Can Tiger’s Inevitable Decline be Good for Golf?

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By James Neary

This past weekend at the Open Championship, we were able to see Tiger sniff a major victory for the first time since the same tournament in 2013. It seems the entire spectrum of golf fandom clung to our TVs and Twitter feeds to ceremoniously welcome the king back to his rightful place as ruler. But as Tiger made his turn onto the back 9 Sunday in Carnoustie, the inevitable reality of his decline took hold in our minds again. A full-on Tiger comeback would in no doubt be spectacular for Golf in the short, and probably even long term, but in this article I explore the opposite vantage point. Assuming Tiger has begun his descent, rather than continued his ascent, into the history books, I elaborate on the opportunities this case study offers the golf industry.

What the golf world has undergone throughout Tiger’s woes can very easily be likened to an economic recession. Sports Media Watch has a useful table detailing final round viewing tallies from all 4 major tournaments over the past 30 years, found here. As you can see, the numbers coming this year from Tiger’s cumbersome resurgence do show a pretty solid uptick from recent years, but they barely reach over 50% of what they were during his peak. His first major win, the 1997 Masters blowout, marked the beginning of a massive bull run for the golf industry. Every. single. one. of the high-end view counts, in every major, came between that tournament and the 2009 PGA Championship, just a few months before Tiger’s infamous Thanksgiving Day, affair-revealing, career-spiraling crash. Tiger’s dominance in that time period pushed the industry into a new era. After such a sudden downfall of such a massive star, it’s easy to understand why the industry has struggled to recover in the following years. Since 2009, golf’s path has been one of desperate contention. Multiple young and rising stars have attempted to take the torch from Tiger, yet the entire industry seems to be pining for a comeback of unimaginable proportions. I would argue this contention is understandable and predictable, and while golf transitions into the post-Tiger era, there arrive abundant opportunities for expansion and development never before seen in the game.

Economies, industries, businesses, financial entities of all types undergo periods of fluctuating growth and shrinkage. While the pull-back golf has seen during the past 10 years may seem drastic and even dangerous, the viewing numbers at their lowest point are right on par with what they were prior to Tiger’s dominance. Obviously, TV viewership isn’t a pure indication of popularity or economic health in the sports entertainment industry, but it’s a pretty standard candle. I do argue, however, that TV viewership does hold more weight in golf, due to the nature of the season and championships. Having practically every player be present on the course during the TV broadcast, yet having talent disproportionately skewed towards one player, sets the industry up for disaster once said player succumbs to injury or scandal. Tiger’s decline puts the world of golf in a position to welcome a greater abundance and distribution of superstar caliber players. Having the industry’s premium talent distributed more evenly amongst the top players will provide much needed stability in the long run. In this scenario, if number 1 doesn’t show up to a tournament because of a bum knee or exposed mistress, you can be damn sure numbers 2 and 3 will be there to put take advantage. With Tiger dominating the 2000’s like he was, there was nobody there to support the industry as a whole upon his collapse. Now, as his decline from the upper echelon continues, golf is able to more effectively distribute its talent and ratings power throughout the top of the rankings to provide insurance for another Tiger-like catastrophe.

In addition to the new support system golf can establish upon Tiger’s decline, there lies another opportunity golf has sorely missed out on thus far: expansion and diversification. We’ve seen the NBA do it in China and Europe, soccer do it in America, the NHL in the southwest, alongside countless others. Entertainment industries without an eclectic and diverse audience continually fall behind. We’re seeing this playout in real time as post-steroid era Major League Baseball struggles to keep up with the rapidly growing popularity of lacrosse among youths in America and Canada. MLB’s fan base and youth programs were disproportionately concentrated in a single demographic, and suffered as another sport ate up some of its market cap. Although Tiger was the first non-white player to ever win the Masters, having all that talent, power, and potential locked up in one individual obviously dampens diversification. There’s no doubt that Tiger’s rise had an immensely positive impact on the relationship between minorities and golf, but you cannot deny that the concentration of power in him proved incredibly difficult for golf to grapple with upon his descent. His decline will allow more golfers from different backgrounds and cultures to compete for the number 1 spot in golf, and that could do wonders for the industry in the long term.

Overall, Tiger’s reign at the top of golf has been unprecedented, and is likely never to be forgotten. For more than 10 years, nobody came close to this guy. Then, practically overnight, he entered a downward spiral which, until recently, seemed impossible to pull out of. We all hope Tiger will bless us with a thunderous Sunday at some point in the near future. But if that never comes, there remains a silver lining for the golf industry. Being able to more evenly disperse the premium talent among the top players on the tour will provide greater security for both the players and the future in the long term. The decline of Tiger, and superstars in general, positions his industry to make unique and exciting revitalization efforts to restore the tour to its former glory.

