After having spent what he characterized as "a long and necessary time away from the game," Tiger Woods returns to competitive golf April 8, when he tees up for the first round of the 2010 Masters Tournament. While the PGA's broadcast partners are over the moon, the outlet most likely to enjoy an immediate financial lift is Golf Channel.
Because Augusta National's oversight of the Masters TV package is as meticulous as its greens maintenance, neither ESPN nor CBS can renegotiate their respective deals. But blockbuster ratings will give both nets leverage to command higher rates for the rest of the season. (Following the Masters, CBS will air another 16 regular season PGA Tour events, while ESPN's smaller slate includes the opening rounds of the U.S. Open.)
In the meantime, Golf Channel can expect a significant lift in ad revenue, as it carries 33 of the 37 regular season outings. When it isn't bringing duffers live tourney play, the Comcast-owned net provides comprehensive coverage of the game. For example, Golf's Masters schedule includes 34 original hours of pre- and postround programming.
Dave Cassaro, president of Comcast network ad sales, said the potential for big ratings gains is matched by improved performances by Golf's endemics. "We've seen an increase of activity among everything from the equipment manufacturers to automotive," Cassaro said. "We're having a much better year in 2010, and in general, the sports marketplace is in excellent shape, better than anyone could have expected."
The golf industry is working to free itself from a tough bunker. Per Nielsen, gear and apparel brands in 2009 spent $255.3 million on media, down 28 percent from '08.