Call it the Michael Jordan Syndrome.
It is what happens when the best player your sport has ever seen retires. People lose interest, go their own ways, and you are left wondering what you can do to revive interest in a depressed market.
David Stern is still trying to find that elusive answer in an NBA that has never really recovered from the retirement of MJ in 2003.
And now PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem finds himself in a similar place. Finchem is the guy who will have to figure out a way to market and keep golf popular once Tiger Woods retires.
Woods won his 63rd tournament last weekend, The Accenture Match Play Championship, passing Arnold Palmer on all-time wins. His next win will tie Ben Hogan and he is within reach of catching The Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus, for lifetime tour victories this year.
That would leave only Sam Snead’s 82 victories between him and undeniable status as the greatest golfer of all time.
Tiger has almost single-handily been responsible for the large increase in PGA Tour purses, record crowds, and stratospheric Nielsen ratings when he is in contention, which is almost every time he plays.
Young people around the country are taking up golf as a result of his influence and he is arguably the most recognizable athlete on the planet.
The game of golf is popular right now because of the greatness of Tiger. People love to watch greatness. It is what we do. Marichal against Koufax, Duke against North Carolina, Indianapolis against New England, Ali versus Frazier.
Does anyone really think the average fan will give up his Sunday afternoon to see Phil Mickelson walking the fairways? No more so than the guy who gave up his evenings to watch last years sparsely watched NBA Finals between San Antonio and Cleveland.
The question is not, as some have asked, whether Tiger Woods, in all his dominance is good for golf. The question is once he retires, will the average fan continue to care about and watch the game?
The NBA is still searching for their answer. Let's hope Commissioner Finchem is more successful that David Stern was.
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