Skittish Networks Contemplate the Tiger Factor (Sort Of)
It's one thing for networks to yank ads featuring the embattled Tiger Woods from their primetime schedules. It's another altogether for those networks that broadcast golf to accommodate the radical dynamic shift brought on by "transgressions" acknowledged by the game's biggest star and ambassador. But now they're doing just that -- and judging by the early reactions, it's not the best feeling in the world.
After all, if you live by the Tiger you die by the Tiger, and since Woods's first Masters win in 1997, it's been a pretty rich life for golf's major TV partners like CBS, NBC, ESPN and The Golf Channel. They were all consulted this week for an intriguing new Time Magazine piece about life after Tigergate -- officially no more than a "mysterious car wreck" at this time, but unofficially a staggering, orgiastic drama of rumored domestic abuse, would-be mistresses, porn stars, strippers, parking-lot sex, bawdy text messages, adjoining hotel suites and all the cover-ups implied therein.
It's only getting started, of course, which made last weekend's Chevron World Challenge -- the NBC-aired, Tiger-organized tournament benefiting the Tiger Woods Foundation -- more than a bit awkward when its biggest draw called in sick with a bad case of controversy. But that didn't stop the contagion from creeping through the PGA and especially the media, representatives of which either declined comment (e.g. CBS, the network stuck with Woods's next planned tournament in January), candidly acknowledged the ratings disparity between Tiger and non-Tiger broadcasts (e.g. ESPN commentator Mike Tirico, a consummate professional who really is all about the golf), or, ahem, playing it as it lays going forward:
The Golf Channel, whose very existence can be credited to Woods, is similarly skirting the babe issue. "We had news reporters all over the place on Friday (Nov. 27, the day in which Tiger's car accident went public) and Saturday and Sunday and Monday," says Tom Stathakes, programming chief for the Golf Channel. "But I'm not in the business of talking about 10 of Tiger's girlfriends." [...]
Why did NBC pretty much ignore the scandal last weekend? Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports, offered only this pablum: "We said what we thought was appropriate to be said given the continuing tabloid nature of the story. We were there to cover a golfing competition. I'm certain there will be a much clearer set of established facts when our PGA Tour coverage resumes next year."
That certitude is one of the few shared, inarguable elements of the Woods story to date. Another is the unprecedented repercussions the controversy might have around his sport. Even Kobe Bryant, who, during his rape scandal in 2003, endured many of the same endorsement withdrawals and public scorn that Woods has already encountered, had the benefits of a team around him, a team opposing him and an NBA with enough other stars (though none bigger) to weather the blow in the stands and on TV. One player wouldn't sink the league.
Furthermore, Bryant's peers weren't deserting him the way Woods's fellow golfers have already begun to do. PGA pro Jesper Parnevik hilariously extended his regret of having introduced Woods to his future wife Elin Nordegren, saying, "I would probably need to apologize to her and hope she uses a driver next time instead of a 3-iron [...] But when you are the guy he is -- the world's best athlete -- you should think more before you do stuff ... and maybe not 'Just do it,' like Nike says."
Zing! Pow! And ouch. Hazard ahead, folks.