Thursday, December 17, 2009

Former Executive Director of the USGA, Frank Hannigan, sends email that rings true; Insider info on the media game

The life of Tiger Woods really has become an accident scene. On the one hand you want to avert your eyes, on the other hand you can’t stop staring. Having Doonesbury spend an entire week lampoon you pretty much means you have gone from being an iconic golfer to an iconic punch line.

I have an absolute case of Tiger-fatigue. And yet, as I sit here this morning I’m thinking, ‘how can I not write about him?’ Are readers going to be more interested in how thrilled I was last night when American University went to DePaul and won? Or do they want my thoughts on the Islanders beating the Rangers in Madison Square Garden and some of my memories of growing up as a kid in the blue seats at The Garden? (Section 406 was the ideal if you could tickets up there. In those days the cost was $4). I could write about the Halladay-Lee trade and just how good the Mariners might be next season with Cliff Lee and Felix Rodriguez at the top of their rotation two years after losing more than 100 games.

No. Like it or not the story on everyone’s minds is Tiger and, regardless of how Charles Barkley may feel, it isn’t going away.

The Doonesbury strip a couple of days ago in which Garry Trudeau had Tiger’s mistresses deciding to unionize was funny. A lot of what’s circulated on TV and on the internet is funny. Of course every time we laugh at this stuff we also pause to think about what Tiger has done to his wife and his kids and then it isn’t so funny.

Having said that, I got an e-mail last night from Frank Hannigan, who was once executive director of the USGA and, even though he is the world’s leading curmudgeon, is still one of the very smart voices out there on any subject but especially on golf.

Hannigan usually weighs in to list all the various crimes I have committed against journalism and golf and the fate of the world in general and this note was no different. As always, a lot of what he said rang true. He told me I should cool it with the notion that Tiger’s fall from grace is some kind of epic disaster for golf. He didn’t go the, “golf was around before Tiger and will be around after Tiger,” route (even though that’s true) but what he did say is that if golf’s revenues go down for a few years life will go on.

“So the 100th ranked guy on the money list makes $800,000 instead of $1,000,000 the next few years—so what?”—he wrote. He went on to say that while there was no doubt the “Tiger golf-fan,” might disappear in his absence or not be quite so enamored of him upon his return, the core golf fans would still be there and there are other guys out there who can play the game pretty well.

He’s right of course. Sure, it’s Tim Finchem’s job as commissioner to try to keep purses going up, sponsors happy and TV ratings high so that he can wheedle more money from the networks the next time the contracts are up. But let’s say none of that happens. So, purses go down and players are unhappy about that. What are they going to do, give up golf and go to law school? (That’s not a Hannigan line but it could be one). Some tournaments might go away and that would be too bad but the tour isn’t going to shut down.

As for the TV networks, well, Golf Channel’s deal runs for something like 11 more years and do you think CBS is going to give up The Masters because Tiger isn’t as beloved as he once was? (There’s a joke in there somewhere about Tiger’s life and ‘a tradition like no other,’ but I’ll pass on that).

Sports go through downturns. Baseball took a huge hit at the box office and in TV ratings after the strike of 1994 and 1995. It came back and flourished not long afterwards. When hockey shut down in 2005 people said and wrote it would never come back. It’s doing just fine—much better than pre-lockout as a matter of fact. Go back to the 1980s before Magic and Bird and no one—NO ONE—was watching the NBA. Even the all-powerful NFL has attendance problems these days. A story in today’s Washington Post reports that The Jacksonville Jaguars are down to 27,000 season ticketholders.

All those sports have survived crises, regardless of what caused them. Tennis is in crisis right now because it has been mismanaged for so many years and hasn’t had a real American star on the men’s side since Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi retired a few years back. In fact, going back to 1993 when I started researching, “A Good Walk Spoiled,” both my editor and my agent expressed some concern that the book might not sell that well because golf had no stars. Remember the term, “faceless clones?” That book, which mentioned Tiger Woods ONCE—a sentence about this teen-age phenom getting a sponsor’s exemption to play in Los Angeles—outsold, “A Season on the Brink.”

So, Hannigan—as usual—is right. If Tiger never plays again, golf will wobble but will be fine in the long run. If, as is far more likely, he comes back a tainted icon but still a great player, golf will take a hit, especially in the short term, but will be just fine when all is said and done.

Having said all that, I don’t know about all of you but I definitely have Tiger fatigue right now even though I know I can’t just say, ‘enough,’ because it is still the story everyone is talking about.

I said last week that I don’t mind radio and TVs calling because I’m flattered that they think what I have to say might matter. It is amusing when producers call and act as if they are the very first ones to come up with the idea of asking me to talk about Tiger. Even more amusing was an e-mail I got yesterday from a producer at CNBC. It began this way: “Hi John—I wanted to let you know about a great opportunity for you tomorrow…” The ‘great opportunity,’ was to go downtown to a studio and spend two or three minutes on-air after Finchem got through talking to the network.

I couldn’t resist. I wrote back and asked her exactly what this ‘great opportunity,’ was for me. She earnestly wrote back that I would be on CNBC’s, “highest-rated,” show and would have the chance to be the, “first person,” to comment on Finchem’s comments. I wonder if she actually believes this sort of stuff or just thinks people are dumb enough to believe it. Remarkably, I decided not to give up two hours of my day for this ‘great opportunity.’ To be fair, she isn’t the first TV person—and no doubt won’t be the last—who has tried to convince me how fortunate I would be to be on their air.

