It appears that ESPN and CBS (CBS) will get their wishes for the Masters. Tiger Woods’ return to golf resulted in a 47% increase in TV ratings for the tournament’s first round. Viewership hit 4.94 million. That figure probably soared during the weekend when more people could spend free time in front of their TVs. Having Tiger on the leader board all four days also boosted interest in the golf tournament. Phil Mickelson eventually won the tournament and Woods finished fifth.
The online viewing audience for the event also rose sharply. According to MSNBC, CBS Sports.com had 556,090 unique visitors the first day of the Masters compared to 293,013 on Thursday last year.
Woods may get back some of his sponsors, or attract new ones, if golf TV ratings stay as high as they were in the first round of the Masters. And, the PGA may get back its biggest draw for both television and live tournament audiences. PGA officials and players have been worried that, without Woods, networks would ask for lower payments to the tour for televising events and sponsors of events would pull their money or negotiate for reduced rates. Woods has also been so popular that the purses at tournaments have risen during his 13 years on the tour, which has been a benefit to all players.
The conventional wisdom is that Masters viewership is higher because of the sex scandal that damaged Woods’ image and frightened some of his sponsors away. Those that stayed with him, like Nike (NKE), got a windfall of exposure. But, the draw of Wood for audience remains his prowess as a player who can win literally any tournament he enters. Tiger has won 14 majors to Jack Nicklaus’s 18 and most experts expect Woods to pass Jack’s total before he is 40. Woods in nearly 34 now.
Sponsors are likely to take a second look at Woods despite his personal problems. He is still the most watched golfer in the world, and, as long as he stay in contention at any given tournament, the greatest show on Earth–at least on the golf course.
Douglas A. McIntyre