Tiger Woods personifies his sport unlike any other athlete outside of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and maybe a couple others. Golf has him to thank for a younger fan base, an influx of sponsorship dollars, and perhaps most importantly, a heightened buzz during its biggest tournaments. So now that Woods has officially withdrawn from 2014's first major, The Masters, how much will his absence hurt?
Ticket prices are already dropping
While Woods says his favorite major is the British Open, he arguably performs at his best during The Masters. He has four wins and seven top-five finishes at Augusta National, more than the British, U.S. Open, and PGA Championship. This, and the fact that many fans view Augusta as golf's most hallowed ground, means ticket prices are regularly in the four figures.
Scorecard reports that after Woods' announcement last week, prices for the cheapest tickets dropped significantly.
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Although Augusta doesn't share attendance information, most estimate The Masters averages close to 40,000 spectators per day. Given that, even in a best-case scenario, a 10% price drop would lower gate revenue by $8 million to $10 million. A 30% decline could shave as much as $25 million from the tournament's top line.
What about TV ratings?
Because a non-Tiger Masters hasn't happened since 1994, it's tougher to answer this question. As GolfDigest points out, "the Masters' lowest rating [in the past seven years] in 2012 corresponded with Tiger's worst-ever professional finish." They note, "There's a similar trend at play in the U.S. Open ratings." When he missed the U.S. Open in 2011, for example, viewership dropped by 26%.
And if Nielsen is to be believed, Woods' absence comes at the worst possible time. A recent report from the firm reveals The Masters is golf's most-watched event, and it's not even close.
The bigger question
So when will Woods leave golf for good? Here's what he told the Associated Press nearly a decade ago:
I'll definitely quit the game earlier than people think...When my best isn't good enough, I'm walking. You'll know when you're not able to produce any more. I don't lie...if I play my best and don't win, there's no reason to be out here.
There's no way to know when Woods will reach his end, but if his withdrawal reveals anything, it's that golf is getting closer to a post-Tiger world. He's only a couple years away from turning 40, and his recent back surgery -- microdiscectomy -- comes with clear reinjury risk.
The bottom line
Despite flashes from Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, and the ever-entertaining Phil Mickelson, golf hasn't found a successor consistent enough to share Woods' spotlight. Skip Bayless said it best after news of the surgery broke: "Tiger Woods STILL owns golf at a broken-down 38."
That's a problem. And unless it's fixed before he retires, the sport could lose Tiger's fans for good.