Tiger Woods-less Masters result in big hit to ESPN ratings

Harry How

ESPN reports that viewership for Thursday’s opening round of the Masters, with Tiger Woods not in attendance, was down from last year’s ratings.

Tiger Woods, as even the most casual of sports fans recognizes, is golf’s biggest attraction. So it should come as no surprise to learn that, with the world No. 1 recovering from recent back surgery and not in the field this week at Augusta, TV ratings for the Masters are taking a hit.

This on Friday from a statement from ESPN, which offers the first two rounds of the Masters before CBS takes over for Saturday and Sunday:

"ESPN’s live telecast of the first round of the 2014 Masters Tournament on Thursday, April 10, attracted an average audience of 2 million viewers with a 1.5 U.S. household rating, according to Nielsen Media fast national data.

"ESPN’s telecast aired from 3-7:30 p.m. ET. Viewership peaked at 2.4 million between 6:30-7 p.m. while the ratings peak was a 1.7 between 6-6:30 p.m.

"The ratings and viewership declined from ESPN’s 2013 first round telecast, which earned a 2.0 rating with 2.8 million viewers."

It’s not as if the ratings report is much of a news flash. Despite broadcasters stout-heartedly claiming, prior to the men’s first major of the season, that "it’s still the Masters," everyone knew ratings would suffer with Woods on the sidelines.

"When Tiger is in the Masters, there’s going to be a spike in the ratings," Sean McManus, chair of CBS Sports, conceded during a teleconference with reporters last week. "Will we miss the spike of not having Tiger there in the ratings? I’m sure we probably will but I’m not overly concerned that we’re ... going to have a tournament that’s not going to be the highest rated of all the golf tournaments in America."

Television viewer-wise, things are not likely to improve for those airing PGA Tour events in the foreseeable future. Woods will likely be out for most of the summer, if not longer.

For at least the next several days, the 14-time major champion remains immobilized following a procedure on March 31 to relieve a pinched nerve. Augusta National chair Billy Payne said on Wednesday that Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg informed him Tiger would have to stay "very still" for at least two weeks.

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