Golf telecasts may see less green without Woods

Tiger Woods isn’t the only one who is going to take a financial hit for his indiscretions. The broadcast and cable networks that count on him and his amazing golf game for big ratings will also feel his pain -- at least in the near term.

Woods, who said he’s taking a break from golf to focus on his family after revelations about womanizing emerged in the wake of his Thanksgiving weekend car crash, is to golf what Michael Jordan was to basketball: a player bigger than the game.

Although hard-core golf fans may not turn away from watching the game just because Tiger isn’t playing, the casual fan might. That means smaller audiences, which means less advertising money.

The TV industry already got a taste of what life is like without Tiger. Last weekend, he did not play in the Chevron World Challenge, and NBC’s broadcast of the event saw its audience shrink by more than 50%.


CBS carries the widely popular Masters and PGA Championship. But NBC has the U.S. Open, while ESPN carries the British Open, which is the least popular of golf’s four major tournaments. TNT carries some PGA golf, and the Golf Channel has the rights to about 150 events.

But the ratings damage to golf could be short-lived. Woods plays in only about 15 of the roughly 50 PGA events a year, in addition to the Masters and U.S. Open. In short, there is still a lot of golf on TV that does not feature Woods.

Unlike for other sports, the size of the rights fees networks pay to carry golf tournaments is kept close to the vest.

CBS’ deal for the Masters is renewed annually, but for the network it is primarily a prestige event. The British Open costs ESPN about $25 million a year. CBS’ and NBC’s PGA deals don’t expire until 2012, and for now it seems unlikely that Woods would be away from the game long enough to have an effect on the renegotiation of those licensing deals.

One analyst foresees a financial effect. “With rights fees fixed, an unexpected drop in ratings is clearly negative for everyone broadcasting golf,” said Richard Greenfield, an analyst at Pali Research. He also noted that Woods’ personal woes mean a drop in value for Comcast’s Golf Channel.

A Golf Channel spokesman downplayed the risks.

“We have a core audience that comes to watch golf no matter who is playing,” Golf Channel spokesman Dan Higgins said. “Tiger didn’t play a full schedule in 2008 or 2009, so we’ve gone through this before.”

Meanwhile, Woods’ sponsors were distancing themselves from the golfer. On Sunday, the corporate consulting firm Accenture said it was cutting ties to Woods, stating that he was “no longer the right representative” for the company.