Tiger Woods on Tuesday announced he will return to competitive golf at next month’s Masters Tournament, ending a self-imposed hiatus that began in November.
In a statement released this afternoon, Woods said he was ready to hit the links again after four months away from the game. “The Masters is where I won my first major, and I view this tournament with great respect,” Woods said. “After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I’m ready to start my season at Augusta [National Golf Club].”
Woods acknowledged that while “it’s been awhile” since he last played a round of golf, the Masters is a particularly apt staging area for his return. “The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be,” Woods said.
The 34-year-old golfer disappeared from public view on November 27, following a mysterious fender-bender outside his Orlando home. In subsequent days, rumors of serial infidelities accumulated at an almost farcical rate, as no fewer than nine women acknowledged that they had been intimate with Woods. His list of paramours included a porn star and a pancake-house waitress.
Woods broke his silence on Feb. 19, acknowledging his failings in a closely scripted press conference.
The PGA’s broadcast partners are thrilled with Woods’ decision to pick up his clubs, as his presence will almost certainly draw a huge TV crowd. ESPN will carry the first and second rounds of the Masters (April 8-9), while CBS has the broadcast rights to the weekend rounds (April 10-11).
“Tiger’s return to competitive golf at this year’s Masters Tournament will surely be one of the biggest stories the sporting world has seen,” said John Wildhack, ESPN’s evp, programming and acquisitions. “We will cover the Masters Tournament and Tiger’s return across a variety of ESPN platforms, both domestically and internationally.”
Last week, CBS News and Sports president Sean McManus told Sports Illustrated that Tiger’s comeback promised to be “the biggest media event, other than the Obama inauguration, in the past 10 or 15 years. It is hard to overestimate how much interest there will be.”
Woods has always been a huge draw––a record 15.8 million viewers tuned in the first time he donned the Green Jacket in 1997––but the curiosity factor should bring in a host of viewers who aren’t otherwise taken with the sport. “They’ll get a big lift, but I’m not sure how those eyeballs will help the Callaways and the Titleists,” said one media planner. “You’re talking about a bunch of people who probably think a bogey is some old actor.”
That said, golf gear and apparel manufacturers are not represented among the PGA’s top 10 sponsors. Per Kantar Media data, the top spender in PGA events last year was Eli Lilly & Co., which invested $28.1 million between January and October (the dates coinciding with Woods’ active months). Other major Tour sponsors are: FedEx ($24.1 million), AT&T ($18.7 million), Pfizer ($17.1 million) and Toyota ($17.1 million).
According to Kantar Media, sponsors in the first 10 months of 2009 invested $534.1 million on men’s PGA tourny inventory. (TNS’ data excludes Comcast’s Golf Channel, which televises some 150 tournaments each year.)
As one might expect, Woods’ return should boost ratings for subsequent tournaments—and as the ratings climb, advertisers will pay more for the privilege of owning PGA air time. Per Kantar data, when Woods appeared in a 2009 PGA Tour event, the average cost of a 30-second spot was $104,500. In his absence that rate declined 30 percent to $80,200 per spot. Those estimates exclude the four Majors, which generally price out at around $200,000 per ad.
The prestige of the Masters (and its limited avails) makes it golf’s priciest buy. This year’s sponsor roster includes Coca-Cola, IBM, Mercedes and AT&T.
Meanwhile, it goes without saying that golf’s governing body is elated now that the greatest active player is making his way back to the tee. “We were pleased to learn that Tiger Woods will be playing the Masters in a few weeks,” said PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. “He has invested a lot of time taking steps, both in his personal and professional life, in order to prepare for his return. We all wish him and his family the best as he rejoins the Tour.”