For many years, golf viewership had stagnated. But fast forward to this decade and ratings are booming, programmers are energized, and there’s a feeling that momentum is building for even bigger and better things.
PGA Sees Ratings Boon
When Phil Mickelson made his push for history in the final round of golf’s PGA Championship back in May 2021, TV ratings soared. But as impressive as this moment was (from a ratings perspective), it wasn’t an isolated incident. It was simply another giant leap in the continued momentum of the sport.
During that Sunday, the CBS network coverage averaged 6.58 million viewers as Mickelson secured a two-shot victory to become the oldest major winner in golf history at the age of 50. In total, domestic U.S. viewership was up 27 percent compared to the 2020 edition of the tournament, which averaged just 5.1 million viewers in the final round of a coronavirus-delayed tournament.
According to CBS, the audience peaked at 13.05 million viewers between 7 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. Eastern time, which was during the time Mickelson sealed his victory on the final hole.
“Data compiled by Sports Business Journal shows that this year’s viewership was also up on the last time the PGA Championship was held as normal in 2019, when final-round coverage on CBS averaged just over five million viewers,” reporter Sam Carp writes.
This year’s PGA Championship final round ratings were the highest in three years. However, they weren’t quite as high as the record, which came in 2018 when an average of 8.47 million people watched Brooks Koepka beat out Tiger Woods.
Two months prior, in March 2021, the final round of the PGA Tour Players Championship averaged 4.59 million viewers with peak viewership hitting nearly 7 million during the 5:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time slot. Just three rounds during 2020 had more.
The fact that golf is thriving without the likes of Tiger Woods – who typically provides a boost of several million viewers – is good news for the sport. It indicates that, for better or worse, the PGA Tour can survive without its shiniest asset.
What’s Driving Higher TV Ratings
It’s difficult to point to any single factor for driving higher TV ratings, but if you zoom out and look at the big picture, it becomes clear that it’s a combination of positive elements. These include:
1. The COVID Bump
During the height of COVID, there was an astonishing 14 percent gain in the number of amateur rounds played. In total, nearly 36 million golfers played a round during the lockdown (many as a way to safely spend time outside and be active).
Those in the equipment industry also saw a surge in the number of golf-related purchases. This led to an increase in golfing equipment innovation – like the L.A.B. Golf Directed Force 2.1, which is helping thousands of amateur golfers gain strokes on the green.
Naturally, the increased popularity of playing golf has led to an increase in golf viewership. Experts believe this COVID bump continues to drive ratings.
2. More TV Options
Golf has always had a challenge with programming. In some tournaments, there are more than 100 individual players competing over nearly 12 hours. It’s impossible for programmers to show every single shot from every player. Or is it?
In some of the biggest tournaments – like the Master’s Tournament – online streaming is giving viewers the ability to watch any player hit any shot. This gives people more incentive to watch.
3. Plenty of Young Talent
Golf is a star-driven sport. The more stars you have, the more people tune in. And even as Tiger Woods fades into the background with injuries, there’s a host of young stars making names for themselves. This includes golfers like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson Dechambeau. (Speaking of the latter two, the ongoing “feud” between them has created a dynamic that the sport hasn’t seen in quite some time.)
Golf on the Rise
It’s unlikely that golf will ever attract the same TV viewership as football, soccer, or even basketball. However, it’s certainly experiencing its own fair share of growth. And at a time when other professional sports leagues are struggling to make their product more relatable and viewer-friendly, golf continues to elevate as a sport.