2000: Marketers ‘covet’ upscale, savvy audience

Golf is so attractive to sponsors and advertisers because you have to have some money to play. And those who play largely are those who watch.

Unlike most sports – especially spectator events that enjoy good ratings – golf’s 27 million participants are the same people who watch on television and attend the events. Bowling, tennis and fishing draw their audience from participants as well, but they don’t enjoy the kinds of television ratings or large galleries that golf does.

“Golf delivers a predominantly upscale male audience between the ages of 35 and 64 with a good bit of disposable income,” said David Manougian, chief operating officer for The Golf Channel. “There are a group of advertisers who really want to reach that segment.”

Manougian should know. The Golf Channel was launched five years ago based on that premise. Advertisers and sponsors such as automobile companies and brokerage firms are able to target the specific audience that has the necessary income to purchase their products.

“It’s one of the few sports that permeates a lifestyle,” said Manougian. “There’s travel, instruction, you name it. It goes way beyond the competition on the course.”

According to the 2000 edition of the National Golf Foundation’s Golf Participation in the U.S., more than 65 percent of all golfers – defined as anyone who played at least once in the previous year – earned more than $50,000 annually. More than 38 percent earned better than $75,000, and more than 17 percent made in excess of $100,000 per year.

That is in line with golf’s television audience, which was polled by Nielsen and Mediamark Research in 1999. It showed PGA Tour events were watched by an audience with an average income of more than $60,000. Almost 51 percent had an average annual income of better than $50,000, and 15 percent of the viewers are in the six-figure income bracket.

Kevin Sullivan, vice president of communications for NBC Sports, adds one more thing. The golf audience is very knowledgeable and passionate about the sport, another plus.

“It’s a very upscale audience coveted by advertisers,” said Sullivan.

Of course, you can’t talk about the golf audience without mentioning the Tiger Woods factor. His biggest influence has been on the size of the TV audience and, of course, tournament galleries.

“The demographics are still basically the same as they always were, but there are just more of them now because of Tiger,” said Sullivan, noting that NBC still drew 53 million viewers during the weekend of the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach despite Woods’ double-digit lead. “People just want to see him hit the golf ball. When he’s in contention (during an early round), it’s worth a full point in the ratings, which is roughly a million households. When he’s in contention on a Sunday, it’s worth anywhere from 1.5 to 2 points in the ratings.

Rob Correa, senior vice president of programming for CBS Sports, said his data showed Woods affects the size and the demographics of an audience.

“The additional viewers Tiger is bringing in now are younger, which bodes well for the future,” said Correa.

Ratings for CBS golf events were up 12 percent from last year, said Correa. “And this is a market where if sports ratings remain flat, it’s considered a resounding success.”

Woods’ influence may be one of the factors that explains why there are some some differences between who watches and who plays. More than 80 percent of all golfers are male, but only 63 percent of golf’s TV audience is male. Nearly the same discrepancy exists between playeeres and tournament spectators, 61 percent of whom are male.

Larry Kahn, director of research for The Golf Channel offers a a couple of other explanations for why some people who don’t play the game watch golf. Larry Kahn, director of research for The Golf Channel, offers a few explanations why some people who don’t play the game watch golf. Some non-golfers who watch golf are former golfers who can still appreciate the difficulty and competition. Also, some viewers and spectators are spouses of golfers.

“There are sports fans out there who simply love to watch competition,” Kahn said. “And the drama in golf can be equal to that of other sports, perhaps even more compelling.”

Another difference between golf’s television audience and golfers is age. Average age of viewers is 48 and spectators is 41, while the largest segment of players is in its 30s, representing nearly 27 percent. The PGA Tour’s largest television audience is represented by the 65 and over crowd (22 percent), while less than 10 percent of all players are 65 or over. The Senior PGA Tour’s 65 and over crowd is even larger, representing 29 percent of all viewers.

Golfers and PGA Tour viewers also have similar occupations. More than 43 percent of golfers are in the professional/management/administrative category. That compares with just 15 percent of the U.S. population, according to the NGF study. About 25 percent of golf’s TV audience are professionals and administrators. Nearly one-fourth of golf’s television audience is retired and another 12 percent are unemployed, and just 13 percent of all golfers are either retired or unemployed.

Those who attend golf tournaments seem to fall in line demogragphically with those who watch it on television. According to a study, 86 percent of all 1998 PGA Tour spectators played golf. But spectators are even wealthier than viewers. More than 76 percent of the adult spectators earned more than $50,000 per year, and 27 percent had an annual income of better than $100,000.

Golf is more accessible than ever, but demographics of its participants, viewers and spectators show it’s still a bit of an elitist sport. For sponsors and advertisers, that elite class is getting larger, and that makes golf an attractive arena for their products and services.

Mike Bailey is a Houston-based free-lance writer.

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