I apologize for the digression. It’s just that after all these years of dealing with TV people (not all but many) I am still amazed by them. I’m not a fool. I understand that TV exposure helps sell books and that a lot of people think being on TV is absolutely the coolest thing one can do in life. I STILL have people come up and tell me how much they love watching me on ‘The Sports Reporters,” (which was great fun to do, especially when Dick Schaap was still alive) even though I haven’t been on the show in almost three years.

We are now almost three weeks into “As The Tiger Turns,” and each day I find myself shaking my head at something new. Yesterday it was Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, climbing out from under the rock he’s been hiding under since this began to put out a statement ripping The New York Times for saying that IMG was involved in setting up Tiger’s sessions with the Canadian doctor who apparently used HGH in treating people recovering from major injuries. The Times wrote the story after the guy was arrested at the Canadian/U.S. border carrying illegal performance-enhancing drugs. In the statement Steinberg took a swipe at all the media reporting on his client.

Steinberg needs to shut-up. Unless he wants to take a polygraph test and tell people what he knew and what he didn’t know and what he told Tiger to do and not do when all this started, he should climb back under that rock.

There’s quite a crowd hiding there right now. My guess is they will be there for a while. But, as Frank Hannigan points out, golf will still be played—without Tiger, with a tainted Tiger, whatever—but it will still be played.


Anonymous said...

Frank Hannigan is a voice of reason. With regards to CNBC, nice miss. It makes Pravda look FOX news.

Richard said...

Other Accident Victims of Tiger Woods

Besides the obvious people who have and will continue to suffer because of Tiger's behavior (himself, his family, the Tour) are many men & women, husbands & wives, mothers & fathers and boys & girls who deserve better because of what they have given.

Who would these be? They are wounded members of the military and their families who benefited from Tiger’s financial and open concern and moral support to them.

Who loses when and, considering AT&T is evaluating their sponsorship, if his tournament returns to DC and the sponsors don’t support his philanthropic endeavors that benefit the wounded troops? What position will the military be in if he, once the world’s greatest known athlete now the world’s greatest known serial philanderer, want to use our county’s wounded as an apparent method of rehabilitating an image – an image that is now completely antithetical to the military ethos? Who loses? They, those who have given more than Eldrick "Tiger" Woods ever has, are the ones who lose.

Lastly, worse yet, as the “Tiger Woods image” shatters throughout the world before our eyes because of his actions, one must wonder whether his initial desire to aid the wounded, as well as his whole personal image, was fueled by nothing more by carefully crafting a personae to feed a narcissistic ego? Such a truth is one almost to nauseous to consider.

Rick Osial
Montclair, VA

Mark said...

Speaking just for myself, I certainly would have preferred if you had offered your insights on any of the following ...

- AU-Depaul
- Islanders-Rangers (replete with childhood memories)
- Halladay-Lee trade

Or how about that Army-Navy game?

Yes, I'm also suffering from extreme Tiger fatigue, especially when there is nothing new to report:

"So, Hannigan—as usual—is right. If Tiger never plays again, golf will wobble but will be fine in the long run. If, as is far more likely, he comes back a tainted icon but still a great player, golf will take a hit, especially in the short term, but will be just fine when all is said and done."

I guess you must have felt that statement couldn't stand on its own, so you ended your article by repeating yourself:

"But, as Frank Hannigan points out, golf will still be played—without Tiger, with a tainted Tiger, whatever—but it will still be played."

Yes, and the sun will continue to rise in the east, the BCS still sucks, and the Washington Post sports section had 6 separate items this morning on the Skins.

Some things are so obvious, you just don't need to bother.

Players can have off days, and so can writers. Not your best effort, John, even with the interesting tidbit about the CNBC producer.

charles pierce said...

It's not every day that you see CNBC -- the fanzine network for Masters Of The Universe capitalism -- accused of being a lefty plot.
Excuse me, conductor. Does this bus stop at 1962?

Michael said...

No more Tiger talk. Please!

I fast forward through the podcast now whenever Mr. Tony does a Tiger topic.

I would rather have read about AU-DePaul and Army-Navy than Tiger.

That said, something for you to consider. Child Protective Services was called to the Woods' house. They were called not for anything that Tiger did but for what Elin did.

Why is she being given a free pass on assault charge? She smashed his car and who knows what else. If the roles has been reversed, then we would have demanded Tiger go to jail as a wife beater.

Yet, her behavior is excused because... he cheated on her? To recap the argument: assault is inexcusable unless your assault stems from a philandering husband.

Very nice double standard we have instilled in this society.

JJ said...

I agree with Frank Hannigan, golf will continue on. Two thoughts...

1. It pains me to think that Tiger could/will pass Jack Nicklaus's record for majors.

2. Setting aside the pain this has caused Elin and their family( if it's possible to do so) I think deep down that Phil may be enjoying Tiger being knocked down a peg or 20.

Dana King said...

Kudos to Hannigan and to you for pointing out golf will survive quite nicely even if the worst case comes to fruition and purses suffer.

There's not a major sport in America that can't survive with somewhat less money; most might actually do better if they focused on the sport and less on chasing a buck.