The Fallen Hero: Could Cyber Sports Make Tiger Woods The Last Of A Breed?
Tiger Woods is back. And it’s safe to watch the PGA Tour again. At his own tournament this weekend in the Bahamas, the Hero Challenge, Woods showed enough traces of the greatest golfer ever with a sizzling 65 in Round Two and a respectable fifteenth-place finish overall. This after missing almost two full Tour seasons.
And that was enough for fans, sports broadcast executives and the tabloid press. Who cared if his game isn’t sharp (he put up a 76 Sunday) or that other players now can out-drive and out-putt him at a major. Hell, his hair is in steep decline. But for people who love golf or just the drama of sports, none of that mattered. He was, briefly, the man who conquered the field.
His extended absence has been a trying time for everyone involved. TV ratings still soar when he steps on a course. Despite a posse of new, dynamic international stars, no one moves the needle like Eldrick Woods. Sponsors still salivate to get his name on their product.
Now he’s back on his own terms to give it one last swing at the glory of Jack Nicklaus' record for majors in a career.
As everyone knows, Woods’ march to greatness was sidelined by a body that broke down and a marriage that broke up. Because he carried the hopes of so many in golf and sports broadcasting, the loss of such a charismatic figure has been palpable for ratings and revenues.
But that is the fickle nature of pro sports. Even the great Tiger gets hurt. He’s human. Accept it.
Still, you can just hear PGA Tour officials and network programmers lamenting, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just have stars who didn’t break down physically or emotionally? Who could go on for decades? And who wouldn't make huge salary demands?” IOW, a perfect Tiger Woods.
That day may be here sooner than we think. The nexus of virtual reality and the entertainment industry is already upon us. And it might render irrelevant human stars such as Woods.
The lawsuits that began with U.S. college athletes suing for unaccepted use of their image in virtual-reality games such as EA Sports (http://www.ncaa.org/about/resources/media-center/press-releases/student-athlete-likeness-lawsuit-timeline ) have been a serious drag on both leagues and software producers. How to balance the need for realistic game experiences for consumers with the copyright protection of the stars on which they're based?
The solution is to create stars who never need a salary bump, who never get hurt and who can be promoted for a decade or disappear overnight with no salary cap implications. Virtual reality players created by software firms to produce the greatest combination of excitement and reliability. Who can play whenever and where ever the consumer wishes.
For aging Boomers, there will always be the argument for the human element in pro sports, the unpredictability of real people playing games. But now there is also the concern for the health of athletes playing violent games such football or hockey. Futurist Malcolm Gladwell famously predicted the demise of the NFL(https://theringer.com/bill-simmons-malcolm-gladwell-future-of-the-nfl-b6e14a14124#.dm8czzuzw) because it might become too violent; a player might actually be killed in play.
As it diverges from their own experience fans might drift away. Or leave the game to the UFC’s adrenaline junkies.
We do know that millenials have shown they have no great loyalty to the established sports outside of a few superstars. The worship of the team crest handed down by their fathers is weakening. One of the reasons for the drop in TV ratings for the NFL (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/will-the-nfls-ratings-drop-throw-media-companies-for-a-loss/) and consumers cutting cables (http://www.businessinsider.com/espn-bleeding-subscribers-2016-5) is the willingness of young people to accept different formats and sources for their entertainment.
With the technology improving quickly for goggles or helmets (http://www.wareable.com/headgear/the-best-ar-and-vr-headsets ) fans could forgo the hassle of cable fees or the trip to the stadium in favour of cheering your own team from your sofa. To enhance the experience, fans could choose a unique sightline in the stadium as if they were watching from their own seats. Or they might organize their own league and teams, replete with indestructable cyborg stars..
Nothing is likely to completely replace the Super Bowl or Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. But there are many options to fill the fun gap below using new technologies. Younger generations are already accepting them
Who knows, Tiger’s own two kids might render him redundant someday of their own tablets. The one-time golfing machine replaced by a machine-generated image ofd his own kids’ virtual reality goggles. Tell that to the old folks, and they probably won’t believe you.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy. Bruce is the host of podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. His career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster at CBC, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald and the Globe & Mail.