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ESPN to launch all-Tiger channel

ESPN has announced it will launch a “Tiger-only” channel for next week’s British Open from Royal Liverpool in England. Seems like a brilliant move, considering the lackluster ratings for the first two majors of the season and the Players Championship, all of which were missing Tiger while he recovered from back surgery. Weekend ratings for this year’s Masters – missing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson - were the lowest since 1957, according to Sports Media Watch. The U.S. Open saw a 46% decline from the previous year and ratings for the final round of the Players Championship were down 54% from last year.

So will ESPN3’s Tiger feed make up for the lost time viewers have had with Tiger so far this year or will it just siphon more viewers away from the main broadcast?

Yahoo Finance’s Jeff Macke and Jon Najarian, former Chicago Bear and co-founder of optionMONSTER.com think it’s a smart move for ESPN and its parent company, Disney (DIS).

“There’s no doubt [Tiger Woods] still has an impact on golf,” says Najarian. “I think ESPN’s wise to offer this… I think it will actually increase viewership.”

The impact of Tiger’s absence has spread far beyond TV ratings. The biggest name in the game – even when he’s not at his best – has widespread appeal and his absence has impacted even sales of golf equipment.

“You can take it all the way down to Dick’s Sporting Goods,” according to Najarian. “Everybody had complained about Tiger being gone or at least not on the winner’s podium. You certainly see a drop off in sales of virtually everything.”

Najarian says ESPN’s decision to create a Tiger network is a great experiment and if it works, this move could translate into similar moves for sports other than golf.

“I won’t be surprised to see this experiment result in sideline cams and different angles that you could take for different big games that they’re putting on.”