Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 2
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Compelling matchups, story lines help PGA Tour score big ratings gains

Tiger vs. Phil. The Young Guns. Failure followed by redemption.

All of the PGA Tour’s best story lines have played out through the first quarter of the season, and the TV ratings show it.
The tour’s final-round average of 3.0 on CBS and NBC is the highest through the first seven tournaments on network TV since it drew a 3.1 for those same tournaments in 2007. The other three tournaments thus far have been on Golf Channel.

Those final-round numbers are up 36 percent over last year’s final-round rating of a 2.1. That’s an average of 4.5 million viewers for final-round action this year, compared with 3.3 million viewers last year.

With another stellar viewership week at Doral for the WGC-Cadillac Championship, the tour has enjoyed six straight weeks of double-digit increases for final-round coverage over last year. And last year’s numbers were up over 2010.

It’s just the kind of start the tour and its network partners hoped for on the heels of an extension — negotiated last summer — that takes their deal to 2021.

“It’s been a tremendous run,” said Rick Anderson, the tour’s executive vice president for television. “We’ve had some incredibly compelling competition through the first several weeks of the season. Think about it: We had the titans of our game, Tiger and Phil, battling it out at Pebble Beach, one of the iconic courses that we play. It’s been quite a start to the season and it’s resonating with viewers.”

Very simply, the tour’s best players are playing well and that’s apparently resonating with viewers. The three players considered most capable of putting fans in front of TV screens — Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy — have either won or contended in the last five events on CBS or NBC. And in some cases, they’ve been going head-to-head for the title or playing in the same final-round group.

“The personalities and the nature of the competition is certainly a primary factor,” said Joe Zajac, vice president/group director at Team Epic, which represents FedEx and Avis among its golf clients. “When you’re able to get Tiger, Phil and Rory all contending, that’s what will drive golf to the masses and you start to see the numbers jump.”

Two of the biggest breakout stars from last year, McIlroy, the world’s No. 1-ranked player, and Bill Haas also are backing up their big wins from 2011 with strong starts in 2012. McIlroy, last year’s runaway U.S. Open champ, won the Honda Classic and finished runner-up at the Accenture Match Play, while Haas, last year’s FedEx Cup champion, took the Northern Trust Open in a playoff against Mickelson.

That action on the course continues to mimic the marketing theme that the tour unveiled last year with its “New Breed vs. The Establishment” brand campaign.

“If we made it up, we couldn’t deliver more compelling competition that translates into good ratings,” Anderson said with a laugh.

CBS and NBC aren’t the only networks benefiting from the increased viewership. Golf Channel is seeing results as well.

The network’s lead-in coverage on Saturdays and Sundays is up 50 percent this year with an average 0.9 rating. The final-round lead-in coverage at Pebble Beach drew a 2.1 rating (2.34 million viewers), making it the most-watched PGA Tour telecast ever on Golf Channel.

Golf Channel’s early round coverage on Thursdays and Fridays is up 15 percent through the first 10 tournaments.

“The tour is off to a tremendous start,” said Golf Channel President Mike McCarley. “We had the most-watched year in the history of the Golf Channel in 2011 and so far in 2012 we’re pacing well ahead of that record. Every week, it seems that fans are able to follow new, dramatic story lines and nearly every week some new ratings milestone is being reached.”

Farmers Insurance Open
Note: Tearful Kyle Stanley melts down to lose a seven-stroke lead in the final round.
Jan. 29 CBS 1.8 -48.6% Brandt Snedeker
Waste Management Phoenix Open*
Note: After his epic fail at Torrey Pines, Stanley surges from eight shots back for a resounding feel-good win.
Feb. 5 CBS 2.0 +11.1% Kyle Stanley
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Note: Mickelson's final-round charge outshines Tiger Woods, who slumps to the finish with a 75.
Feb. 12 CBS 4.9 +113.0% Phil Mickelson
Northern Trust Open
Note: Mickelson's stunning 25-foot birdie forces a playoff, but the FedEx Cup champ wins with an electrifying 43-footer.
Feb. 19 CBS 4.2 +82.6% Bill Haas
WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
Note: Mahan exorcises Ryder Cup ghosts by staring down Rory McIlroy in the championship match.
Feb. 26 NBC 2.3 +35.3% Hunter Mahan
Honda Classic
Note: In another case of redemption, the Irishman wins to take over the world's No. 1 ranking despite Woods' closing 62.
March 4 NBC 2.8 +64.7% Rory McIlroy
WGC-Cadillac Championship**
Note: The Englishman outduels McIlroy and long-hitting Bubba Watson to conquer Doral.
March 11 NBC 3.0 +30.4% Justin Rose
* 2011 final round concluded on Monday on Golf Channel due to weather.
** Woods withdrew 11 holes into the final round and was 10 shots back of the lead.
Compiled by Austin Karp, SportsBusiness Daily
Source: Nielsen