With the recent conclusion of and subsequent television ratings report for the 2010 British Open, one thing is for certain: professional golf is a sport highly effected by who is winning tournaments (or, more importantly, who isn't winning). Regardless of what golf fans, media experts, or sports journalists try to convince fans otherwise, the proof that golf could be in trouble is in the numbers. Or is it?
Let us look at golf television ratings and sponsorship dollars as they pertain to the current status of golf fandom. From a solely economic standpoint, professional sports can be viewed as a rather inelastic "good" or "service" to the target consumer population. In other words, no matter how much the Dallas Cowboys or New York Yankees charge for a ticket to one of the team's games, the demand of these tickets will not decrease by any large percentage. Therefore, due to this inelasticity, corporate sponsorships are wise to dress these players in clothing with their logos and decorate stadiums with corporate ads since a rather predictable number of consumers will always attend these sporting events. As of late, the same can be said for professional golf.
However, it appears that this trend may be changing. For example, with television viewership for the Open Championship being lower than it has been in over 20 years, a couple conclusions could be drawn even if you had no idea who won the tournament:
1) A Top 10 player in the World Golf Rankings did not win, nor did they have a chance to win.
2) The tournament leader did not change often (if at all) during the course of the final rounds.
As a result of these assumptions, another conclusion can be drawn: less people saw the commericals/corporate advertisements on the specific channel providing tournament coverage. Furthermore, sponsorship dollars did not go to as good of use as they could have been had a Top 10 player won the Claret Jug.
If this is true, then a lesser-known player can literally change the elasticity of demand of an entire golf tournament. On the other hand, one can also suggest that the poor play of higher-ranked players lead to the same result, at least in terms of this one specific tournament.
The point is this: when the top players in the world begin to falter, their marketability also lessens from a direct cause and effect standpoint. Corporate sponsorship must then head back to the drawing board and somehow find a new player to grasp on to with the hopes that golf fans will find interesting enough to watch this new player on television. With any luck, this player can string together a number of tournament victories, thus increasing the value of said player by also increasing the transpiracy of his or her sponsors. However, corporate sponsorship is lazy and does not like to jump from player to player.
Therefore, the burden of risk falls back onto the shoulders of us: the fans. Simply put, Tiger and Phil have opened the world up to professional golf unlike the sport has ever seen. Jack, Arnie, and others had their fans, however not to the extent and marketability that today's top players have. With any luck, players of the calibar and marketability of Fowler, Kim, and McIlroy will be able to keep the attention of fans across the globe for the next decade.