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Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Where's Tiger? Advertised Woods a No-Show at Buick Open

To the disappointment of many, last week's Buick Open--a PGA Tour golf tournament held annually at the Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club in Grand Blanc Michigan--struggled to draw fans and failed to generate much business for local companies. Sally York of Michigan Live writes, "Empty bleacher seats, lots of parking and flat sales at local businesses have people wondering why the turnout at this year's Buick Open was lower than usual, despite nearly perfect weather."

Some blame the sluggish local economy, others attribute the struggles to an unusually large number of people on vacation this year.

But there is another reason that may be more explanatory: neither Tiger Woods nor Vijay Singh, the world's first-rated and sixth-rated golfers, respectively, played. Woods's wife, Elin Nordegren, gave birth to their first child two weeks ago, while Singh's elbow is injured. So the big draws weren't there, and that seems like a very plausible reason for fewer folks showing up.

But say you bought a ticket to the Open (which are non-refundable and which range in price from $15 to $35 a day) because you wanted to see the world's greatest golfer play golf? After-all, you may have decided to buy the ticket after seeing one of the Open's ads--the one that prominently featured Tiger Woods. Over on CNBC's Sports Biz, Darren Rovell asks:
I wonder if anyone who bought tickets to the Buick Open this weekend could claim they bought it because of this ad from weeks ago and try to get their money back. It features Tiger Woods and Woods isn’t playing because of the birth of his daughter. It doesn’t promise that Tiger Woods will be there, but it also doesn’t say “Not guaranteed to appear” either. On an interesting note, the Los Angeles Galaxy have added David Beckham non-guarantees to its Ticketmaster site.
It's an interesting question, especially if people bought the tickets to see Tiger Woods and didn't care at all about the rest of the tournament. Considering that Woods is probably the greatest golfer of all-time, I am sure there are many people--and especially casual fans--who buy tickets to golf tournaments that feature Woods just to see him play.

For a number of reasons, however, I suspect that a court wouldn't be too receptive to compelling the Buick Open to refund those fans because Woods had to bail out. For one, many, if not most, fans were on notice that Woods was an expecting father. In fact, on May 21, he said that while he intended to play in the Open, the expected birth of his child was (obviously) his top priority, and that he would adjust his playing schedule to fit the needs of his family.

For another, those who bought tickets to the tournament, which featured over 100 golfers, bought tickets to the tournament; the tickets weren't to see Tiger Woods play golf, even if the tournament's organizers clearly knew, by virtue of their ad, that Woods was the tournament's most marketable player. As an analogy, one who buys a ticket to a Washington Wizards game to see Gilbert Arenas play cannot demand a refund if Arenas doesn't play in the game; the ticket was to the Wizards game.

Then again, say someone buys a ticket to see a popular band play, and its lead singer can't sing? Because the lead singer is essential to the event, often the concert is canceled and tickets are refunded, as opposed to proceeding with the concert and finding some other guy to sing the songs. But for a number of reasons, the concert example seems different than the tournament's best golfer not playing. What do you think?


The concert example with one band is inapposite. However, this could be analogized to a music festival. Let's use dear old Ozzy, perhaps, and say Ozzfest involves 25 bands over three days (so, uh, four golfers per band).

Would it be disappointing if Ozzy didn't show? Certainly, but with such a large field the attraction was less one single person rather than a large bundle of entertainment you might not get otherwise, even if by attending a festival or a (cough, cough) second-rate tournament you know that it's not necessarily going to be legendary sets from each band.

In fact, I'd argue that the loss of Tiger in this situation is actually blunted by the larger field. Contra a hypothetical limited scramble match or driving competition where he's featured prominently in a narrow field of 20 or so other golfers (the one-night concert where he's the headlining band). In that situation his presence is much more important. But in the expanded field, the larger value is of the breadth of the field.

This hypothetical is broken if we assume that Tiger is the sole, or majority, motivating factor of fan attendance. That's simply not true, although he is a huge draw. It may serve to be a good "out" for disappointed sponsors and promoters, but they should really be looking at the field of golfers who did show or the amenities offered by the tournament. (The prices seemed ultra-reasonable, though).

Blogger gorjus -- 7/03/2007 12:06 PM  

Had the promoters known Tiger was not playing, perhaps ticket purchasers could complain. I have a friend who got Tigers autograph just before the tournament. So clearly, Tiger *intended* to play, and there was no bad faith promotion in this event.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/03/2007 4:00 PM  

Perhaps this would turn on the consumer protection laws of the state of Michigan? Typical consumer protection laws involve a misrepresentation that induced a consumer to enter into the transaction. There is no good-faith or bad-faith exceptions, the question is just whether there is a misrepresentation.

I doubt whether a picture of Tiger on a poster could rise to the level of an affirmative representation, but perhaps it might be plausible? So, if it were deemed a representation, all that would matter is whether it turned out to be false.

Anybody know the status of consumer protection laws out there in Michigan?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/03/2007 6:32 PM  

ESPN's Terry Blount recently observed that NASCAR is unwilling to suspend drivers or racing teams for even the most serious rules violations, for precisely the reason Michael is getting at: NASCAR doesn't want to alienate fans who come to a race to see one particular driver, much less the sponsors of that driver, in the one week where that driver happens to be suspended.

Also, the NBA has been known to discipline coaches or even whole clubs for supposedly failing to field their best competitive team when the coach sits his star players in meaningless late regular-season games, to avoid serious injuries before the playoffs. (This practice, it should be stressed, is not the same animal as "tanking".) I recall the Chicago Bulls being fined for this on at least one occasion during the Jordan-Pippen era. In spite of the NBA's competitive pretense, undoubtedly the same principle applied: the league didn't want to disappoint paying customers, TV viewers or advertisers who were expecting to see the big stars in action.

So, it seems the policies regarding the appearance of star performers (either explicitly advertised or merely presumed) vary from sport to sport, and no doubt change with the times. In short, that's the business side of sport for you.

Blogger Joshua -- 7/04/2007 1:17 PM  

It's a PGA event. The most high profile golfer in the PGA is Tiger. It only makes sense for the PGA to use Tiger's image when advertising it's events. I think the majority of the spectators are sophisticated enough to understand that when you buy the ticket there is no guarantee that you will see any specific golfer. If you had tickets for the second day and tiger was cut after the first day you couldn't complain right?

Blogger Jimmy H -- 7/04/2007 4:31 PM  

Just ask us in Colorado about the "Tiger effect" on the International--cancelled after 20 years, only two or three times did Tiger show up, and none after 1998. I remember reading, the year before Tiger, that this was the fifth-highest-rated event on television for the Tour--only behind the four majors! Now, any event with Tiger in the field gets high ratings; no Tiger, lower ratings . . .

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/05/2007 2:58 AM  

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