The sad state of pro golf

Tiger Woods' absence leaves the sport struggling to find TV viewers and corporate sponsors.

By Kim Peterson Jan 26, 2010 4:48PM
Tiger Woods. Credit: (© Andrew Brownbill/AP)Normally, this week would be a biggie for the professional-golf world. The annual tournament at the Torrey Pines course in San Diego begins Thursday, unofficially kicking off the big matches of the year.

Though other tournaments have already taken place, Torrey Pines always got the attention because Tiger Woods generally began his year there. But this year, Woods is on indefinite leave after a sex scandal shattered his private and professional life, and pro golf is reeling.

Woods' star power attracted bountiful corporate sponsorships that the entire profession enjoyed. But now, with no Woods and the virtual guarantee of a smaller television audience, corporate money is drying up.

Ticket sales are down at Torrey Pines and fewer hospitality tents have been sold, reports The Wall Street Journal. Even the title sponsor, Farmers Insurance Group, couldn't be swayed to participate without a last-minute discounted deal of about $3.5 million.

That's half of what General Motors used to pay to sponsor the Buick Invitational there, the Journal reports.

Now, three of the PGA Tour's 46 tournaments this year don't have a lead corporate sponsor. Most of those sponsors likely committed long before Woods' scandal broke. For next year, 13 tournaments are sponsorless.

"It's a fairly tough conversation for the PGA Tour right now," a sports marketing expert told the Journal. "Maybe the marketplace doesn't allow for million-dollar first prizes anymore."

Oh, what a change from the Tiger years. The amount of prize money awarded to pro golfers has hit nearly $300 million, up from just $70 million in 1996, the Journal reports. The tournament Woods hosted -- the Chevron World Challenge -- offered $5.75 million in prize money.

No one's sure what to expect in Woods' absence. Will TV audiences stick around? So far, the SBS championship in Hawaii and the Sony Open saw their audiences fall by 21% and 30%, respectively, from the year before, the Journal reports.

"Tiger Woods is golf," a former vice president of programming at CBS Sports told the Journal. "The concern is that for a sport whose identity is so closely tied to the idea of honor, what he's gone through has to be incredibly damaging."

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