Brand in Demand: Bulging purses and new sponsors help rejuvenate the PGA

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the pga tour is being held aloft by a Tiger's tale.

Higher ratings, new corporate TV and tour sponsors, larger tournament purses and bigger crowds all have resulted directly from Tiger Woods' push onto the PGA Tour in 1996.

"A lot of golf's success is about Tiger Woods," said Neal Pilson, president of sports marketing consultant Pilson Communications. "You talk about a brand. Now, that's a brand that is exciting."

At the recent Buick Open in La Jolla, Calif., for example, CBS' broadcast earned a Nielsen Media Research rating of 8.0 and a 17 share -- the highest for a regular tour event in 13 years. CBS benefited from Mr. Woods' attempt to win his seventh straight tournament. Although Mr. Woods made a late run, Phil Mickelson hung on to win.

DRAMATIC APPEAL

Thanks to such drama, golf's profile has never been higher, and Mr. Woods' success has had a halo effect on other players. When he first came on the scene, Mr. Woods won tremendous notoriety, according to sports agents, from a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Nike signed before his first tournament appearance as a pro. Mr. Woods subsequently signed on with American Express Co., General Motors Corp's Buick, Rolex Watch Co. and Target Stores.

Four years later, Mr. Woods is bringing prosperity to virtually the entire roster of PGA Tour players in the form of larger purses. Bart Kendell, director of national sales-golf division for sports agent IMG, said that three years ago, players ranked at the bottom of the PGA Tour made about $160,000. Now, those players are raking in $300,000 a year. "Two million dollars in prize money was an anomaly back then," said Mr. Kendell. "Now, it's the norm."

DIFFERENT ADVERTISERS

Mr. Woods' appeal beyond the wealthy, country club set also has brought in advertisers that traditionally avoided sponsoring tournaments or TV coverage of PGA Tour events. American Home Products' Corp.'s Advil now sponsors the Western Open, for instance, and Target Stores is a presenting sponsor in the Williams World Challenge, an event Mr. Woods puts together.

Mr. Kendell said he has heard estimates of attendance at golf events up by as much as 10,000 over estimates when Mr. Woods is playing.

TV ratings continue to rise. Ratings for NBC's golf coverage climbed to a 3.1 in 1999 from a 2.7 the year before; ABC's golf ratings jumped to a 2.4 from a 2.2; while CBS teed up at a 3.2, the same as 1998. While Mr. Woods doesn't play every PGA Tour event, when he does ratings skyrocket. "If he's one of the leaders who go out last on Sunday, he's worth a 40%-60% ratings increase," said Rob Correa, VP-programming for CBS Sports.

Such drawing power is rare in the sport. Before Mr. Woods came on the scene, there weren't many big golf stars to match Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus, said Steve Grubbs, exec VP-national broadcast for BBDO Worldwide, New York. While John Daly and Greg Norman approached the level of major golf personalities, he said, it didn't stick.

"Look at how baseball has been rejuvenated with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa," he said. "Professional sports is about personality."

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