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Tiger's indiscretions put networks in a hole

December 14, 2009 |  1:57 pm


Tiger Woods isn't the only who is going to take a financial hit for his indiscretions. Odds are the broadcast and cable networks that count on him for big ratings will also feel his pain, at least in the near term.

Woods, who last week said he was taking a break from golf after revelations about what he likes to do when he's not on the back nine became public, is to golf what Michael Jordan was to basketball: a player who is bigger than the game. Though hard-core golf fans won't turn away just because Tiger isn't playing, the casual fan might. That means smaller audiences, which means less advertising dollars.

Most hurt by Woods' hiatus to heal will be CBS, which carries the Masters, as well as the PGA Championship. NBC also will be stung because it has the U.S. Open. ESPN carries the British Open, which is the least popular of the so-called four major tournaments. Time Warner's TNT carries some PGA golf and, of course, Comcast's the Golf Channel has 150 tournaments it covers.

Although Woods has done a lot of damage to his image and his marriage, the damage to TV may be short-lived. Odds are he'll be back before too long -- and remember, Woods only plays in about 14 or 15 of the roughly 50 PGA events a year. He also plays in the Masters and the U.S. Open. In other words, there is already a lot of golf on TV that does not feature Woods.

Though rights fees for football and baseball are common knowledge in the industry, golf rights are kept very close to the vest. CBS's deal for the Masters is renewed annually, and for the network it is primarily a prestige event. The British Open costs ESPN about $25 million a year, according to Sports Business Journal. CBS and NBC's PGA deals don't expire until 2012, so it's way too soon to speculate on whether their value will drop when it's time to renegotiate.

Pali Research analyst Rich Greenfield said Woods' personal woes mean a drop in value for Comcast's Golf Channel. We're not so sure. Although Golf Channel doesn't exactly scream this from the hills, most of the events it carries are smaller and Woods is not a regular presence on the network.

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

For all the talk about what Woods' break will mean to golf ratings, think about how huge the number will be when he comes back. And if the numbers are big, we have a hunch some of those sponsors so concerned about their image being hurt by being affiliated with Woods, will also return.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Tiger Woods and his wife Elin Nordegren in happier times. Credit: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images.