Before Tiger Woods burst onto the PGA Tour scene in 1997, golf’s television ratings were at a stand still but once Tiger established himself as the most dominant athlete in all of sports, golf’s ratings went through the roof. He won 14 majors (2nd all-time), completed a grand slam, carried his own Nike clothing line and even had his own Gatorade drink and EA sports video game.
Throughout his unparalleled success Tiger even represented golf’s more traditional sponsors like AT&T, GE, American Express, Gillette and Buick. Before Tiger, these sponsors used golf to access the 35-55+ upper class, white, male demographic. However, after Tiger started dominating the game golf’s demographics started to widen, attracting fans from younger age groups, different races and lower tax brackets. The giant corporations that traditionally sponsored the PGA tour hopped on the demographic-transcending juggernaut’s back and used him as their bi-racial spokesperson.
Then in 2014, with a combination of off-the-course scandals, lingering back and knee injuries, and a case of the chipping yips, he suffered a Mike Tyson-esque fall from grace. All the sponsors that used Tiger to reach different demographics dropped him at the first sign of trouble. Tiger didn’t win a single major and golf’s TV ratings plummeted through Tiger’s downfall.
In Tiger’s wake, a group of young golfers slowly began to rebuild. Jordan Spieth, Rory McElroy, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler brought golf back into Tiger Era limelight. In 2011 Ireland’s Rory McElroy started to attract attention. In 2014 following top-two finishes in two majors, Rickie Fowler began to gain a following. Dustin Johnson slowly picked up fans with 4 top 5 finishes since 2011. And after dominating the tour in 2015, Jordan Spieth became a fan favorite.
With an established package of stars, CBS averaged 35 million viewers in 21 televised golf events in 2015, a 25% viewership increase from 2014, and CBS’s highest ratings since 2009. Proving that the group of young stars could stir interest and bring the dying sport back to life. However, this year’s Wyndham Championship clearly illustrated just how influential Tiger Woods’ presence still is on golf’s viewership. With Tiger in contention at Wyndham, 5 million people watched, the most for a non-major championship since 2013. In the third round alone, with Tiger entering as a co-leader, 4.2 million viewers tuned in, more than the third rounds of the U.S Open and the PGA Championship.
While no single youngster can have an effect like Tiger, they each bring something to the links. With his funky-colored attire, Fowler brings style to golf. Dustin Johnson’s history of suspensions for using cocaine on the tour makes him golf’s bad boy and a hero to frat bros around the world. McElroy gives European audiences a solid player to root for and Jordan Spieth, at only 22 years old, has shown signs of dominance that only Tiger and Jack Nicklaus have shown before.
It seems impossible for one golfer to transcend demographics the way Tiger did, but Spieth seems like the youngster most poised for the task. In the aftermath of Tiger’s extra-marital-sex-scandal-fueled dominance, Spieth appears to be the clean-shaven, all-American, family friendly, man-boy that traditional golf fans and sponsors can feel safe going all in for.
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