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Tiger Woods's Timing Is Perfect for Turner's Pay-Per-View Event

Eben Novy-Williams
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 23: Tiger Woods of the United States plays his shot from the 11th tee during the final round of the TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club on September 23, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) Photographer: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images North America

Tiger Woods’s first tournament win in five years is good for the television networks that carry PGA Tour events -- and perhaps even better for the media company pushing a new model for the sport.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, Woods and longtime rival Phil Mickelson will play a head-to-head round for $9 million, sold as a pay-per-view event by AT&T Inc.’s Turner Sports. It’s uncharted territory: The pay-per-view model is used almost exclusively by fighting sports. Turner is banking on the strength of the individual celebrities, and their rivalry, to convince millions of fans to open their wallets.

Selling the showdown just got a whole lot easier. Woods’s victory in the final individual tournament of the season dominated sports media on Sunday. Ratings for the event more than tripled over last year, with Woods’s final round outdrawing any round from this year’s British or U.S. Opens. Celebrities of all sorts -- from President Donald Trump to Olympian Michael Phelps -- took to Twitter to offer their support.

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“We’re lucky,” said Craig Barry, Turner Sports’s chief content officer. “It’s already a super interesting competition because it’s Phil and Tiger, but coming off a monster comeback and win like that, it becomes even more compelling.”

The experiment will be watched carefully across the golf world. The sport’s premier events are typically broadcast on network television, free to watch across the U.S. No one knows whether golf fans will pay to watch this round.

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The price hasn’t been revealed, but Barry said Woods’s win wouldn’t change the pricing.

The victory will also likely help Turner sell sponsorships for the one-day event. There will be no commercials during the telecast, and Turner is offering corporate sponsorships that will be integrated into the telecast.

Woods fought back tears shortly after the victory, the 80th of his PGA Tour career. In addition to public scandals, he’s spent large parts of the last decade battling various injuries. As recently as last year he said he couldn’t sit, walk or lay down without excruciating pain in his back and leg. “I didn’t know I’d be able to do this again,” Woods said Sunday.

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Woods’s redemption will feature heavily in the promotion and production of his showdown with Mickelson. Promotion for the event is set to begin in early October, with a lead-up that features the full breadth of AT&T’s newfound media muscle (the telecom giant’s recent $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc. included HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner Broadcasting). HBO will have coverage leading into the match and Turner’s Bleacher Report will also have behind-the-scenes content. The event itself will be sold over AT&T’s two pay-TV services, DirecTV and U-verse, plus Turner’s new sports streaming service B/R Live.

Between now and then, Woods will play in the Ryder Cup, golf’s biennial team tournament between athletes from the U.S. and Europe. Woods flew to Paris with the U.S. team just a few hours after his final putt on Sunday. Asked about the celebration on that flight, Woods smiled, considered his answer, and said: “That’s going to be fun.”

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