Tiger Woods' Absence Could Mean $15 Billion Loss for Golf

Gabe ZaldivarPop Culture Lead WriterApril 21, 2014

USA Today

Tiger Woods will return to the course at some point, but his recent departure due to injury has some considering what a game devoid of its most iconic figure might do to ratings and the sport's finances. According to one estimate, the doom and gloom is worth a reported $15 billion. 

Golf.com's Josh Sens (h/t Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com) reports the ramifications of Woods' absence from the PGA Tour could be devastating to a sport used to leaning on his star power for ratings. 

Sens begins by asserting that a ratings dip for the Masters does involve circumstances beyond an injured Woods. What's more, it's important to note that a great many television deals are already in place, safe from any adverse effects that the loss of golf's biggest icon may cause—at least for a while. 

Sens spoke with an expert who attempted to quantify what a blow like this would mean to golf over the long term, though: 

According to Brad Adgate, senior vice president and director of research for Horizon Media, a New York-based media services company, the 25-30 percent ratings drop we’re accustomed to seeing at Tiger-free events threatens to translate into similar percentage losses across the board.

Adgate and other analysts say it’s impossible to a put a precise price tag on Tiger’s absence. But if we do the math and arrive at a ballpark number in a golf industry valued at around $68.8 billion, it pencils out at roughly $15 billion. Gulp!

DORAL, FL - MARCH 08:  Tiger Woods speaks with the media after a six-under par 66 during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 8, 2014 in Doral, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Image
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Porter cautions that one should take these numbers with a healthy amount of skepticism. As Adgate notes, it's nearly impossible to assign a specific number to the value of Woods' participation. Porter writes: 

I don't know where this math comes from (though the $68.8 billion is a 2011 number) -- Sens doesn't explicitly lay it out -- but it's fairly clear that whatever the number, golf will see a downtick sans Tiger.

So whether it's $15 billion or $15 million we can collectively say that Tiger is good for golf in 2014. 

Golfer Notah Begay, Woods' close friend, discussed a possible timetable for his pal's return following back surgery on CBS Radio (h/t PGA.com).

"He missed being at Augusta and certainly was watching the tournament," Begay said. "I think he needs to give it a minimum of 90 days to make sure that scar tissue heals up appropriately and he doesn't run the risk of reinjuring it. So that would push him past the U.S. Open."

Despite the uncertainty, fans and would-be gamblers continue to hold out hope for a speedy return. For the Win's Chris Chase reports Woods is actually still a co-favorite heading into the U.S. Open. 

Chase notes that this is just a sign of a rare golfing celebrity: "Tiger is the only golfer who moves the needle. Odds or not, no one should actually believe he’s the favorite to win the Open. His status as such is a matter of practicality."

And so what we have are numbers closer to the subjective pile than we would like. There is just no precise way of measuring how Woods' departure will affect the sport. 

What's clear is that  the outlook isn't all that bright for a game that has had such a marketable athlete to tout leading up to its biggest tournaments. 

DORAL, FL - MARCH 09:  Tiger Woods grimages after playing a bunker shot on the fifth hole during the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship at Trump National Doral on March 9, 2014 in Doral, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Get
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

We have to agree with Porter, who predicts life without Tiger won't be bleak, just different. And Porter cites past history in making his case: 

That doesn't mean it won't be fun to experience. If you look at the post-Jack Nicklaus era leading up to 1997 when Tiger won the Masters, that was a really terrific time for the sport.

It gave us, among other things, Norman and his collapses, the War by the Shore in 1991, John Daly, the Nick Faldo era (six majors), and the birth of the Big Easy.

But to go from Tiger back to something like that means that yes, there's slack in the rope.

There are other great golfing greats, that's not up for debate, but Woods is (and was) as one person on Twitter described over the weekend a "once-in-a-century" talent.

Woods may miss the U.S. Open, robbing fans of seeing the most talked-about golfer in two of the year's biggest events. The good news is that this absence is merely temporary. 

In time, Woods will be back and the ratings will return in tandem. The key is what happens when the void is permanent, because the numbers, however speculative they may be, really do signal an issue golf will have to address. 

If we are optimistic, we might be of the belief that time will settle the sport's popularity issues—whether it be from a star grabbing the torch or a collection of wonderful golf stories. 

Golf and the PGA aren't going anywhere, despite being forced to suffer the loss of a legend, whenever that might be, like every sport on the competitive landscape endures. Thankfully, big names come and go and dissolve ever so slightly behind more visible stars dominating the here and now. 

The sport will chug along, perhaps with $15 billion less to toss around. Nevertheless, it will indeed go on, with or without one of its more prolific and polarizing stars. 


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