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It's Not Just about Tiger - It's a Wake-Up Call for the PGA Tour
The Tiger Woods rumors are rolling faster than the greens at Augusta. The one about his being flown to Phoenix to have his broken teeth repaired and plastic surgery on his 9-iron facial wounds at least is a plausible explanation for his public disappearance. And now a four-year-old image of Tiger on the new Vanity Fair cover taken by the famous photographer, Annie Leibovitz, compounds the damage to his brand image.
In my opinion, Tiger has been poorly managed since Thanksgiving. Tiger needed "crisis managers," not just good sports agents. Professional crisis managers know that a quick response and honesty are almost always the best ways to maintain a brand's image, whether we are talking Nestles contaminated chocolate cookie dough, Fisher-Price children's toys with toxic paints, recalls on auto parts, or David Letterman's extramarital affairs.
On point, my sources tell me that Nike, which maintains a staff of crisis managers, offered to send their very best to help out Tiger's agents. But Nike's offer was refused. If that's true, it was a mistake.
The strongest brands, including celebrity-brands, are as fragile as they are strong. And celebrities may be the most vulnerable simply because they are human beings with egos and emotions subject to extreme hubris and over-confidence.
Behind closed doors, I'm sure a plan is being written. Barbara Walters, Katie Couric and Oprah are probably in a bidding war over the interview. The marriage may end - or it may not. Tiger will come forward with Elin or without her. He will make a rehabilitating statement and explanation that's probably being edited and re-edited as I write this.
And young girls need role models, too. One female colleague told me that she was truly hoping that Elin acts very tough so that we will finally have a good role model instead of all these famous women who "stand by" their philandering husbands!
Put in context, this story is not so surprising. Half of all marriages end in divorce; domestic violence remains prevalent and a majority of ads on men's golf tournaments are about sexual performance. It's hard to sit with the kids during weekend TV golf telecasts unless parents are prepared to explain erections or why mommy and daddy are in bathtubs on the beach. (Why Eli Lily and Company, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Evista, a drug that is used by women for both osteoporosis and breast cancer, is not a sponsor of any LPGA event is still a mystery to me.)
Whatever the Tiger-rehab script is, there will be winners and losers. The public's response will probably be tentative, but Americans give second chances. When Tiger plays his next golf tournament, someone in the gallery will shout "Shame on you" and another will shout "Shut-up!"
But another big loser in this story is the PGA Tour, and what they should be doing about it. That's my real focus. The Tiger episode should be a wake up call for the PGA Tour. Fame is fleeting and putting all of your eggs in one basket, even if lined with a talent like Tiger, is risky for the sport. And I hope Michael Whan, the new Commissioner of the LPGA, is listening also.
Televised tournament golf is critical to the golf industry. TV golf builds fans, fans become golfers, golfers take lessons and buy clubs, balls, clothes, and pay greens fees and golf clubs, and courses and resorts stay in business and houses on golf courses find buyers. If the cycle stalls out, golf may end up being, as what one reporter suggested, as just a "niche sport" - maybe like ice skating or professional bowling.
As I see it, the PGA Tour is basically old-fashioned television broadcasting. Through a series of steps begun in 1968, the PGA professionals who played tournament golf separated themselves from the PGA of America. By 1975, the "PGA Tour" as we know it today was in place.
Since 1962, when Shell Oil started televising Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, watching a tournament on TV is just about the same. After almost half a century, isn't it time for a change?
Blame for the decline in golf rounds and revenues has been laid at the feet of many groups within the industry, but the Tour has basically evaded criticism (as has the PGA of America).
Take a trip on YouTube.com and watch and listen to a Shell-sponsored tournament televised decades ago. In fact, in the early days of Shell's coverage the golfers' conversations among themselves were recorded on microphones so viewers felt like they were walking with the foursome. Imagine that! Fifty years ago.
Oh yes, there have been some improvements since 1962. We now we have better color TV, more cameras up in trees, a blimp, better sound devices that capture the sound of a club striking the ball, and more graphics that show the path of a putt or the arc of a tee shot.
But, am I the only one tired of the boy-banter and Johnny Miller's voice in the booth? Do most viewers really know what a "hosel" is and why the grass "catches" it? Who are those guys in the booth talking to? My answer: the elite, low-handicap golfer and not the millions of potential golfers.
In my opinion that's why viewers are only really interested in watching the PGA Tour on TV if there is a real "star" and they are guaranteed some thrilling events. The Tour got lucky with Tiger. (And the LPGA Tour may get lucky with Michelle Wie.) And that's why the PGA ratings will fall if Tiger isn't playing. Why else watch it?
Tim Finchem, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, knows something is amiss. In December, in a post-Tiger-trauma interview following a diversion tactic, Finchem announced that Sony and the Tour were going to present something new - 3D television of the matches. But that won't happen for a year or so.
