U.S. Open ratings up this year despite downward trend

Devil Ball Golf
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/pga/players/12875/" data-ylk="slk:Brooks Koepka">Brooks Koepka</a> holds up the Golf Champion Trophy after winning the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Sunday, June 17, 2018, in Southampton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Brooks Koepka holds up the Golf Champion Trophy after winning the U.S. Open Golf Championship, Sunday, June 17, 2018, in Southampton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Brooks Koepka’s second march to a U.S. Open title drew slightly larger ratings than his first go-round, but ratings for what was once the sport’s second-most-popular major remain at historic lows.

What were the ratings for the 2018 U.S. Open?

Per Sports Media Watch, overnight ratings for Sunday’s final round on Fox came in at 3.6, up a touch over last year’s 3.5 but well down from previous highs. From 1989 to 2013, the U.S. Open’s final round had a rating of at least 5.0 each year, with marks of 6.1 in 2013 (Justin Rose edging out Phil Mickelson) and 8.5 in 2008 (Tiger Woods storming his way into a playoff). Since 2014, ratings haven’t topped 4.0.

There are, of course, multiple ways to spin statistics, and Fox noted that its numbers have grown each of the past four years:

Plus, as Geoff Shackelford notes, the Phil Mickelson putter-slap controversy and the wretched state of the course on Saturday afternoon proved to be good news for the Golf Channel, which recorded its best U.S. Open-related numbers of the past seven years:

Why do ratings matter?

Well, unless you shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars for the right to broadcast the U.S. Open, they really don’t have any impact on your life. The U.S. Open will always be televised somewhere you can watch it, and if you’re enjoying the tournament, it really doesn’t matter if you’re the only one watching.

That said, lower ratings can have a trickle-down effect, as broadcasters may shift lower-rated programming to other channels or try various methods of revenue trickeration (more ads, say, or more product placement within the broadcast) to recoup their investment. But if all you’re interested in is the play on the course, the ratings are a talking point, nothing more.

Why are the ratings so low in recent  years?

Well, therein lies an interesting tale.

It’s worth noting that none of the golfers were kneeling, which is the usual go-to for why ratings have declined in the NFL. No, golf has suffered the exact same fate as the NFL — more choices and more viewing options means fewer viewers for any one individual sport, regardless of how popular it once was. Ratings for all broadcast television — sports, entertainment, everything — are down by large, often double-digit figures over their high-water marks. There’s a whole textbook’s worth of explanation and rationalization behind all this, but the bottom line is simple: people have more options than just the U.S. Open on Father’s Day.

But golf also has a more direct cause for falling ratings, and it starts with a capital T. Think what you want about Tiger Woods and the state of his game, it’s indisputable that his absence has impacted the game’s overall ratings. No Tiger, no casual viewers. Of the last five U.S. Opens, Woods has played in only two … and both times, he’s missed the cut. That’s going to impact ratings, no matter what. (Woods’ opening round at this year’s U.S. Open, the first he’d played since 2015, brought Fox — surely not coincidentally — its best Thursday ratings in three years.)

As brilliant as Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson et. al. are on the course, they’re not bringing in huge ratings … and we’re now at the point where we have to consider these numbers the new normal.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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