Tiger’s domino effect

Tarnished star’s withdrawal may hurt sport’s popularity, profits

By Jenn Abelson
Globe Staff / December 17, 2009

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There are the obvious casualties from Tiger Woods’s infamous infidelity: the tarnished reputation, lost sponsors, broken marriage, angry fans, and spurned mistresses.

But the fallout from Woods’s implosion stretches far beyond the orbit of the disgraced superstar, and the aftershocks carry serious implications for Massachusetts, with its $1.6 billion golfing industry. The indefinite leave from golf of this lord of the links has left many businesses - from golf courses to retail shops - worried about the future of a sport that has already been hurt by the recession.

Attendance at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Norton, the biggest golfing event in New England, which brings in upward of $50 million annually for the region, is likely to fall with the absence of Woods.

Attendance at the tournament plunged 20 percent in 2008, the one year Woods missed the event, due to a season-ending knee injury. And Golfers Warehouse in Braintree is concerned that fewer people, especially youths, will want lessons now that the golfing legend has disappeared.

“Without a doubt, people started to play golf because of him. And there are people who come in here and only want something that Tiger endorses. He’ll get them in the door, and that creates more opportunities to sell more stuff,’’ said Kevin McSweeney, manager of Golfers Warehouse. “His leave is definitely going to hit the entire golf industry.’’

For more than a decade, Woods has served as an economic engine for the US golfing industry, which grew from $62 billion in 2000 to $76 billion in 2007, the latest figures available. Woods is credited with almost single-handedly attracting more minority fans, youths, and casual supporters to the greens, significantly increasing prize money for golf, and drawing the largest television audiences in golf history.

Nielsen Co. data show that Woods’s absence from tournaments in 2008 cut network TV ratings almost in half.

“Golf needs Tiger Woods more than Tiger Woods needs golf,’’ said sports marketer Marc Ganis. “When you take a tremendous star out of the mix like Tiger Woods, it has a huge domino effect on everything - golf course membership, greens fees, the sale of golf balls and tees, all the way to buying homes on golf courses Tiger was going to or has designed.’’

In Boston, golf memberships at the city’s two courses, at Franklin Park and in Hyde Park, soared more than 20 percent over the past four years, an increase that general manager Dennis Roache attributes to improved maintenance, the economy, and most certainly Tiger Woods. Now that the biggest star is out of the picture, the appeal of golf, especially among urban youths, may fade.

“Golf has become a more popular sport in urban markets because of Tiger Woods,’’ Roache said. “He helped bridge that gap.’’

Eric Baldwin, Deutsche Bank Championship director, said 2007 was the first year the event was part of the playoffs, which may account for some of the attendance drop the following year. Still, when Woods returned this Labor Day to the Deutsche Bank Championship, attendance jumped about 15 percent, to 110,500.

“Tiger certainly has an effect; he brings along a buzz when he plays in your event, and that manifests itself in many ways,’’ Baldwin said.

Patrick B. Moscaritolo, chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, said it’s hard to quantify the potential effect of losing Tiger Woods on the area’s hospitality industry. Beyond the hotels, restaurants, and other merchants that benefit from a big turnout, there are multiple charity events around town. This year, the Tiger Woods Foundation was the main charitable beneficiary.

“If I had my one wish for Christmas from Santa, I would want Tiger to make his return to golf at the Deutsche Bank tournament on Labor Day weekend,’’ Moscaritolo said. “That’s the best case. The worst case, he doesn’t come.’’

Jenn Abelson can be reached at

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