Good for Golf: Evaluating the Asian Swing of the PGA Tour
While the average golfer’s season may be over, the PGA Tour has just begun the beginning of the 2019-2020 season. Professional Golf superstar Rory Mcilroy won the Fedex Cup at the Tour Championship in late August, and only two weeks later the new season began at the Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. The fall part of the PGA Tour season, often referred to as the “wraparound” season, usually does not get much play from established PGA Tour players, as established players usually begin their season at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, an invite only event based on tournament winners from the past season.
Due to the lack of play from fan favorites such as Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, and Jordan Spieth, in combination with play from new, unestablished players on Tour, viewership of these PGA Tour events has never been spectacular. While it may not help that the final rounds of these tournaments collide with NFL and College Football, the PGA Tour has been exploring ways to increase fall viewership. The establishment of the “Asia swing” of the Tour, with tournaments such as the CJ Cup in Korea, the WGC-HSBC Championship in Shanghai, and most recently, the ZOZO Championship in Japan, has been the PGA Tour’s strategy to appeal to the international audiences to increase viewership.
In September of 2018, Tiger Wood’s first win since his reconstructive back surgery meant record high television ratings for the PGA Tour, as the Tour Championship’s Final Round was up 164% in ratings and up 180% in viewers from the previous year. While these ratings can be attributed to what is known as “the Tiger effect,” as Woods is famous for drawing enormous viewership, the Tour Championship’s move to August in order to avoid competing with football season evidently paid off as the 2019 Tour Championship posted its second biggest audience in the past 10 years.
Unfortunately for the PGA Tour, the fall events and the Asian swing have never been particularly successful. However, the Tiger effect may have had an effect on the success of this change. Tiger Wood’s most recent win at the ZOZO Championship in Japan had viewership up 739% from the previous most watched Asia swing Tour event.
While Wood’s triumph in Japan only ranked 5th among cable sporting events that weekend, this is not something to worry about as a golf fan. While the PGA Tour is the most prestigious golf tour based on its purse sizes, the Tour’s implementation of the Asia swing is meant to help grow the game and reach international audiences. For the casual sports fan, the fall represents football season. Golf season for most viewers begins during the “Florida swing” in the spring, or may only include the four majors. The fall is not stereotypically a time for following professional golf.
The MGM Resorts Challenge Japanese Skins event played on October 21 included professional stars Tiger Woods, Hideki Matsuyama, Jason Day, and Rory Mcilroy. While many American golf fans were sleeping during this event as it took place in Japan, and it was not affiliated with the PGA Tour, this events purpose was meant to help push the game of golf into the hands of international consumers. While even the stars admit their quality of golf was not always great during this event, Japanese Skins served as an event in which an international audience could view these stars in a more laid-back environment. One hole included a challenge in which each professional played the entire hole with only one club and viewers could listen to these stars banter back and forth. While no official television ratings are included for the Japanese Skins event, and while the event was much different than a normal Tour event, the skins match served a purpose. A week before the Japan’s first PGA Tour event, the Japanese Skins event helped connect international viewers to a non-competitive tournament version of these athletes, fostering attachment to these golfers and increasing international viewership of the PGA Tour.
While the ratings for many of these fall PGA Tour events are not spectacular, their purpose is to continue to produce content for dedicated golf fans and international viewers. Golf should focus on their American audience during the Major championships and the spring season when the biggest names on Tour play. While the spike in television ratings as a result of Tiger’s win at the ZOZO Championship was good for the PGA Tour, golf should focus on using the fall part of the season as a means of connecting international fans.