In 2009 at the Bridgestone Invitational the television rating for the final round was 4.3. Tiger Woods won the event.
This year Tiger Woods did not win. In fact, he finished 30 shots behind the winner and was done playing before the television coverage even began on Sunday. The TV rating? 2.3.
Go back a week further to the Greenbrier Classic. This tournament replaced the Buick Open. In 2009, with Woods in the field, the Sunday rating at the Buick was 3.7. This year at the Greenbrier, with no Woods, a painfully low 1.2.
This, unfortunately for the PGA, is not unusual. The rule of thumb, which is almost always spot on, is that when Tiger Woods is in contention at an event on the weekend he doubles television ratings. This has been the norm for over ten years now, and it still is.
If Tiger skips an event or misses a cut or finishes at the bottom of the leaderboard, golf suffers.
The tournaments suffer. The television networks suffer. The PGA suffers. The USGA suffers. And eventually, other professional golfers will notice something as well; their paychecks aren't going to be quite as big as they once were.
Golf needs fans and television coverage needs viewers. If the numbers stayed down for an extended period of time things would change.
Viewership is down in 2010 for PGA events compared to 2009 on Sunday afternoons by 16 percent. That is an average of 3.6 million viewers this year compared to 4.3 million last year. That number includes events Tiger has done okay at this year, like the Masters and the U.S. Open. Remove those events and the numbers are even worse.
So, what does it all mean? Well, for one, consider the angle proposed by Darren Rovell, CNBC Sports Business reporter. Speaking on The Steven A. Smith Show on Fox Sports Radio on Tuesday morning, Rovell had this depressing view:
"Here's the big problem," he said. "The PGA tour provides about 65 to 70 percent of the sponsorship dollars to the TV networks. So, if your a title sponsor, as part of the deal, you're going to buy this much TV.
"About 30 to 35 percent of that (the remaining advertisements) is bought, not at the last minute, but is bought straight up to the TV networks. If those ratings go down, the value of the commercials and sponsorship dollars go down; that's when we have a problem.
"The TV deal ends at the end of the 2012 season. They're going to start negotiating by the middle or the end of next year. If Tiger hasn't turned around, that TV deal could be worth billions less, because it's a totally different product."
Billions less? Okay, I'm not sure I buy into the figure of "billions", but I would say it is safe to assume hundreds of millions, at the very least. That is a scary glimpse of the future for the PGA.
Does the PGA need Tiger Woods?
What do you think?