For major golf events, CBS and other networks could grab 13.5 million viewers with Tiger Woods playing, about 40% more than the 9.5 million when he wasn't. CBS and other networks experienced some of this downturn in 2008 and earlier this year due to his knee injury that kept him out of action.
But now some 4 million U.S. viewers might be looking at other TV or non-TV activities on weekend afternoons for the long term -- events that probably won't include drinking Gatorade, taking shaves with Gillette razors, or buying Cadillac Escalades (sponsors with whom Woods had deals).
Fear not. Where TV golf programmers might be suffering, TV tabloid/magazine executives have already seen a plus. Water and TV-based celebrity scandals always seek their own level.
Consider the latest wrinkle in the Woods saga -- that perhaps he fooled around with performance-enhancing drugs, according to The New York Times -- and you have a story that keeps on giving, one that few sports/celebrity tales can match.
But consider where the Woods effect might not be so negative. Golf fanatics will always find a reason to watch golf events. That's why executives from the Golf Channel aren't too worried. The cable network that programs round-the-clock hours of golf programming doesn't depend on a Tiger Woods appearance nearly as much as the big TV sports networks such as CBS, NBC, and ESPN do.
And then there's this: Typically, Woods only plays in 15 of 50 PGA golf events a year, with four of those major tournaments: the U.S. Open, British Open, the Masters, and the PGA Open.
Still, advertisers have a quandary. Woods' closely followed knee injury put him out of action for months last year, but his troop of sponsors -- including Gillette, Nike, Gatorade, Cadillac, and Accenture -- didn't abandon him. What will happen now, and how will these advertisers reinvent their associations with the golf-following crowds?
They could shrug their shoulders and say, "We're just talking about one athlete, right?" Yeah, but for many he is the only guy in the sport that matters.
When a single athlete is mostly identified with the profile of a particular sport, it can become a very big two-edged sword, with the potential for plenty of downs as well as ups.
Cycling took a major tumble when Lance Armstrong left the sport in 2005. Television ratings went down -- and not just in this country.
Then Armstrong decided to unretire. He came back this year and doubled the Tour de France ratings on Versus, even with his coming in third place. Large improvements in TV ratings of this type, for any TV programming, are rare.
Which brings us to -- what else? -- the next time Woods makes an appearance on a golf course, or, more likely, in front of a crowd of reporters looking to ask him a question or two.
What will those ratings be like? Which TV viewers will show up then?