 

Patriots Trade Brandin Cooks to the Rams

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Last season, the Patriots traded the 32nd overall pick to the New Orleans Saints for the speedy wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Cooks was being phased out of the Saints offense as the emergence of Michael Thomas proved that any wide receiver could succeed in that offense (which is pretty true) and that Cooks was expendable. The Patriots got a good season out of Cooks while the Saints used the 32nd pick acquired from the Patriots on Wisconsin tackle Ryan Ramczyk. Ramczyk was my top-rated tackle in that class and he did not disappoint, as he was very productive as the Saints’ starting right tackle. For the Patriots, Cooks had 65 catches for 1082 yards and 7 TD’s. Really good numbers considering how much the Patriots like to spread the targets around between what was a plethora of receivers even with the absence of Julian Edelman.

However the Patriots found themselves in a similar situation as to that of Chandler Jones a couple years ago. Jones had a year left on his contract when he was traded to the Cardinals for a 2nd round pick (which was used on Cyrus Jones, who has been a disaster in his first 2 seasons). The Patriots felt they wouldn’t be able to afford Chandler Jones so they felt like they ought to get something for him instead of letting him walk in free agency. This is the same situation with Cooks, as his contract expires after the 2018 season. The Patriots likely weren’t confident in their ability to re-sign him so they sent him to the Rams, who have a big need at receiver after the departure of Sammy Watkins in free agency. In exchange, the Patriots will receive the 23rd overall pick in the draft and a 6th rounder while also sending a 4th to the Rams with Cooks.

So what does this mean for both teams? Well for the Rams, it seems like they’re all in on the 2018 season. They made some big splashes this offseason, acquiring both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib at corner, signing Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle, and now trading for receiver Cooks. The Rams now have a receiving corp of Cooks, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Tavon Austin. Lots of speed at wideout. However they’re taking a risk investing in so many 1-year contracts. Cooks has 1 year left, Suh has 1 year left, Peters has 1 year left, and Todd Gurley may only have one year left if his club option isn’t exercised (which I can’t imagine the Rams not doing). So this all points to a big run at a Super Bowl in head coach Sean McVay’s second year as head coach. A Super Bowl win in 2018 would make McVay the youngest head coach ever to win the Super Bowl. However their draft prospects for this season take a hit, as barring a blockbuster trade they won’t have a first round pick for the second consecutive year and their first pick in 2018 isn’t until 87th overall, midway through the third round due to a trade made with the Bills for their second rounder.

As for the Patriots, a lot of people are saying this opens the door for them to make a run at ODell Beckham Jr. I’m going to put the breaks on that REAL quick. Beckham is a transcendent talent, sure, and the Patriots have 2 first rounders to offer the Giants, which is their minimal asking price. But Beckham doesn’t fit the Patriots culture. Now yes, the Pats have had success with “diva” receivers before…well, really they only had success with the one, Randy Moss. Beckham, like Cooks, also only has one year left on his contract and he wants to be the highest paid receiver of all time. There’s no chance the Patriots pay that so trading for Beckham doesn’t put them in any better situation than Cooks, only they’ll be out two first rounders.

So what do the Patriots do here? Well for starters, this puts them in a much better position to get a tackle to replace Nate Solder. Left tackle is the biggest hole on the Patriots roster right now, as La’Adrian Waddle is currently the guy. He couldn’t crack the Lions starting lineup, to think he can start for the Patriots is just laughable, no matter how good a line coach Dante Scarnecchia is. I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying UCLA’s Kolton Miller is most likely, as he compares favorable to the departed Solder and I’d have to say they’re not wrong. He is the 4th-rated tackle on my board, but he is the better fit for the Patriots amongst the three ahead of him (Texas’ Connor Williams, Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey, Pittsburgh’s Brian O’Neill). It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to see them go that route with the 23rd pick. It does create a little more intrigue with the 31st pick, though. Quite frankly, I don’t think the Patriots make the pick. The last time Belichick made two first round selections was 2012 when he took Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower. Now, both picks were home runs, but I don’t think this class is as strong as the 2012 one. I think they’re going to trade back a couple picks with a team that picks in the early 2nd round trying to get back into the first in order to build some draft capital.

So as a Patriots fan, I’m sad to see Cooks go. I enjoyed the threat he posed with his great speed and he was an exciting playmaker. But it was a necessary move to make for New England as they simply wouldn’t be able to afford him and now they have an extra first round pick for their troubles. Let me know what you think of the Cooks trade in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Evan Longoria Traded to the Giants

One of the most shocking moves of the offseason for me occurred while I was getting a haircut. I was sitting in a chair watching MLB Network while my mom took a razor to my luscious locks when I saw on the breaking news bottomline something different than the Zach Britton injury that had been steadily moving across all morning:

Rays Trade Evan Longoria to the Giants

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This was one of, if not the, last moves I expected to see when I was getting my haircut. Longoria is the face of the Tampa Bay Rays, and while it’s a very short existence for the franchise, he’s still the first guy you think of when you think about the Rays. Like what Ted Williams was to the Red Sox, or what Mike Schmidt was to the Phillies, Evan Longoria was to the Rays. Plus, there weren’t any rumors that this was a possibility. Longoria was under contract for another 5 years, so trying to get the most out of him before he hit free agency wasn’t really an excuse. But upon learning why he was being traded, things made a lot more sense.

