Thinking About The Tiger Effect

Observing the relative paucity of big name talent at the Zurich Classic (what else can you say about a tournament where the top finishers were Jason Bohn, Jeff Overton and Troy Merritt?) this past weekend got me thinking once again about the “Tiger Effect.” For the uninitiated, that’s the phenomenon in which Tiger’s presence in a tournament has historically coincided with a significant boost in television viewship over tournaments in which he does not appear. The conclusion always has been that it proves Tiger is good for golf and has single-handedly been responsible for the phenomenal rise of revenues for the PGA Tour.

I have, in previous posts, already dissected the notion that Tiger is the driving force behind PGA Tour purse increases. In fact, since the Tiger era began in 1995, all of the major sports have experienced rapid revenue growth. And the PGA Tour isn’t even at the top of the leaderboard. NASCAR and NCAA Basketball both outpaced the Tour in the Tiger era.

But there’s still the undisputed fact that television viewership is higher for tournaments in which Tiger participates … and even more so when he’s in contention on Sunday.

I do not find the first result surprising. But it’s just possible that Tiger is a symptom and not the cause.

I’ll throw out some theorums: Viewership is higher at premier tournaments. Viewership is higher on the finishing day of any tournament. Tiger plays only premier tournaments. Tiger is nearly always in contention on Sunday at the tournaments in which he plays.

In the first instance, Tiger does not play second-tier tournaments. He tees off at Doral, the Arnold Palmer, the Masters, the Players, the Memorial, the US Open, the Byron Nelson, the British Open, The PGA Championship and other top flite tournaments. Each of those have rich backgrounds and are played on world class courses that attract not only Tiger, but also the vast majority of the world’s top 100 players. Those top events also are heavily promoted. Consider the prep time the networks spend promoting the Memorial, as opposed to, say, the St. Jude Classic.

Thanks to the better fields, courses and histories, those tournaments are going to have a relatively higher viewship, with or without Tiger.

Then there’s the notion that viewership is higher when Tiger is in contention on Sunday. That’s not surprising, since (depending on your definition of “in contention”) it is rare that he is NOT in contention at one of his favored tournaments. Tiger wins on the same courses over and again; by my count, 40% of his victories have come on just six: Bay Hill, Augusta, Muirfield, Medinah, Firestone and Torrey Pines. Six of his fourteen majors have come at just two courses: Augusta and St. Andrews. Eight have come at three, if you add Medinah. That goes to nine if you consider his repeat successes at Torrey Pines (albeit only one major).

It is therefore hard for me to tell whether Tiger’s presence is causal, or coincidental, to the increase in viewers. The statistical trick would be to figure out how much of the increase can be attributed to Tiger, and how much to other factors, such as preceived Tournament prestige, better field, increased advertising, increased Sunday viewship, and so on. I’m sure it could be done with a multiple regression analysis, but I frankly don’t have the resources to do it. But there’s a paper for some economics professor in that one.

My suspicion is that the “Tiger Effect” is not nearly as strong as people think.

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