I am glad that the technological side of a golf tournament will improve, but I think Finchem should instead be putting the most creative TV minds they can muster in a room for a brain-storming session. Tell them they must think outside the box. When NFL football decided to try Dennis Miller in the booth, it was a bomb. But that's because of Dennis Miller, not because new ideas can't work.
Here are some suggestions (they are sketchy and intended to get the juices flowing - in some cases with a touch of humor). Some suggestions in fact, have appeared and continue to appear on the Golf Channel, but that audience is already made up of committed golfers. If the Tour wants to grow the game - and it should, it has to realize that it must convince weekend TV fans - male, female, baby boomer or junior - who may never have played golf to fall in love with the game and take it up.
So, here's my list of seven new ideas:
1. Think of a PGA Tour event as a call-in show. Call it "Tim Finchem Live" and put him in suspenders. (Maybe "John Daly Live" would bring a bigger audience.) Let viewers call in with questions. The Golf Channel uses that technique very well on many of their shows.
2. Think of the tournament itself as a golf-instruction experience. For example: show three swings and let viewers call in and vote for the swing they like best. Allow the guys and gals in the booth to talk about the viewers' reactions. Maybe it's the "American Golf Idol," but that idea seems to have worked for one network. (And I haven't even considered how iPhone and Smart Phone apps could fit into the picture.)
3. If you are have to talk about hosels - get some good graphics out on the screen.
4. Talk about how women would play this course (or vice-versa if it's an LPGA tournament). Where would the tees be and how would they play it differently? Fortunately, in 2014 the U.S. Women's Open and the U.S. Open will be on the same course, so comparisons will have to be made.
As the situation exists now, many women viewing golf on TV think that only men play this game. Last time I looked at the statistics, women were an increasing audience for televised golf.
5. Fund young golfers who cannot afford to play in the junior golf circuit. I'm talking serious funding - the type that breeds Olympic stars. (Junior Korean golfers get sponsor funding at very young ages.)
I often get calls from parents of junior golfers who cannot afford to travel to the tournaments that allow them to advance through the ranks. They ask me where to go for financial assistance. Except for some money available via USGA grants, there are few options. The Tour needs to be a leader in driving funds to gifted young golfers who lack financial resources.
6. Personalize the golfers. They are now automatons - robots with swings that are digitized for easy viewing. But all golfers - like all people - have stories to tell. Whenever I interview golfers for an article I'm writing, I'm always amazed at what I hear and learn.
See my interview of Jane Broderick on Cybergolf (http://www.cybergolf.com/golf_news/how_she_does_it_jane_broderick_director_of_golf_operations_at_pga_national_resort). Jane is a PGA and LPGA professional and the director of folf at PGA National Resort and Spa in Florida. She probably has the biggest resort management position in the country. She began as a skier and ended up as a golfer because she helped her mother rehabilitate after a heart attack through golf. It's nice to see a golfer's swing in slow motion on the TV screen, but sometimes it's even better to understand their mind and heart.
7. Finally, and to me most important, the case must be made that "golf is good for you." The Tour should be funding a good, scientifically valid study that establishes that golf is healthy regardless of the skill level of the player. A study was recently published in Sweden that reported golfers lived five years longer than non-golfers. It's easy to say, "Well, that's Sweden; they walk all the time and live healthy lives."
But I firmly believe that regular golf - at whatever level it is played - is healthy. It's not about performance and how far you can hit the ball or cardiac fitness. It's about flexibility, posture and balance. I believe that playing golf reinforces those elements as we age - regardless of how big the swing or how strong the body. The lack of interest in the health issue among golf associations and manufacturers troubles me. It seems very shortsighted.
So, I began with Tiger and am ending with new ideas for the Tour. Let's see if Tiger's problems have triggered the Tour to end its reliance on a superstar and turn its attention to refreshing the television format and funding some of the critical needs mentioned above.
I'm hoping Tiger turns out to be the tipping point that changes televised golf and, ironically, grows the game.
Nancy Berkley, President of Berkley Golf Consulting, is a regular contributor to Cybergolf and an expert on women's golf. Her book, "Women Welcome Here! A Guide to Growing Women's Golf," published by the National Golf Foundation, is an industry reference source for marketing golf to women. She is a resource for golf-industry trends and marketing advice on her website www.nancyberkley.com. She chaired a panel at the World Scientific Congress of Golf in Phoenix, Ariz., in March 2008, and was a guest speaker at the Northern California Business Women's Conference at Poppyridge Golf Course in Livermore, Calif., in June 2008. Nancy also consults with golf facilities on how to attract more women golfers and families to the game. She was a contributing editor of Golf for Women magazine and is the Chair of the Advisory Board of Golfer Girl Magazine, where she also writes a series about careers in the golf industry. Her articles also appear on www.ladiesgolfjourney.com. Nancy provides a Free Help Line on her website for those seeking marketing advice in the golf industry.