Over at Golf.Com, Gary Van Sickle elaborates on a thought I’ve been writing about for some time: that the PGA Tour has made a huge mistake in mortgaging its future on Tiger Woods. Van Sickle says that as the PGA Tour faces tougher times in the next couple of years, it has only itself to blame:
You can blame it all on hard times if you want, but the problems began before the current economic crisis. The tour showed overconfidence — dare I say arrogance? — in the way that it rode the wave created by Tiger Woods. Some of the decisions made during this period took the tour in the wrong direction.
I remember a press briefing earlier this decade in which Commissioner Tim Finchem boasted about the growing number of golf fans and the game’s growing reach. As Woods became arguably the planet’s No. 1 celebrity, the game drew more exposure. That succeeded in creating more casual fans — more Tiger fans, not golf fans — but it didn’t seem to translate into more golfers, as figures on the number of players have remained flat. The Tiger-inspired audience that the Tour banked on is vast, but it’s more fickle than one made up of golfers who will watch every week, no matter who’s playing.
Tiger mania, Van Sickle says, led to some strategic miscalculations, including: too much television exposure, gigantic purses and made-for-television events. All of these only work for those events where Tiger is playing. The non-Tiger events, in the meantime, suffer. And it’s the long-time tournaments, not the Tiger extravaganzas that are the backbone of the professional sport.
By trying to make bigger, better and splashier television shows with Tiger, the tour has effectively undermined its core products — tournaments such as the John Deere Classic, the Buick, the Canadian Open and the Byron Nelson.
The PGA Tour has naturally divided into two kinds of tournaments, the ones Tiger plays and the ones he doesn’t. The focus on big events has exasperated the problem.
The Fall Series, meanwhile, has been left to fend for itself against almighty football. By heavily marketing the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship, the tour has doomed the Fall Series to irrelevance. In addition, the Fall Series events don’t count for FedEx Cup points, and winners don’t get Masters invites. Unless the tour wants these events to go away, that should change.
The European Tour doesn’t limit its season to a calendar year. Its 2009 season has already started. The PGA Tour should follow suit. The Fall Series should be the start of the next season. The money should count, FedEx Cup points should be awarded and winners should get the same perks as winners of other tournaments.
The PGA Tour appears to be shrinking. That matters to the rank-and-file players, if not to those who already have their millions. Even with changes, the Fall Series may ultimately fall. The big question is, what else on the PGA Tour would go with it?
I’ll go a step futher than Van Sickle, however. It has never made sense to me that the Tour would rely so much on a player who ultimately cares about nothing but himself. Everything Tiger does is about Tiger. Even his charity work is designed to elevate the Tiger brand. He doesn’t play in charity events. He sponsors them, and makes sure his name is at the top.
When Tiger quits the Tour to go independent—and it’s WHEN, not IF—the PGA Tour is screwed. Their only hope is to do a strategic restructuring with a plan that doesn’t include Tiger Woods.