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Volume 20 No. 42
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FedEx Cup up-and-down on TV despite finish

The biggest knock on the FedEx Cup playoffs has been that Bill Haas made a putt for $11.4 million and seemingly had no clue how much was at stake.

Had Haas fully understood the consequences of that putt on the 18th hole, would the TV audience on NBC have been any bigger? Probably not, say those in the golf industry.

As it was, the final round of the Tour Championship generated a 1.4 average rating, a 40 percent increase over 2010, but still well off the pace set in 2009 when Tiger Woods dueled Phil Mickelson in a made-for-TV finish that got a 3.0 rating.

Ratings for other playoff events, the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship, slipped, while The Barclays was affected by Hurricane Irene in late August. Overall, it made for an up-and-down ratings performance for the playoffs.

“Well, it’s fall, it’s college and pro football season, and honestly there’s no Tiger and really there was no Phil [Mickelson] down the stretch,” said Peter Jacobsen, who runs his own sports marketing agency and also called the action for NBC. “But I really believe the tour got it right when you think about all of the possibilities that were there in the final round.”

Prior to the playoffs, the tour’s regular season rebounded from a down year in 2010 with a 7 percent jump this year. The tour took its ratings increase as a sign that the younger players were resonating with the viewers, but they were unable to move the needle significantly in the playoffs.

As the Tour Championship came down the stretch, a half-dozen golfers, including Luke Donald, Webb Simpson, K.J. Choi, Aaron Baddeley, Hunter Mahan and Haas, were just a putt or two away from winning the $10 million FedEx Cup prize. None of them, however, were named Tiger. Instead, most of the names belonged to the up-and-comers that the PGA Tour has promoted in its mostly Tiger-less season.

The PGA Tour remains encouraged by its TV performance for the year, noting the 7 percent increase in average ratings, as well as an 11 percent increase in the amount of time viewers tuned in to the broadcast. Ty Votaw, the tour’s executive vice president for communications and international affairs, said the playoffs have enhanced tour events and given golf a buzz it lacked in September before the FedEx Cup came along in 2007.

In the five years of the playoffs, the tour said it’s up 48 percent in reach, 30 percent in average minutes viewed and 29 percent in ratings for third and fourth rounds, compared with events during comparable weeks from 2004 to 2006. Nielsen defines reach as the number of different households exposed at least once to a program.

“You have to look at the new normal versus the old normal,” Votaw said. “When you look at the amount of time viewers spend watching golf and the cumulative audience this time of year, those numbers are all well up compared to what they used to be. Granted, it’s a period of time that’s very competitive and we understand that there’s a lot of interest in college and pro football, but it’s clearly an overall net add to where we were before the playoffs.”

The most alarming numbers came from the BMW Championship, which generated a 0.7 rating for the third round and a 0.9 for the final round. That was down from a 1.1 and 1.3, respectively, in 2010.

Not surprisingly, ratings peaked at 3.0 or better during the five years of the playoffs when Woods was at his best. He won the playoffs in 2007 and 2009, and the ratings reflected his popularity. The final round of the Tour Championship those years hit a 3.0 average rating. The final round of the Deutsche Bank in 2007 drew a 3.4, the highest average rating for any single day of the playoffs.

David Grant, principal at Team Epic, the agency that represents FedEx, said the playoffs have done their job.
“People are talking about golf in September,” Grant said. “That was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the FedEx Cup, and it’s working.”

FedEx Cup Average TV Ratings

Through The Years

The Barclays
2007 1.5 2.1
2008 0.9 1.7
2009 1.9 3.2
2010 1.7 2.1
2011* 0.7 1.1
Deutsche Bank Championship
2007 2.6 3.4
2008 1.4 1.5
2009 1.7 2.2
2010 1.5 1.9
2011 1.4 1.8
BMW Championship
2007 2.4 3.1
2008 0.8 1.2
2009 2.1 2.3
2010 1.1 1.3
2011 0.7 0.9
Tour Championship
2007 2.6 3.0
2008 1.1 1.6
2009 2.1 3.0
2010 0.9 1.0
2011 1.0 1.4

FedEx Cup champions

2007 Tiger Woods
2008 Vijay Singh
2009 Tiger Woods
2010 Jim Furyk
2011 Bill Haas

* The third round served as the tournament’s final round this year due to weather; Sunday’s telecast was a replay of the previous year’s tournament.
Sources: SportsBusiness Daily, The Nielsen Co.