- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

It’s simple math: A golf tournament, plus Tiger, equals good ratings.

Broadcasters and fans have known that since Tiger Woods sprang onto the golf scene a decade ago. But the absence of Woods in several key events this year has underscored how much his presence controls the viewing habits of sports fans.

Final round ratings for the U.S. Open on NBC in June were down 16 percent from last year as Woods missed the cut in his first tournament following the death of his father, Earl. Ratings for the Masters on CBS, in which Woods finished third but never truly contended, were off by 14 percent in the final round.

Meanwhile, the British Open, which Woods won last month, scored a 5.0 rating for its final round on ABC, up 2 percent over last year.

“People are drawn to his dominance and what he’s going to do next,” said Scott Sanford, senior client director for Davie-Brown Talent, an agency that helps corporations sign with celebrity endorsers. “People are drawn to someone who can just put themselves on a different plateau. Tiger’s just got something about him. [Michael] Jordan had it. Lance Armstrong had it. Muhammad Ali had it.”

And this weekend, CBS hopes to have it. The network will broadcast the final two rounds of the Buick Open. Woods is playing in the Grand Blanc, Mich., event for the fifth consecutive year.

Over the years, tournaments with Woods in contention have 10 percent to 20 percent higher television ratings than those without. And the exposure for sponsors, particularly Nike, can be worth $10 million for a big tournament, according to one report.

But this year, Woods has played in only 10 events and just three since the Masters in April. Woods went nine weeks without entering a tournament as he dealt with his father’s death. During his absence, several key tournaments Woods normally enters saw major ratings drops. Sunday ratings for the Wachovia Championship in May were down 32 percent, while the Memorial saw a 39 percent dip in viewers.

Overall, ratings for golf on CBS and ABC are down more than 10 percent from this point last year, and ratings on NBC are down 3 percent.

It hasn’t helped that the non-Tiger events have been won by a host of relative newcomers with little following, including J.B. Holmes, Chris Couch, John Senden and Brett Wetterich. And in six of those nine events, the winner prevailed by five strokes or more.

But this year’s ratings dip clearly has not scared broadcasters away from the sport. CBS will expand its coverage from 16 events to 19, and NBC will broadcast 10 events instead of five. Meanwhile, the Golf Network is locked in to a 15-year contract as the PGA Tour’s exclusive cable provider, and ABC will show the British Open through 2009.

“There’s no question that having Tiger on the leader board has an effect on the ratings,” said Brian Walker, Sports spokesman for NBC Sports. “That being said, NBC is bullish on golf in general as evidenced by our recent extension agreements with the PGA Tour, USGA and PGA of America, which will more than double our golf coverage beginning next year.”

And as long as Woods continues to swing the club, no one will complain.

“[Woods] is in the middle or the peak of what looks to be a long, successful career,” said Eric Wright, vice president of research and development at Joyce Julius and Associates, an Ann Arbor, Mich., company that measures the impact of sports sponsorships. “You look at Michael Jordan in his prime. … Tiger Woods is every bit of that and more.”

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