in honor of Tiger’s Ali like return to the ring this week I wanted to address the diehard golf fan…the one that refuses to accept the fact that the PGA Tour needs Tiger Woods healthy and playing. You know the guy, the one that says “golf was fine before Tiger…golf will be fine after Tiger and I will always watch the PGA Tour no matter who is playing and I don’t care if the casual fan watches or not.” In fact, a lot of you reading this right now might be that guy. Well, let me be the one millionth person to tell you that you are an idiot.
Now, before I go any further I will say…I’m a Tiger homer. Let’s just get that out of the way early. To be honest I don’t particularly care for Tiger Woods the person, but I don’t turn on my TV to watch him give me life lessons. I turn on my TV to watch Tiger Woods play golf, and I’m not alone. You can love him or hate him, but either way you watch. As I just said, my opinion on this subject is clearly bias, I admit that, but the ratings and statistics that back that up are overwhelming.
The Masters, the holy grail of the PGA Tour saw its lowest ratings in over 20 years with a 7.8 television rating because Tiger wasn’t in it…period, end of discussion. Now obviously one year of bad ratings means nothing to CBS or Augusta National, they already proved they can put on the tournament without receiving a penny from TV advertisers and will be fine. However that might not always be the case. Will I always watch the Masters? Of course, but even the Masters needs the casual fan to show up and tune in. In fact, the three highest TV rated golf rounds of all-time are Tiger’s first Masters win in 1997 which drew a 15.8 rating (more than double this year’s rating). His second Masters title in 2001, when he won the Tiger Slam which drew a 12.9 rating, and the 2010 Masters (won by Mickelson) which drew a 12.0 rating when Tiger returned from his sex scandal, and held the lead briefly on Sunday before finishing in fourth.
Now again, this is where that guy will tell you that The Masters is bigger than Tiger, and while that may be true, ticket prices for the Masters dropped over 20 percent this year the day he publically announced he wasn’t playing. If you wanted to buy a single day badge before the announcement it would have cost you roughly $1,200…hours after the announcement, just over $900.
A month later he missed The PLAYERS. The 2013 PLATERS which Tiger won was the highest rated non-major PGA Tour event since the Buick Invitational in 2006 (won by Tiger) which drew a 5.7 rating. The final round coverage of The 2014 PLAYERS without Tiger earned a 2.6 rating, down 54%. It was the lowest rated Sunday coverage of the event in the past fifteen years.
Tiger of course missed the US Open last week as well. NBC went on to earn a 3.3 rating for the final round, which was the lowest rating for a Sunday at the U.S. Open on record. “But Kaymer ran away with it, no one wants to watch that.” Well, expect for the fact that when Tiger won the 2000 US Open by a mere 15 strokes it was the highest rated US Open of all-time with an 8.24 rating.
My point is, of the three biggest golf tournaments the PGA Tour has played so far in 2014, all without Tiger in them, each has seen their lowest TV ratings in 20 years, 15 years and all-time (respectively). Now, this is where the diehard golf fan tells me that he doesn’t care about TV ratings and the casual sports/golf fan and he will always watch the PGA Tour no matter what. The problem is, he is missing the entire point. Golf without Tiger in the short-term will be fine, TV deals and advertising for the PGA Tour are already in multi-year agreements. However, over time plummeting ratings will have a trickledown effect not just on TV advertising dollars but ticket sales, golf club sales, tee times being made, people joining golf clubs and destination golf courses. If the so-called ‘casual fan’ has no desire to watch your sport then the entire sport and everything associated with it is going to suffer as a result. Golf today compared to 1996 (when Tiger turned pro) is light years better, not just for the PGA Tour but for the everyday golfer as well. That is without question a direct effect of Tiger. Maybe not 100%, but a very large portion of it.
The irony is, the people that have benefitted most from Tiger (besides Elin, his agent and the networks) are the guys on the PGA Tour. The money leader for the PGA Tour the year Tiger turned pro in 1996 was Tom Lehman, who won a grand total of $1,780,159. To put that into perspective when Martin Kaymer won the PLAYERS this year he won $1,800,000 alone. To put it another way, the money leader 10 years prior to 1996 was Greg Norman who won $653,296. The money leader only eight years after 1996 was Vijay who won $10,905,166. While I understand inflation plays a small role that is entirely the Tiger effect. As Keegan Bradley said this week when told about Tiger’s return, “It’s great news for golf and great news for the Tour. A no-Tiger Tour is not the same. We need Tiger. The whole Tour needs Tiger and golf needs Tiger.” That’s putting it mildly.
You are kidding yourself if you think it can’t go backwards if/when he leaves. There is no chance FOX would have paid $1 billion dollars for the rights to the US Open if they had seen the ratings so far this year without Tiger.
Tiger will play in this week’s Quicken Loans National and I can assure you that if he is even remotely in contention over the weekend the ratings will be higher than they were for the US Open. And for those of you that think Woods is washed up and will never be the same golfer again, you might be right, but keep in mind even with his time missed, Tiger has two more PGA Tour wins since beginning of last season (5) than anyone else on Tour.
As I’ve said many times, when it comes to golf Tiger Woods doesn’t move the needle, Tiger Woods IS the needle.
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