It was clear to most that between Tiger Woods being at home rehabbing from back surgery, Phil Mickelson being out of contention and Martin Kaymer running away with the tournament, the television ratings for the 114th U.S. Open Championship were going to take a substantial hit.
That being said, few would have expected just how abysmal those ratings would turn out to be.
The overnight television ratings for NBC’s coverage of the final round of the U.S. Open decreased by 46 percent from last year and were down 50 percent from the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club (which finished in prime time).
Ratings were also down 35 percent from 2011, as reported by Kyle Porter of CBSSports.com. Rory McIlroy ran away with the U.S. Open that year in a manner very similar to Kaymer’s eight-stroke victory last Sunday.
The ratings for last Sunday’s final-round coverage of the U.S. Open also decreased to their lowest level since at least 1996, although, according to Sports Media Watch, the ratings may well have been the lowest in U.S. Open history, as ratings prior to 1997 were not immediately available.
Last month NBC’s ratings for the final round of The Players Championship decreased by 54 percent from 2013, and the weekend ratings for CBS’ coverage of the Masters last April reached their lowest level since 1957.
The 2014 U.S. Open also marked the 13th time in the last 16 PGA Tour events that ratings dropped below those seen in 2013.
We have seen Woods impact television ratings for the past 17 years in a manner that had never before been witnessed in the game of golf, and it is not unexpected to see the ratings take a hit while Woods is out of action.
However, what we have seen over the past three months is more than just a hit; it is an epic collapse in the general level of interest in the game of golf.
Ratings for events Woods has either never attended or has not attended in years, such as the Valspar Championship, the Valero Texas Open and the RBC Heritage, have also taken rather substantial hits in their ratings since 2013.
Something is amiss in the game of golf right now, and although Woods has certainly impacted this decline, there appears to be much more to it than just the so-called “Tiger Factor.”
PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem signed a four-year contract extension back in 2012 that will take him through the 2016 season.
Finchem has had impeccable timing. His reign as PGA Tour commissioner directly coincides with the Tiger era, and based on what we have seen recently with regard to the decline in television ratings and general interest in the game of golf, Finchem may have also impeccably timed his exit from the PGA Tour.
Where the game of golf goes from here is anyone’s guess, but we are likely heading back to an era similar to that of the late 1980s to the late '90s, which is a period many now view as something of a bridge era in which the game floundered for a decade between Nicklaus’ retirement and Woods’ emergence on the scene.