Ratings for the 2014 Masters were down: Sunday’s final round got a 7.8 rating, compared to the 10.2 that the Masters got on Sunday in 2013.
What did they expect? The news media spent the week running up to the Masters telling everyone how much of a disappointment it was going to be in the absence of Tiger Woods. A guy who wasn’t playing in the Masters got more ink and airtime than the players who were actually teeing it up. Audiences heard and responded accordingly.
Even CBS and ESPN participated in the denigration. I was stuck by the fact that the television coverage invested as much time as they did talking about Tiger. If I was the executive producer, my broadcasters would have been instructed to never mention the man’s name. A guy who isn’t in the tournament doesn’t deserve airtime.
I know that the public wants to hear about Tiger. But in the case of CBS and ESPN, it is counter productive. Every mention of Tiger reminds viewers that he is not in the tournament. Every mention gave viewers another reason not to watch.
For nearly twenty years, Tiger has made the golf media’s job easy. In that time, the writers, producers and talking heads have gotten lazy. All they need to do to get eyeballs and ears is to mention Tiger’s name. Finding other story lines and unveiling other personalities is work.
I can tell you—from having spent time in tournament media rooms—that many (most?) of the reporters never leave the air conditioned confines of the tent. They sit and drink and eat and chat, and one-by-one the players are brought to the dais to answer the same boring questions. I’ve never seen one walking the course. Further, the problem is exemplified by the fact that in this process, so many players are asked about Tiger—rather than their own games. Even when faced with a compelling player, such as Graeme McDowell, all the golf media can think of is Tiger.
Golf as an institution needs to start thinking about life after Tiger Woods. It is becoming increasingly evident that his days as the game’s preeminent player are numbered. Indeed, his days as a player, period, are numbered. I can’t imagine Tiger hanging on into his late forties, struggling to make cuts, happy to pick up another fifteenth place finish. That’s not who he is. When Tiger is no longer certain of wins, he will hang up his cleats. That he only plays courses where he is relatively assured of wins speaks to this.
To survive the post-Tiger slump, golf’s media institutions need to start building a planet outside his orbit. And they need to start right now.