With last weekend’s Farmers Insurance Open heralding the unofficial start of PGA season, Tiger Wood’s absence from the Tour has been causing anxiety for many in the ticketing industry. The Farmers usually marks Wood’s first appearance on the Tour each season, and it is the first widely broadcast event on the PGA schedule. Woods’ no-show makes his current loss to the sport all too real, and everyone from the Tour to the television networks to the ticketing and hospitality industries are feeling it.
While last week saw some minor speculation that Woods will return to golf with the
Accenture Match Play Tournament later this month, those notions have been widely dismissed as that competition is coming up fast with little or no practice time, and Accenture is known for having dropped sponsorship of Woods quickly on the heels of his sex scandal late last year.
Sponsorship and ticket sales for this season’s Farmers Open were down 15-20 percent from 2008, the last time that Woods played the tournament (he missed it in 2009 due to injury). But despite conventional wisdom that it is largely Woods’ absence that is killing sales, the economic climate has to take some of the blame. The downturn in the economy has been a major factor in this and other high-profile sports over the past 18 months. The story of NASCAR’s troubles at the start of its 2009 season shows just how financial hiccups in one industry can negatively impact many others.
The new PGA season faces a two-pronged assault, however, with the 2010 economy only slowly recovering and Woods’ poorly timed scandal appearing on front pages just as the Tour was gearing up. Have this happen in an era of decreased ticket and equipment sales for the high-end sport, and it is a recipe for disaster. Broadcast and golfing industry professionals are already bracing for big slashes in TV advertisement, and tour sponsorship revenues, as long as Woods is not on the green.
All of this is hitting the primary ticketers hard, but what about the secondary market?
“[Sales for the PGA tour] have definitely dropped off for us,” says Jason Berger, president of Allshows.com. “There haven’t really been many events since [Woods’ departure], but requests for tickets have been down for PGA events. Hopefully when he comes back, I’m sure things will turn around.”
With Woods gone, Steve Parry, president of Goldentickets.com, finds little evidence of a secondary market at all for PGA tickets. “The secondary market doesn’t play because now you can walk up to [the window] at the course, at the tournament, and get your tickets. The secondary market gets involved when there is a sellout situation. For the most part, it’s not happening.”
Parry owns the 1018 Club, a corporate hospitality venue located near the Augusta National Golf Club, home to the Tour’s climactic April event, The Masters Tournament. This puts Parry in a unique position to see the effects of Woods’ loss to the industry.
“I’ve been doing the Masters for 22 years, and I will say that everyone I know in Augusta hopes that Tiger [comes back]. There’s a lot of speculation that he may come back in time for The Masters, and I know that everybody in Augusta is hoping he’ll be back by that time. It has definitely affected all the other tournaments. A lot less tickets are sold at a lot of the other tournaments when Tiger’s not in it.”
As for Woods’ possible return, Parry says, “It really makes no difference when or which tournament it is, as long as he is getting back on the tour. That tournament when he does come back, there will be a flurry of questions, and then everybody can get back to the golf business.”
Parry was skeptical about movement on the secondary market for the Accenture Tournament in response to the past week’s speculation, noting that he hasn’t heard of any up tick in sales for the Accenture since the talk started. Parry suspects that the buzz suggests that Woods’ return will be soon, though the question of “when” is still up for grabs. “[The current speculation] gives everybody high expectations, but until something is confirmed, nobody’s going to go and buy tickets to any one event. Once that’s confirmed, that tournament will be an immediate sell out.”