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The Players Championship: Come One, Come All to the TPC Sawgrass Carnival

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

May 10, 2013

Golf Channel and NBC must be thrilled.

Deep into the second day of The Players Championship, arguably golf’s “fifth major,” with an attendant star-studded international field and golf’s heftiest purse--$9.5 million, with the winner pocketing over $1.7 million. Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia atop the leaderboard, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy not far behind. A controversy—V.J. Singh, his use of verboten deer antler spray, and the “humiliated” golfer suing the PGA Tour—that’s more cringe-worthy than critical. Beautiful weather, and the carnival game that is Pete and Alice Dye’s #17 island hole filling the frame.

What’s not for a TV producer to love?

As the flagship event at the PGA’s backyard course, TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL unfolds, PGA Tour execs and golf producers alike have much more to be thankful for than a weekend chockfull of enticing storylines.

So far in 2013, Golf Channel has set “viewership marks with each passing week,” according to data shared by the San Diego Union-Tribune. The NBC Sports Group property is the “network of record for the sport, every golf fan knows it, and they are watching in record numbers."

Golf Channel recorded 25.5 million unique visitors in the first quarter, a record for the network. Viewership in April, especially surrounding The Masters, was up 11% from 2012, and the "momentum would indicate that Golf Channel likely will set a yearlong viewership record for a third straight time."

For the Players Championship, NBC is offering 22 hours of live tournament coverage between Golf Channel and the NBC parent network over the weekend, along with an additional 57 hours of news and commentary. This wall to wall coverage should help cement its cozy relationship with the PGA Tour for seasons to come—and prove a valuable bargaining chip when the next round of television rights need to be negotiated.

As the economy has improved, amateurs are returning to the game in bigger numbers, as reflected by solid earnings reports from TaylorMade-adidas (2012 worldwide sales of $1.7 billion, up $.2 billion from 2011), Callaway (first quarter profits of $42 million, up ten cents per share over the same quarter last year), and other industry bell weathers. It’s also apparent when you look at a study released by the California Alliance for Golf, detailing increased activity in the second most important state for golf domestically outside of Florida.

The golf industry is big business for California’s economy, contributing $6.3 billion in direct impact in 2011, according to the report released last week. While that was still down from the $6.9 billion golf contributed to California’s economy in 2006, before the economy tanked, it was a marked improvement over the years in between.

Including indirect and induced economic activity, the total golf industry impact for 2011 — the most recent data available — was $13.1 billion, including 128,000 jobs with $4.1 billion of wage income. That year, California had 921 courses, which generated $3.3 billion in revenue and spent $144.5 million on capital investments, including $8.4 million on new course construction.

And in California, golf’s $13.1 billion impact is larger than a lot of industries for which the state is known. In 2011, movie theaters generated $2.6 billion, while amusement parks generated $3.7 billion, the report said.

In other findings, the report said that in 2011:

  • Charitable giving attributed to golf in California was nearly $364.6 million.
  • California’s golf-related travel expenditures totaled $1.4 billion.

Comparatively, back down in Florida—where Valentine’s Day is also “Florida Golf Day”—golf is a $13.8 billion industry, employing 167,000 people on more than 1,100 courses, plus driving ranges and mini-golf facilities.

"Florida is the No. 1 golfing destination in the world. Everything that we are doing to draw people and promote our state involves golf,” said Florida Governor Rick Scott at a 2012 “Florida Golf Day” gathering in Tallahassee. “Golf has a dramatic impact on our state.”

Case in point: while rounds of golf in 2011 were still down 1.2% nationwide, they were up 5% in Florida. And the economic impact of the game on the state had almost doubled since 2007, the last time such statistics were taken.

Florida’s golf economy checked in at $7.5 billion the last time such stats were taken in 2007, which put it some $3.5 billion ahead of the state’s theme parks and $3 billion ahead of the state’s medical equipment and supplies manufacturing economy.

While previous The Players Championship winners Woods and Garcia and TPC Sawgrass neighbor Singh are obviously a lot more concerned about the scores they’ll shoot over the weekend than the economic impact of their sport on the state they call home, thrill-a-minute tournaments like The Players continue to be important drivers to lure more amateurs to the game. And just like your local county fair, The Players Championship has proved to be a midway on which pretty much anyone can win.

As the Wall Street Journal’s John Paul Newport noted earlier this week, “no multi-major winner has ever won more than a single Players at TPC Sawgrass. The winner “can come from anywhere...None of the winners from 2009 through 2011—Henrik Stenson, Tim Clark and K.J. Choi—have won a Tour event since.”

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Beyond the Scoreboard
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard eBook
Rick Horrow, America’s leading expert in sport business, and coauthor Karla Swatek give fans an inside look at the multibillion-dollar world of professional sport.
Beyond the Scoreboard: Chapter 1. The Mega-Master Super Series XLXL eBook chapter

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