Can Golf Turn A Problem Into An Opportunity

PGA Officals could not have asked for a a better US Open, other than if Phil played the part of Rocco Mediate, though an aspect of the everday man helped bolster interest. However, a day later, when Tiger announced he was finished for the year, the outlook turned bleak.

It’s well documented that without Tiger TV ratings decline sharply, attendance decreases, sponsorship dollars are lower, basically the event becomes secondary on the US sports landscape. This week the problem is magnified with Tiger unable to appear at his own tournament, the AT&T National in Washington DC. A Tiger-less tournament is not exactly with the golf course, the sponsors, the network, or the ticket holders signed up for when they made their respective committments.

Business is business, none of the profit centers involved will give back committed money because Tiger is not playing. It’s the chance sponsors, ticket holders, and TV makes with sports, the uncertainty. Fox paid for the World Series already, whether its Yankees-Cubs or Devil Rays-Diamondbacks they will broadcast it, but clearly the revenue and ratings will be significantly different. Darren Rovell on CNBC.com raised the question of reimbursing sponsors since Tiger is not even appearing at his own tournament. I don’t see that as feasible, nor will any sponsors of tournaments Tiger was scheduled to play in later this year receive any reimbursements – at least not this year.

As mentioned, golf’s appeal without Tiger is significantly lower. If the rest of this season play’s out in that fashion – lower TV ratings, lower attendance, less buzz, and decreased ROI for sponsors, we may not be far from having “Tiger Provisions” in every contract. This year proves you never know what sport will throw at you. Few imagined Tiger would lose a whole season to a torn ACL in a non-contact sport. To protect themselves in the future I can envision sponsor’s and TV Networks paying two different rates for rights to a tournament – one if Tiger plays, one if not. 

However, with this threat on hand, golf has an opportunity to broaden its horizons. Now is the perfect time to market new stars. Make Trevor Immelman, DJ Trahan, and Adam Scott household names that casual fans know rather than players that draw a “who’s that” comment when they appear on the leaderboard in a major. Appeal to the international strength of the tour – KJ Choi, Geoff Ogilvy, Immelman, Sergio Garcia. THe tour boasts young stars abound from numerous countries around the world, an attribute no other major sport played primarily in this country can boast. The other major sports receive most of their imports from a small set of countries, while tennis not played in the US most of the season and has a myriad of its own problems.

Schedule these players for appearances, book appearances on sports talk shows, have one of them do the popular ESPN tour (when a player goes to Bristol for a day and appears on every show under the sun), hold cross-promotional events with big names/teams in other sports to draw fans from other sports. THrow out the first pitch at baseball games, sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at Wrigley, you name it they need to do it. Get these players in front of the American public. And put them closer to the fans with public appearances, hold clinics for kids during the summer tournaments. Work on having players appear in more commercials, have stories appear in ESPN Magazine and SI. Now is the time.

Without Tiger, more playhers have a chance to shine, and the Tour has a chance to provide the stage. Golf needs more young fans, after reaching a peak following Tiger’s initial impact, growth in golf, particularly youth golf and minority golf, has slowed or even slightly regressed. Marketing multiple players, and the game itself, rather than one player, will appeal to more people.

The longer golf waits to do this, the more risk they take on. Even when Tiger is active, the gap will continue to grow between Tiger and non-Tiger events. In a Ryder Cup season, with two major’s still left to play, now is the perfect time to introduce the new generation of players to the world. And they should market the heck out of the Ryder Cup, the closest thing to the Olympics in golf.

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