Networks aren't panicking over Tiger's absence

NEW YORK --- Television viewership will fall without Tiger Woods, but the networks that air the sport and the PGA Tour itself can handle the setback.


That's the word from several media analysts and the president of CBS Sports, which is facing the possibility of covering the Masters Tournament just weeks from now with golf's biggest star absent.

"We're all looking forward to him coming back, but until then we're doing perfectly fine," said Sean McManus, the president of CBS News and CBS Sports.

Tournaments in which Woods isn't playing generally suffer a drop in viewership and a loss of ad revenue, notes Larry Novenstern, the executive vice president of Optimedia.

For the 15 or so tournaments where Woods might have been expected to play this year, Novenstern estimated the resulting advertising loss to networks would total between $10 million and $20 million. In comparison to other economic hardships challenging broadcasters right now, he said, "This is just a speed bump."

McManus agrees.

"Golf does better economically when Tiger is a major force on the PGA tour," he said, "but golf is still a valuable product for us."

There's no question Woods delivers a ratings kick for any tournament he plays in, ranging from 20 percent to as much as 50 percent.

"But a certain percent of Tiger's audience is not the traditional golf audience and, in effect, is not what many advertisers are looking for," says Neal Pilson, the president of Pilson Communications, a media consulting firm, and a former president of CBS Sports. "If Tiger's in an event, you expect a 50 percent increase in ratings. You don't necessarily negotiate a 50 percent increase in the advertising rate."

Many of the advertisers are so-called "endemics" -- brands such as Callaway, Titleist and Nike that target products and messages specifically toward golf devotees.

"There's a strong, economically secure core audience for golf, and there is no indication that they have left," Pilson says. "The more casual audience that follows Tiger probably won't be back until he comes back again."

There are signs that not all is bad for golf broadcasters. The first three tournaments of 2009 and 2010 were both without Woods, but the ratings for those events this year show an audience growth of 29 percent.

Masters TV ratings

A look at the television ratings from 1997, the first year Tiger Woods competed as a pro, through 2009. Numbers are for the two-day average of the Saturday and Sunday telecasts:

1997Tiger Woods11.227*
1998Mark O'Meara8.624
1999Jose Maria Olazabal7.919
2000Vijay Singh7.618
2001Tiger Woods10.726
2002Tiger Woods8.721
2003Mike Weir7.117
2004Phil Mickelson7.118
2005Tiger Woods8.219
2006Phil Mickelson6.916
2007Zach Johnson7.718
2008Trevor Immelman7.316
2009Angel Cabrera7.217

* Highest-rated in Masters history
The rating is the percentage of all homes with TVs, whether or not they are in use. The share is the percentage of homes with TVs in use.

Source: CBS