Evan Longoria somehow was really enjoying his time in Tampa, which is something that is rare to come by. Not a knock against the city, I’ve been a few times and never had a bad experience. It’s just the conditions surrounding the organization that make things surprising that he was so content there. First of all, that stadium sucks. Tropicana Field is perhaps the biggest dump of a stadium I’ve ever seen, certainly the worst I’ve caught a game in. Plus, the Rays just don’t draw a crowd. Whether that’s because of the bad stadium or whatever other reason, people just don’t show up for Rays games. It’s pretty apparent when you see boatloads of empty seats in the crowd or when the opposing team’s chants drown out anything Rays fans do. It’s a team that’s going to struggle to compete on a year-to-year basis just because of the fact they can’t even draw fans when they’re competing for a World Series, so their payroll is always going to be at or near the bottom of the league so they’re rarely players in free agency. Yet for whatever reason, Longoria was content there. His being content was actually a driving force behind why this trade occurred.

Evan Longoria was set to gain 10-5 rights in April 2018. What are 10-5 rights, you ask? They only apply to players who have been in the Major Leagues for 10 years and have been with their current team for at least the last 5, hence the 10-5 name. Once you reach that mark, you can veto any trade you like. It’s a built-in trade clause from the most recent CBA, which rewards veterans for their loyalty to a team. Longoria was set to hit his 10th year in the Majors when opening day 2018 came around. If that were to happen, given his contentment with his situation, the Rays would never be able to trade him if they ever wanted to rebuild. He would have been in a similar situation to Giancarlo Stanton, who could essentially pick his destination, regardless of what the returning package might have been. So essentially, it was now or never for Tampa. Simply put, Longoria’s loyalty to the Rays was what got him traded.

Coming to Tampa Bay in the trade from the Giants is top prospect Christian Arroyo, who will likely replace Longoria at third base, veteran outfielder Denard Span, and pitching prospects Matt Krook and Stephen Woods. I know nothing about Krook or Woods except their barely within the Giants’ top 30 prospects. This was more about acquiring Arroyo than anything. Plus the Rays also sent some cash to San Francisco so that this trade doesn’t put them over the luxury tax. Arroyo was rushed to the Majors in 2017, failing to reach the Mendoza Line in limited action before returning to the Minors. Span had an ugly season, particularly in the field, as his -27 DRS was worst in the Majors at any position, next worst being Dexter Fowler at -18, a 33% dropoff between worst and second worst. I don’t know the specific details of Span’s contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up being one of those players that gets waived by the team that just acquired him to gain some sort of compensation, much like the Braves did by releasing Adrian Gonzalez immediately after acquiring him in the Matt Kemp trade with the Dodgers. Span is set to make $11 million in 2018 and $12 million in 2019 before becoming a free agent in 2020, so I’ve got to imagine the Rays would rather not pay that kind of money to a guy who hasn’t had a league-average WAR since 2014 (2.0), especially when they’re an organization that’s strapped for cash as it is. Quite frankly I’d be surprised if Span suited up in a Rays uniform in 2018.

As for the Giants, I had figured they’d be the favorites for Mike Moustakas’ services, as I noted in my free agent rankings, however the acquisition of Longoria effectively takes them out of the running. They’re trying to improve on what was potentially a fluky 2017 season where they tied with the Tigers for the worst record in the Majors and, thanks to a poorly-timed Pablo Sandoval walkoff home run in game 162, won’t even have the #1 pick in the draft to show for it, as that home run gave the Tigers the tie-breaker. So here is what a potential Giants lineup looks like with Longoria.

1. Gorkys Hernandez-CF

2. Joe Panik-2B

3. Buster Posey-C

4. Evan Longoria-3B

5. Brandon Belt-1B

6. Brandon Crawford-SS

7. Hunter Pence-RF

8. Mac Williamson-LF

9. Pitcher’s Spot

I can’t imagine the Giants are done making moves because that outfield is AWFUL. Two guys who would likely be in the minor leagues in any other organization and a past-his-prime Hunter Pence. They’ll need to make other moves if they hope to have a successful 2018 season and I think one guy they’ll set their sights on is Lorenzo Cain, formerly of the Kansas City Royals. Experts are projecting that Cain is going to command somewhere in the $80 million range for the life of his contract, which I would guess would be for five years, giving an average annual salary of $16 million, which should be within San Francisco’s budget. They may need to also look for a veteran that could come on the cheap, maybe somebody like Chris Young. But if the Giants go into 2018 with this lineup, I can’t envision them escaping the basement of the NL West.

As for the Rays, it looks like they’re all in on another rebuild because after the trade, their lineup looks like this:

1. Corey Dickerson-DH

2. Kevin Kiermaier-CF

3. Steven Souza-RF

4. Brad Miller-1B

5. Wilson Ramos-C

6. Mallex Smith-LF

7. Ryan Schimpf/Christian Arroyo-3B

8. Adeiny Hechavarria-SS

9. Daniel Robertson-2B

This has the look of a team that doesn’t anticipate to compete in 2018 and it wouldn’t shock me at all to find them in last place in the very competitive AL East.

That’s it for today’s blog. Let me know what you thought of the Longoria trade in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.