Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Tiger Effect...When Tiger Isn't Playing

Steve Elling tells us that it is ugly out there, and not just with the Sunday wind.

Everybody understands that world No. 1 Tiger Woods has a huge impact on TV ratings, which was borne out last weekend at the Wachovia Championship when viewer numbers were roughly half what they were when he won the same event last spring. His massive impact on purses over the arc of his career has been obvious, too.

Nobody is at fault for Woods' absence, of course, but golf nonetheless is getting an unanticipated lesson in Tiger microeconomics. From hotels and restaurants to tertiary folks like ticket scalpers, it's going to be a long and lean week, compared with what was expected before Woods was forced to withdraw.

As is often the case, the best gauge of fan demand can be measured via the rough-hewn guys hawking tickets on street corners outside any sports venue. The scalpers Friday morning looked equal parts desperate and bored as they took up their positions at sunrise alongside State Highway A1A, which fronts the property.
As an attendee of the event (2003), that is definitely anecdotally true. Still, one has to consider more than Tiger. Ticket prices are $75 per day. Drinks, souvenirs, hotels, maybe a flight, and probably gas all add up to make it much more expensive. A hefty price to pay in a time when people seem very cynical about the state of the country and our economy. Tiger probably has an impact, but lousy economic prospects may also.

This, though, is crazy.
Then there's the hotel situation. The reason the conversation with the desk clerk took place is because I was checking out early Friday morning, after learning some guests were being gouged on the room rate. Because demand has fallen so quickly, the walkup room rate is far lower than the price many of us had reserved six months earlier. By checking back in later today, the rate will be $50 cheaper per night. Hotels are slashing rates, a sure sign that supply exceeds demand.
Ponte Vedra was packed when I was there five years ago. I had no problem making friends there because so many people packed bars to have a drink and have fun. (Then again, this was in March when the NCAA tournament was on at night.)

Finally, though, the media representation at any event really does speak to its relevance regardless of who is playing. This is telling.
The body count in other quarters has signaled a resounding no. The numbers for national media in attendance speak for themselves. None of the papers from Los Angeles or Chicago are covering the so-called fifth major. Even the Miami Herald, located just six hours down Interstate 95, took a pass, as did St. Petersburg, the state's biggest newspaper. Sports strongholds like Charlotte, Dallas, Houston and Philadelphia also took a pass. Amazingly, San Diego, set to host a U.S. Open in a month, isn't here either.
Jeff Shain, out. Ron Green, no? Bill Nichols and/or Jimmy Burch? No thanks. Joe Logan had something better to do. Tod Leonard? You can't be serious. That's bad.

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