Flashback: July 16, 2001...

...that's when the PGA Tour's 2002-2006 television contract was announced.

"Tiger has increased the exposure for the game. That's great for golf, it's great for the tour, it's great for us," ESPN senior VP for programming John Wildhack said.

"The tour continues to show opportunities for growth and for increase. We're delighted that Tiger is as visible as any athlete in the world. That adds to the overall growth of the game."

And here was Wildhack talking to Steve Elling in the Orlando Sentinel after the 2007-2021(!?) deal was revealed:

John Wildhack, senior vice president of programming and acquisitions at ESPN and ABC, said talks with the tour broke down in late December when it became apparent that Disney would continue to lose money under the new contract terms. All the networks claim they lost money on the current contract, which ends after the '06 season. Wildhack said golf's TV viewership has suffered significant "erosion'' in that time, a fact borne out by the ratings.

And then there were these remarks from ABC on July 16, 2001.

"The PGA Tour right now is really on a roll, and we would like to roll along with them," said Loren Matthews, ABC Sports senior VP of programming. "Who knows what the future's going to bring, but we look into a crystal ball and we think Tiger's going to be in a lot of our events. We hope he plays in them all, but right now golf is very strong overall." 

Compare these comments from a Garry Smits Florida Times-Union story with this week's "streamlining" spin (talking point?):

According to Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-basedsports industry consulting firm, the rights fees increase was directly due to Woods's impact on ratings, which have increased by 50 percent on average when Woods has played.
"There's a whole new demographic of fans who are watching now on television and never did before," Ganis said, noting the high ratings that followed Woods's runaway win last year at the U.S. Open. "They're getting the casual fan who didn't used to tune in, but now does. It's the whole Tiger Woods phenomenon."

'We feel very, very good about all aspects of the agreement, both financial and non-financial,' said [Bob] Combs [of the PGA Tour]. 'The financial part is reflective of the very strong growth curve that the Tour has been on.'

'I think it's a fair financial deal for us and the Tour,' CBS Sports president Sean McManus said.

Brian Schecter, a media analyst with Kagan World Media, said Woods drives everything in golf, including the new deal. "Whether he wins or loses, ratings spike dramatically whenever he's playing," Schecter said. "I would say he is by far the most recognizeable athlete on the planet right now. So it's not surprising golf is cashing in on his coattails."

But CBS Sports President Sean McManus said that while Woods has been a boom to the sport, the sport's tie-ins with its corporate partners and title sponsors led to the deal.

"All of us went into it thinking the worst-case scenario that Tiger won't play as much as he has before or in some events that we don't have," McManus said. "All of us discounted the Tiger factor to a certain extent."

Ganis said the deal made sense because golf has several marquee events that can command large audiences even though television viewership has become more fragmented. Additionally, Ganis said golf has a strong core audience and solid support from corporations. He added that the networks might not necessarily need further ratings increases to make the agreement profitable.

"They can stay where they are and be okay," Ganis said. "They're historically at the highest levels they've ever been, which is not a bad position to be in. They're expected to go up, but it depends on whether Tiger Woods stays at the top of his game. And whether a current player or young player can develop a mano-a-mano rivalry with him."

Oops. We got rivals. "Product" that is boring to watch way too often. Therefore, no ratings. No profits.

Hey, but the demographics are still good.

And check out this Ron Sirak story from the February 2003 Golf Digest.

There is one other selling point Finchem maneuvered with foresight. Instead of playing his sponsors and television partners against each other, he tries to work with both.

"Golf has protected the networks better than any other sport," says Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now a media consultant. "Golf has remained profitable for the networks while other sports have not. Other sports take every nickel off the table in negotiations. Finchem always leaves one."

And here's Pilson after this week's 2007-2021 TV deal was announced:

"They're going through a marketplace adjustment," sports-television consultant Neal Pilson said of the PGA Tour's new deal. "The fact that ABC and ESPN had withdrawn was a significant signal that it is a much more difficult marketplace today than it was five or 10 years ago," he added.

"Under the prior deal, you had several different major carriers offering packages that allowed sponsors to play the networks against each other," Mr. Pilson said.

And finally from Sirak's story...

Economic conditions could very well make the decision for Finchem, who will be 56 in April and shows no loss of enthusiasm for his job. And there is a delicious irony in the fact that the commissioner is awaiting the PR boost the Champions Tour would get in 2005 from Greg Norman, a Finchem foe ever since the Australian slapped the World Tour idea on the table just months into the Finchem administration. But if there is anyone who can share a room with a wet dog and come out smelling like a rose, it's Finchem.

Norman still yet to start a regular Champions Tour event. So much for the delicious irony.