These should be the worst of times for the PGA Tour. Injury-plagued Tiger Woods performed a quick exit from The Players Championship on Thursday - this, after international stars Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy took a pass on what's called golf's fifth major. Seve Ballesteros's death this past week cast as shroud on the sport as well.
On top of that, study the top five players in the FedEx Cup standings heading into the Players: 1. Bubba Watson 2. Luke Donald. 3. Mark Wilson 4. Phil Mickelson 5. Martin Laird. If that's excitement personified then slap us hard and call us Suzy. No wonder the tour is without title sponsors for a few of its events.
Not a very strong hand as tour commissioner Tim Finchem negotiates a new TV deal in the United States and an extension of FedEx's blanket sponsorship, which expires in 2012.
Yet, ratings for the tour this year have generally stopped their tumble that started when Woods played bumper car with a tree near his Florida home in late 2009. Through the 2011 Masters, ratings had improved for 11 of the 14 golf telecasts compared to 2010, the Tiger-in-hell year. The final round of the Masters was the best since 2002 - and that was without a Tiger charge on the back nine and with a low-key winner in Charl (Buy Me A Vowel) Schwartzel. The recent marriage of NBC and Golf Channel promises significant cross-promotion for the PGA across the NBC networks.
It would appear that the Tiger effect - ratings oblivion whenever Woods didn't play - has abated, and Finchem has a semblance of numbers upon which to sell his entire roster of tournaments. It's not like the halcyon days when Woods brought killer numbers to the majors and the few other tournaments he deigned to play. But it's a start at redefining the universe for golf post-Woods.
Luck of the Irish
For fans of analyst David Feherty, the droll Northern Irishman (who voices the Tiger Woods video game) is getting his own prime-time show on the NBC-owned Golf Channel. Feherty will interview golf personalities and generally act the lovable fool. The show makes it debut June 20, following the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club. He'll also contribute to NBC's golf outlet but keep his CBS gig for now. Says Feherty in a press statement: "I'm really overjoyed, so much so that I may have to cheer down, rather than up. I think I'm tri-polar."
Let it never be said The Score does anything in a conventional way. While its network offerings are underwhelming, its new media instincts are impeccable. The Score's phone application captured much of the early portable action and still performs strongly in North America on both iPhone and BlackBerry (it just bought rival app SportsTap, giving it the third-largest North America market behind ESPN and Yahoo).
The Score is also tapping into podcasting on iTunes. Its Tim and Sid: Uncut and The Basketball Jones podcasts are consistently ranked among the top-10 most popular, occasionally topping the iTunes What's Hot list. It's significant as consumers shift evermore to listening off-platform, customizing their watching and listening on their own schedules. The Score estimates that for every live listener there are 15 consuming its product offline.
It's not the media-market bonanza of the Philadelphia Flyers-Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup final in 2010, but the NHL will still be okay with its final-four teams this spring. Tampa is the smallest U.S. media market at No. 14, while Boston, Detroit and San Jose (Bay Area) are all in the top 10.
Vancouver may not count in U.S. ratings books, but a Canucks appearance in the final would bring Canadian audiences of five million or more - ideal just as the league prepares to go to Canadian broadcasters for a new deal. So don't believe the doom mongers who are predicting a media wipeout this year.
Sometimes the NBA needs to pulls it head out of its aspirations. Even as the sulking Boston Celtics divas fled the court immediately following losing in five games to the Miami Heat on Wednesday, TNT analyst Reggie Miller was blathering, "At the end of the day there's always mutual self-respect." Maybe Miller needs to watch how NHL players conclude a bitter series with handshakes all around. Or maybe the NBA needs a long, long lockout to sort it out.
Twitter is as Twitter does
Social media often seems like an open invitation to pull down your drawers in public. Hockey agent Todd Reynolds ignited a firestorm with his comments against same-sex marriage in a loose moment on Twitter. Then there's the other end of the stick, this time courtesy of Mike Fisher's wife, country queen Carrie Underwood. "I'm planning a romantic second honeymoon in Hawaii very soon. Mike and I hope to make a baby under those tropical stars." Better that than the Dallas Stars.
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