News & Opinion

Players’ move could halt TV ratings slide

With the flurry of activity Tuesday around the announced moves of the PGA Championship, Players Championship and BMW PGA, I thought it might be worthwhile to look back and see just exactly what prompted the Players to move to May initially.

In a teleconference on Jan. 11, 2006, then-Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, speaking with the heads of the NBC, CBS and Golf Channel networks, talked about the new TV deal that they had signed. As part of the discussion, Finchem announced the move of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass near the Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., from March to May, starting in 2007.

“In moving The Players Championship to the second week in May, we think it positions the Players for maximum impact and fan interest,” Finchem proudly said during the conference call. “NBC will continue that broadcast, and in its new format, the broadcast will have limited commercial interruptions, and our sponsors or advertisers will be restricted to our three proud partners. The enhanced television coverage includes six hours of airtimes on Thursday and Friday on the Golf Channel, on each of Thursday and Friday on the Golf Channel, and now because of daylight, later air times on Saturday and Sunday on NBC from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. The combination of those two things allows us to really elevate the impact of the telecast of our flagship event.”

At the time, it all seemed to make sense: better time of year; more daylight, which means later start times; fewer commercial interruptions; and more coverage, bringing the Players into prime-time viewing on the weekends.

On March 22, 2006 at the Players, Finchem again outlined the benefits of the move, effective in 2007.

“I think the changes next year start with television; that's the most dynamic,” Finchem said. “Next year, we go to a limited-inventory commercial presentation, which we think is fundamental to the quality of the experience that our fans will enjoy as they watch this field on this golf course going forward: four minutes of inventory each hour. It will make for a superb telecast, all of it on HD television on the weekends, and later air times. Later air times will allow us to achieve or reach to an even greater audience at a time of year in May when a lot of people are playing golf, when a lot of our fans are playing golf.”

Finchem continued with the television theme throughout the news conference.

“We are delighted with the television position,” he said. “I think if we didn't do anything else, the quality of our broadcast and the way it's going to be reached or received by our fans around the world is going to be very special. The second thing, of course, is the date change. The date change affects the golf course and television. By moving to May, we have later air times; we have more daylight; we can play later, which translates into better television; we can reach more people.”

Of the many reasons for the Players to have moved from March to May, the only measurable one was television, specifically the ratings. From 1999 to 2006, in the eight seasons when the Players was held in March, the average Sunday overnight TV rating was 4.13.

When the event was moved to May in 2007, the ratings dropped to an average of 3.56. The 2.6 rating this year tied the mark for the worst rating ever for The Players Championship.

It’s possible that the course might be in better condition in May, and that the weather and attendance could be better than in March. But for a sport that is almost totally dependent on sponsorship and TV ratings, the return of the Tour’s flagship event to March could have unintended positive consequences.

One caveat: From 1999 to 2006, Tiger Woods dominated on Tour, but he won the Players only once during that stretch. When Woods won in 2013, the ratings spiked again. For almost everyone else post-2007, the numbers were abysmal.

Year

Rating

Winner

Runner(s)-up

1999

5.4

David Duval

Scott Gump

2000

5.6

Hal Sutton

Tiger Woods

2001

5.7

Tiger Woods

Vijay Singh

2002

5.3

Craig Perks

Stephen Ames

2003

4.2

Davis Love III

Jay Haas, Padraig Harrington

2004

4.1

Adam Scott

Padraig Harrington

2005

2.6

Fred Funk

Luke Donald, Tom Lehman, Scott Verplank

2006

3.1

Stephen Ames

Retief Goosen

Move to May 

 

 

 

2007

3.7

Phil Mickelson

Sergio Garcia

2008

3.4

Sergio Garcia *

Paul Goydos

2009

4.1

Henrik Stenson

Ian Poulter

2010

3.3

Tim Clark

Robert Allenby

2011

3.4

K.J. Choi *

David Toms

2012

3.4

Matt Kuchar

Ben Curtis, Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Martin Laird

2013

5.7

Tiger Woods

David Lingmerth, Jeff Maggert, Kevin Streelman

2014

2.6

Martin Kaymer

Jim Furyk

2015

3.9

Rickie Fowler *

Kevin Kisner, Sergio Garcia

2016

3.1

Jason Day

Kevin Chappell

2017

2.6

Si Woo Kim

Louis Oosthuizen, Ian Poulter

 

 

 

 

March average

4.13

 

 

May average

3.56

 

 

* won playoff

 

 

 

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli