null Before the Masters, I suggested the leaders of golf carefully examine this 2014 event without Tiger Woods. It would be a forecast of the future of golf without him, which is, of course, inevitable.
The examination is occurring, much like a physician’s examination after the patient has severe chest pains. For Thursday and Friday, the ratings were down by 40%. Perhaps you can blame that on our increasingly efficient labor force working during the day hours. But Saturday’s day-off ratings were also off, down 30%. Surely with the drama building of an exceedingly popular Bubba Watson and a young upstart poised to be the youngest Masters winner ever,
the ratings would spike to near or beyond Tiger levels. Not quite. The Sunday ratings were still down 25%.
The media did its part. The players were played up as one would expect. But ratings tell you who viewed, not why people did not. I am more fascinated with solving for why things are the way they are. In this case a few related theories come to mind. See if this grip fits: In individual sports a player’s personality or charisma influences the public more than individuals in a team sport. If that is true, then it would be harder to replace that transcendent individual than it is to replace one person within a great team. Put another way, team sports involve synergy more than a singular spotlight. And in an individual sport there is no sharing of the spotlight, and no easy way to replace whoever is in it.
If I whiffed on that swing, try this: There are few people in a generation that simply transcend the sport. There are other talented golfers, like a Phil Mickelson, a Bubby Watson, and other multiple winners of major golf tournaments. But there is no ratings service that quantifies the intangibles that make us collectively watch someone we’ve never met as if they were closer than a relative. We can count economic impact, and Forbes can and has declared Mr. Tiger as the world’s most valuable sports brand. But no one can definitively answer the simple question: “Why?” Why was Arnold Palmer more revered among fans than Jack Nicklaus, who eclipsed Palmer more often than not on the course? Part of the answer to both questions must be this: Transcendence is inherently intangible.
Part of the answer too must be that the general public just self-identifies with some people more than others, and they will watch more on the basis of that self-identification. Woods shows more emotion than most. We all grimace on the golf course. We all dream of being the best, and good looking, like we have the Tiger by the tail. And if you are truly transcendent, you can be a person of color, and people who are not will self-identify anyway.
And perhaps lastly, part of the answer has something to do with the anti-forces. null If Tiger Woods had missed the cut line, his failure would have received equal media attention with the sum total every player of the leader board. There are some that choose to cast him as Darth Vader. They want to him stumble, and will watch to see it happen.
None of the above provides a solution to the problem of filling the Tiger void. If Tiger comes around once a generation, golf may just have to experience a market correction, adjust its expectations and definitions of success. It just may be necessary for the media and golf leaders to more aggressively make Clark Gable-like heroes of the current stars without using Woods as the template. It should be clear to the objective observer by now that Mr. Woods is not a template, but simply transcendent.