In the second quarter Golf Channel has seen a slight (2 percent) ratings bump, averaging 91,000 viewers throughout the day. On Saturday morning (11 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT), the network drew 435,000 viewers with its early telecast, Live From the U.S. Open.
Lowe believes the meteoric rise of 22-year-old Irishman Rory McIlroy may go a long way toward restoring the luster that was lost after Tiger Woods fell from grace. In a dazzling display, McIlroy won the U.S. Open with a record score of 16 under par; in so doing, he earned comparisons to the likes of Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and, yes, Woods.
“Rory got off to such a fast start, and people have been quick to crown him golf’s new savior,” said Lowe. “Guys like Graeme McDowell are saying that he’s the best player they’ve ever seen. It’s understandable because he really does have the full package…and he’s just a great kid on top of all that.”
One of the last orders of business will be to integrate the tee-time booking service GolfNow.com with the Golf Channel site. An online concierge for avid golfers, GolfNow in 2010 generated approximately $156 million in online revenues for its partner courses.
Unfortunately, Golf Channel faces a particularly daunting challenge in the sluggish economic recovery. Across the country, private courses are getting squeezed as cash-strapped golfers decide against re-upping their memberships. Many public courses have had to slash their greens fees; those that choose not to cut their prices often throw in a premium (free lunch, a sleeve of balls, etc.).
Therein lies another aspect of McIlroy’s appeal. Like Woods before him, the new U.S. Open champ is likely to attract a greater concentration of Gen Y players to the sport. There’s already a groundswell; since 2007, golfers 18-29 have upped their spending on course fees and in the pro shop by 27 percent. According to American Express, in Q1 2011 that same demo increased spending on golf equipment and apparel by 10 percent.
Despite the ravages of a stalled economy, Golf Channel remains a divining rod for wealthy consumers. With a median household income of $84,500, the network reaches one of the most affluent audiences on TV. As such, Golf takes in more ad sales revenue than every other sports network but ESPN. According to SNL Kagan estimates, Golf last year netted $122.6 million in sponsor sales, an improvement of 3 percent from the previous year.