Tiger Woods' TV allure: the "train wreck" factor

Wed Aug 11, 2010 7:44am EDT
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By Georg Szalai

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - The angst Tiger Woods displayed in the wake of his pratfall last weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational may be nothing compared to the unease sweeping over network executives, advertisers and the handful of sponsors who have stuck with the fallen golf champ.

While ad buyers locked in months ago for this weekend's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., his struggles have produced a string of ratings bogeys and put the long-term confidence of marketers and both sides of the advertising fairway into the rough.

How bad has it gotten for Woods? The primary lure for viewers could be the "train wreck" factor.

"Woods is one of the few human brands," said brand and engagement expert Robert Passikoff, who said the struggles of the nation's most well-known -- albeit severely tarnished -- sports icon could lift America's penchant for schadenfreude to new heights. Viewers could tune in, he said, "just to see him suffer."

That would be fine with the golf-carrying networks, such as CBS, which has the PGA this weekend, and others, which have seen viewership for overall Sunday final rounds at major tournaments tumble 6% season-to-date. That was driven by a much-weaker British Open (down to 2.97 million from 5.55 million) on ESPN, according to Nielsen. (TNT has the first two rounds of the PGA on Thursday and Friday.)

With Woods licking his wounds and sitting out the first quarter this year, golf programing on network TV fetched $117 million -- down from $125.2 million in the same period of 2009 -- according to data from research firm Kantar Media. As for cable's Golf Channel, SNL Kagan analyst Derek Baine said he expects ad revenue could end up as much as 20% down this year from last year's $140 million thanks to Woods' woes.

Those numbers haven't deterred this weekend's TV advertisers, which include ING, Mercedes-Benz, Northwestern Mutual, RBC and Viagra. The impact, however, might not be felt for some time.

Said Brad Adgate, senior vp research at Horizon Media: "I think most decisions that advertisers will make about golf and Tiger Woods won't be made until after this season is over."   Continued...

<p>Tiger Woods of the U.S. looks at his shot from the rough on the 11th hole during a practice round for the 92nd PGA Golf Championship at Whistling Straits, in Kohler, Wisconsin, August 11, 2010. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan</p>