From the Rough

Golf without discretion

Tiger’s struggles tank TV ratings at PGA Championship … but there’s a silver lining

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As much as we’d all like to believe that today’s bumper crop of young golf prodigies are ready to grab the torch and move the sport into the future, last week’s TV ratings from the PGA Championship painted a bleak picture of the influence those golfers have on the tour’s TV ratings in a major championship.

Whether you like it or not, the PGA Tour is still Tiger Woods’ playground.

The USA Today reported the “[PGA Championship] drew an overnight rating down 33% from last year’s comparable coverage.” The decrease in viewers from last year to this year does seem a bit skewed when you realize that last year’s final round coverage had a head-to-head battle between Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang, an unheralded Asian golfer.

CBS was essentially drawing in the two biggest groups to watch the event: Joe Sports Fan, who only has an interest in Tiger Woods, and the Asian contingent rooting for Yang. Both groups are influential when it comes to TV ratings.

No matter how you justify this year’s ratings decrease, the one constant in this equation has to be Tiger Woods. As we all know, Woods is the barometer of success or failure when it comes to TV ratings at major tour events. When Tiger’s in contention, the sport thrives. But when he’s near the back of the pack on the last day of a major, chances are good you’ll see only the die-hard fans tuned in down the stretch.

The most troubling thing about this year’s PGA Championship rating is that the final round actually had some made-for-tv drama that was worth watching. Dustin Johnson’s two-stroke gaffe, coupled with the playoff and a crowded leader board, made for some great television — even if you weren’t a big golf fan.

What does that say about the future of golf on television? It doesn’t look pretty. While the tour boasts a handful of rising stars, there doesn’t seem to be one (or two ) that draws a crowd when they’re in contention. I’m not sure if the tour is to blame for not marketing the Anthony Kims and Dustin Johnsons of the world better, but they obviously aren’t drawing like Woods and Mickelson.

The Silver Lining

Moving away from the doom and gloom for a moment, USA Today did have some good news to report from the PGA Championship: “While CBS’ TV ratings were down from last year’s coverage on both Sunday and Saturday, interest in online tournament video coverage was way up. On Sunday, PGA.com drew 4.8 million live and taped video streams — up 689% from final-round online streams last year. That traffic also represents a 31% increase from Saturday’s video streams, which had drawn a record-breaking 3.6 million streams.”

It might sound crazy, but this could be the future of the game. Think about the way Major League Baseball and the National Football League have marketed their products online. Video feeds on your phone and live coverage of Thursday and Saturday night football have now become the norm.

If an article I read earlier this week in Wired Magazine is true, then the future of golf could be in the tour’s ability to build an App that would allow you to watch coverage on-the-go. The tour would be crazy to not look into working with CBS and the major networks to stream coverage (maybe a marquee group of the day?) on a weekly basis.

It might not help them solve the TV ratings dilemma when Tiger Woods is out of contention; but it could go a long way to helping the tour’s bottom line in the future.

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Written by Jonathan Wall

08/19/2010 at 11:01 am

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