Which one of these sports luminaries is more important to their sport? There may not be an answer, but two fans debate the question anyway.
Tiger Will Always Be #1
Whether Tiger is hitting the ball into the rough, sand, water, trees, gallery, or maybe even the fairway, he’s the most compelling thing golf has to offer. No one really talked about Adam Scott winning the Bridgestone Invitational; all anyone cared about was Tiger’s return to golf, his new facial hair, and his feud with former caddy Steve Williams. Woods is the straw that stirs the drink, and it will be that way as long as he has a PGA tour card. Network executives openly say that they root for Tiger to compete because he can boost television ratings as much as 50%. Furthermore, although he will never admit it publicly, PGA tour commissioner Tim Finchem also roots for Tiger to appear in tournaments. Ticket sales and sponsorship money is down roughly 15-20% since Woods bounced his Escalade off a tree and fire hydrant that infamous night in November 2009.
As compelling as Serena’s outfits are, no one really cares about what she does on the court. How many people actually realize that Serena has more career Grand Slam titles than Billy Jean King? She can even win the next 10 majors, but that won’t stop women’s tennis from being less than an afterthought. Until someone with enough eye candy and celebrity like Anna Kournikova shows up again, no one will watch this sport regardless of what Serena does or doesn’t accomplish. Recently there was uproar about Woods being chosen as a captain’s pick for the American President’s Cup team by friend Fred Couples, especially considering his recent wayward play. I can’t even name 3 guys who would qualify for the team. Woods draws the casual fan, and the casual fan is what’s needed to bring in revenue. Tiger is far more important to his sport than Serena, and it’s not even close.
Serena is the Alpha Female
Women’s tennis is almost completely reliant on the Williams sisters. Serena has significantly surpassed Venus, so basically the sport fails without her. Since 2009, the only repeat Major Championship winner outside of Serena has been Kim Clijsters. Four complete unknowns winning the biggest tournaments is not good for business. Thankfully in that same time period Williams has won four Majors. I’ll be completely honest, women’s tennis is absolutely on life support, and the only thing that keeps the plug from being pulled is Serena. There are no compelling stories, no real rivalries, and no elite group like the men are privileged to have (Djockovic, Nadal, Federer, Murray). Outside of Williams, the field is pretty bare. Clijsters has all the ability, but she’s been a bit injury prone since returning from retirement. The current #1 ranked player Wozniacki really isn’t that great. She has really good movement and good ground strokes, but nothing she does is uber-elite. Sharapova is probably the 2nd most popular player outside of Serena, but she’s struggled with injury and inconsistently her whole career. This pu pu platter of “contenders” couldn’t carry the game while Serena was out rehabbing foot surgery in 2010, and no watches any of the matches they’re involved in now … unless they’re against Serena. Just for perspective, Williams missed over 12 months due to injury, is ranked 28th at the US Open, and is still the favorite to win the tournament. That’s how badly the sport needs her.
Golf can survive without Tiger. The PGA may not attract the casual fan as much without Tiger, but the sport is still thriving. The big tournaments, Ryder Cup, and President’s Cup still generate tons of revenue, the Golf channel is still on most cable carriers, and the famous courses have enough history and cache to carry a tournament. Not only can all the things about golf survive without Tiger, there still are enough stars to keep things compelling. There is young American Dustin Johnson, the up and coming Adam Scott, the next young prodigy Rory McIlroy, and of course Phil Mickelson is still one of the biggest stars in all of sports. Golf may need Tiger to be legendary, but it doesn’t need Tiger to stay significant. Women’s tennis needs Serena just to remain somewhat relevant. She is so much more important to her sport than Tiger Woods.