Tuesday 20 February 2018

Why we need Tiger to be TV hero again

Karl MacGinty

OH Lord, it's hard to be humble! Once you start humming that Mac Davis country classic, it's almost impossible to get it out of your head. Especially if you've got anything to do with European golf.

After all, three of the four Major titles were won by European Tour members in 2010. The Ryder Cup returned from its brief sojourn in the United States. Lee Westwood replaced Tiger Woods at the top of the world and six players from this side of 'The Pond' feature in golf's global top 10.

These are heady days for Europe and few would dispute Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie's assertion last week that, "never, ever in my 24 years on this Tour have we had the success that we've had this year."

Yet for all our understandable euphoria in Europe, some pretty ominous clouds have been gathering over the world of professional golf ... especially in the 12 tumultuous months since Tiger's fall from grace.

From the moment he burst onto the US Tour in 1996, Tiger Woods brought boom times to professional golf worldwide.

The sport's ability to attract sponsorship and generate income from the sale of broadcasting rights soared with the TV ratings in the Tiger era and its impact was felt around the world.

Powerhouse

For all the success of European golfers in recent times, the PGA Tour remains the game's financial powerhouse.

For example, the €205m in prize money offered at its 46 official events in 2010 dwarfed the €125m available in the 48 tournaments on Europe's worldwide schedule.

And it should be pointed out that eight of the top nine money tournaments on the European roster in 2010 were co-sanctioned by the US Tour -- namely the four Majors and four World Golf Championships, which offered a total of €47m in prize money.

Take those events out of the equation and prize money in the US is double that on offer on the European Tour.

Europe's own €5.446m Dubai World Championship was the only other tournament with a €5m-plus purse, against half-a-dozen in the States.

Just two other events on the European schedule offered purses of €4m-plus, the BMW PGA and Singapore Open, which is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour.

Yet as Tiger struggles to shake off his kryptonite, the PGA Tour's TV ratings will continue to plummet, leaving the sport exposed to the full rigours of the recession.

PGA tour commissioner Tim Finchem has made optimistic noises about golf's prospects and how the explosion of exciting and marketable young talent (13 of the world's top-100 players are aged 25 or under, including three teenagers) offers a bright future for the game.

However, these young players are not emerging quickly enough to fill the massive vacuum left by Tiger's decline ... no question, if Woods is not in contention on Sunday at a tournament, the general public just doesn't want to know.

Just how much professional golf has been cosseted by Tiger's superpowers was underscored as much by the TV viewing figures for his showdown with Graeme McDowell in last Sunday week's final round of the Chevron World Challenge.

The 'final' US TV audience rating of 2.4 for NBC's live broadcast from Sherwood County Club that afternoon translates into 3.88 million viewers, a rise of more than 200pc on last year's Chevron climax, when Woods, recovering from his car crash, didn't play.

That's hardly surprising; until one compares that rating with the final round of this year's FedEx Cup playoffs, the Barclays (2.1), Deutsche Bank (2.1) and the BMW (1.3).

The TV audiences simply switched the channel as Woods slipped out of contention. He didn't make the showpiece Tour Championship, leading to a paltry rating of just 1.3 for an event in which Jim Furyk bagged an $11.3m jackpot.

Remember, the revamped FedEx series in the autumn was the big selling point for Finchem and his team as they hammered out the current six-year (2007-2012) contract with the CBS and NBC networks.

All Finchem and his cohorts can hope is that Tiger rediscovers his Midas touch before negotiations with the networks begin next year to thrash out the new deal.

Alarmingly, those Chevron ratings even exceeded those for the final round of July's British Open, which at 2.1 was the lowest ever for a Sunday at one of golf's Major championships.

Indeed, all three World Golf Championships staged in the United States this year attracted smaller TV audiences than Tiger's end-of-season jolly.

Woods didn't play in the Accenture Match Play or at Doral, while the out-of-sorts Tiger was out too early on Sunday afternoon at Firestone to feature in the telecast of the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational.

Predictably, Tiger's return at the US Masters from his five-month hiatus drew the largest TV audience to watch a golf tournament in nine years.

The Sunday rating of 10.7 for CBS at Augusta last April lies third behind the Masters in 1997 (15.8), when Woods made his Major championship breakthrough, and 2001 (12.9), when he clinched his 'Tiger Slam'.

The figures for June's US Open weren't bad, NBC getting a 5.8 rating (that's the percentage of all households with a TV in the US) for a 12pc market share (of all the TVs switched on at that time), as McDowell eclipsed Tiger and the rest of the field at Pebble Beach.

minuscule

Yet even these figures are minuscule alongside those generated by America's mainstream sports, especially American football. Last Sunday week, for example, the overtime thriller between the Dallas Cowboys and Indianapolis Colts drew a rating of 18, representing an audience of 27.4 million viewers.

For all of McDowell's swashbuckling efforts in 2010, it will take the explosion of a new star in the golfing firmament or the return of the old Tiger to keep the sport safe from recession.

It would require someone like Rory McIlroy or Ryo Ishikawa to pull off a handful of Quail Hollow-style victories in a season (including one or two at the Majors) to fill Tiger's boots ... and with both of them concentrating on their 'home' tours in 2011, that ain't going to happen soon.

The importance of a healthy golf market in the States is underscored by the current search for sponsors for the 2011 Irish Open in Killarney.

The clear difficulty '3' had in getting a return from the domestic market to justify their investment in the event suggests a multi-national backer is required and that is likely to depend on TV ratings for the Irish Open when it is shown on The Golf Channel in the States or worldwide on Sky.

No question, these are heady times for the European Tour but a future without Tiger looks pretty grim.

Irish Independent

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