Golf ratings to suffer from Woods' absence

CBS is leading golf broadcaster with 20 PGA Tour events

NEW YORK -- TV networks that broadcast golf tournaments will see lower ratings and advertising revenue amid Tiger Woods' absence from the course, Pali Research analyst Richard Greenfield said in a report Monday.

When Woods underwent knee surgery last year, golf ratings on broadcast and cable networks "typically dropped at least 50%," he said, citing Golf magazine. "While we have no way of forecasting the length of Woods' current exit from professional golf, near-term ratings will be impacted across the key networks that broadcast golf," Greenfield concluded.

CBS is the leading golf broadcast network with 20 PGA Tour events in 2009, but NBC, ABC and ESPN and the Golf Channel are also key players in the field. "With rights fees fixed (in the near-term), an unexpected drop in ratings is clearly negative for everyone broadcasting golf (impacting ad revenues and profits)," he said.

The analyst also argued that given the Woods scandal, the Golf Channel "may have been overvalued in the Comcast/NBC Universal deal."

Added Greenfield: "We doubt management's 2010 EBITDA forecasts (and the multiple applied in the deal), included a Golf network without Tiger Woods involved in professional golf."

As the second most distributed Comcast cable network behind E! and the 5th widest distributed channel within the new NBC Uni joint venture, the Golf Channel reaches 82 million subscribers and attractive demographics.

CBS had no comment.

A Golf Channel spokesman said Woods' absence typically affects ratings for events he was expected to play in with a decline of up to 40%-50%.

However, he emphasized that Woods tends to play only 14-15 out of 47 PGA events per year, and the Golf Channel also covers many non-PGA events, limiting any negative effect.

The spokesman argued that the casual viewers are the ones who don't turn in when Woods is missing.

The Golf Channel hasn't seen any negative advertising effect yet from the golf star's marital scandal and decision to sit out, the spokesman added.