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By SHARON GINN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 5, 2001
If you're wondering whether Tiger Woods is worthy of his megamillion-dollar endorsement deals, look no further than the 2000 sports television ratings.
Woods -- and the networks fortunate enough to show him play -- was the big winner in a year pockmarked by declining ratings and viewer apathy. Sports fans turned off the Olympics, the World Series and Monday Night Football in record numbers while tuning in to catch Tiger almost every time he played.
Ratings rose 9 percent in 2000 for PGA Tour events, including 12 percent on CBS, which carries the Masters and more tour programming than anyone else.
"I don't know if anybody could ever have predicted what would happen to golf, particularly in a year where flat ratings from year to year are considered excellent," said Rob Correa, CBS's senior vice president for programming. "For ratings to increase is considered just unbelievable."
Despite its MNF frustrations, ABC fared well with the Super Bowl, which received slightly higher ratings than 1999, and the Stanley Cup, which garnered 9 percent higher ratings than the previous year's championship on Fox.
Meanwhile, with the World Series in New York and the Olympics 15 time zones away, both events failed to meet ratings expectations. The World Series slid 23 percent from 1999 to an all-time low, and the Olympics fell 39 percent from 1996.
CBS's coverage of the NCAA men's basketball tournament slipped 6 percent to its lowest mark in 18 years, and the NBA, still looking for a replacement for Michael Jordan, saw regular-season ratings fall 21 percent. The Pacers-Lakers six-game NBA final had 3 percent higher ratings.
Jordan's heir, of course, is playing on the PGA Tour, where no one has to worry about ratings plunging soon.
"I don't think interest in Tiger Woods is going to wane for a long time," Correa said. "Up to this point, Tiger dominating a golf tournament is still very appealing. If he continues to dominate, who knows, he may go from hero to villain without any of that being his fault. But he will still be watchable for a long time. There is no doubt American viewers love stars."
BOWL RATINGS: ABC started the year on a high note, earning a 17.4 rating and 26 share for Wednesday night's Orange Bowl/Bowl Championship Series championship game between Oklahoma and Florida State. (Each ratings point represents 1.022-million households.) That's 4 percent higher than the 2000 championship game, Florida State's victory over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. The Florida-Miami Sugar Bowl on Tuesday night drew a 13.0 rating and 21 share, 35 percent better than the 2000 Fiesta Bowl (Nebraska/Tennessee), which was played Jan. 2.
CHANGING CHANNELS: Time Warner cable systems shuffled their lineups a bit this week, moving ESPN2 to Ch. 28 in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and parts of Citrus counties in order to group it with ESPN (Ch. 27), a spokeswoman said. Sunshine Network moved to Ch. 31 in all those areas except Pinellas, where it was on that channel.
"LIFE" AND "GLORY": ESPN has created ESPN Original Entertainment, a multimedia division the network says will produce a new style of programming. Its newest project is ESPN The Magazine's The Life, a weekly series that debuts Jan. 13 and will focus on athletes' off-the-field lives. The division also produces the game show 2-Minute Drill and plans to make original movies. ... Fox Sports Net debuts Beyond the Glory, a weekly hourlong documentary series, at 8 p.m. Sunday. The first episode will profile Deion Sanders.
QUOTABLE: "That confidence and enthusiasm just kind of drips all over everybody, and it's dripped all over this team." -- ABC play-by-play announcer Brad Nessler on the impact coach Bob Stoops and his staff have had at Oklahoma.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.