Here's a newsflash: The PGA Tour season is under way and has gone from Hawaii to california, and will soon be moving across the U.S. for its weekly run up to the first Major, the Masters in May. Anyone notice? In the next few weeks the casual sports fan will have Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, Olympics, Daytona 500, the NBA All-Star Game, even the finals of the Australian Open to whet the appetite, not to mention the fast-approaching NCAA Men's and Women's basketball tournaments.
Now we see the true effect of what golf without Tiger Woods is like, almost as if the ghost of Christmas Future walked right down the fairway. Yes, golf had a bit of a foreshadowing when Woods missed a few months and ratings and interest dropped. However this time, the combination of expense cutbacks, decreasing sales and the loss of the Superstar, at least temporarily, is creating collateral damage across a once-booming industry that had done a great job of shielding itself in prior slumps. People have asked, "Who will be the next Tiger?" The answer, though, has not yet come.
Many revel in the brand damage Woods has gone through in recent months: loss of sponsors, public embarrassment, physical injury, the isolation from friends and family -- all true and all worthy of filling even more volumes of tabloids. Woods, or what people are saying was Woods, made a great return to the cover of the New York Post on Thursday, with a Sasquatch-like shot of someone exiting a rehab clinic. Goodbye Haiti, hello Tiger! And let's sell more papers.
However, at the end of the day, the real collateral damage may not be to Woods himself. We are a very forgiving people. And if he comes back, does the obligatory mea culpa and birdies his first hole, the comeback is on, and it will be bigger than ever. That's Tiger.
The damage that may be irreparable is in the form of lost jobs at brands like Callaway and Taylor Made, who have had to lay off staff due to a slowdown in production even before the loss of Woods from the Tour. The damage is done to the carpenters who do not need to build booths because of trimmed-down golf shows , or advertising sales guys who can't meet their quota due to lower TV ratings and circulation at websites and magazines. Many of those people can't live without Tiger, or whoever will follow to draw the casual fan. They can't because they need that buzz to meet their mortgage payments and put their kids through school. That's where the real damage from not having Tiger Woods play golf will be.
We live in a trickle-down economic society now more than ever, and we have seen how slumping car sales affect the sale of carpeting in the U.S. (the auto industry is the largest buyer of carpeting in the U.S., in case you didn't know). We will now continue to see that trickle-down play out in the golf world, where programs like First Tee, the initiative to bring more urban youth into the sport, may now be slowed. With that slowdown comes less grants to fund and less kids to try the game. Get the picture.
Yes, the whole fiasco with Woods is embarrassing and damaging to the man and those around him, no doubt. The debate will rage on as to whether it was handled rightfully or wrongfully by Woods and his advisors, and usually the real truth is somewhere in the middle. However, the real truth is that, if Tiger Woods does not play another hole of professional golf the rest of his life, he probably will never hurt for money or a comfortable lifestyle.
The same cannot be said of those whose livelihoods depend on Woods playing golf, because they do not have that luxury. Yes, golf fans need Tiger back and will tune in in droves when that happens. It may be the greatest comeback since,well, Kobe Bryant's. However the real people who need him back are the little guys, the worker bees. It's always the little guy who gets hurt.
We should all keep that in mind next time we turn on or read the latest gossip. It may be fun to watch this train wreck, but it's painful to be the innocent one who was just riding the train.
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