Tiger's Return Will Shatter Rating Records

1. Tiger's Back! In 3D!

For the Masters, the highest-ever television ratings to date came in 1997, when up-and-comer Tiger Woods' first victory under the Augusta National pines earned a final-round 14.1 rating and drew 15.8 million people to their not-yet-HD sets to watch him.

For this year's highly-anticipated media circus masquerading as a golf tournament Apr. 8-11, media analysts are predicting that ESPN's Thursday coverage and, if Woods is in contention, CBS' (CBS) final round Sunday could put up NFL-caliber numbers in the 16-19 rating range. After all, an estimated 20 million people tuned in last month to watch all or part of Woods' televised public apology.

And in keeping with 2010's hottest tech trend, some of the coverage will be in 3D.

Unlike the grounds at Augusta, where hecklers are swiftly removed, their badges yanked forever, no one in the digital world will care whether or not a large swath of viewers are tuning in just to root against Tiger—ESPN and CBS will welcome all comers, even those (likely women) fervently hoping the golfer will fail. New pairs of eyes are attractive to sponsors, even if those eyes come with an angry glint.

Heightened Buzz

Local CBS affiliates stand to gain more from a last minute surge in advertisers than do the CBS network and ESPN, for whom ad inventory is extremely limited. Executives at Baltimore's WJZ-TV Channel 13, the CBS affiliate there, say interest in sponsoring the Masters has spiked since Woods announced his planned return, and while the station is already pacing ahead of its sales goal, the announcement created a new level of buzz. Likewise, ESPN should gain from ad sales during Sportscenter highlights bookending the Masters coverage; industry analysts expect ads to sell for 50% or more than what's normally charged for a slot during the show. Even the Golf Channel's ancillary coverage of the event is now expected to experience a ratings increase of 20% to 25% from last year, according to the Associated Press.

Since the first two rounds of the Masters are workday events, online partners also stand to benefit as employees do everything they can to sneak a peek. More than 50 hours of live HD video will be streamed at AT&T Fan Zone, for example, thanks to a Webcast deal AT&T (T) just struck with AEG Digital Media.

And before this year, the closest the green jackets at Augusta National got to "multidimensional" was adding light beer to the lunchtime array of cola and lemonade. Last week, club officials announced that 10 hours of action from the 2010 Masters will be shown in 3D, marking the first major live sporting event to be produced in that format specifically for in-home consumption. Sony is backing the effort, Comcast serves as the distribution partner, and IBM (IBM) will continue its longtime role as the Masters' technology partner.

In upcoming columns, we'll focus on the on-the-ground implications of Woods' return to Augusta.

2. March Madness: Brackets and Racquets

If you thought early exits by Kansas and Villanova from the NCAA tournament were shocking, here are more startling figures for you: Over the past decade, CBS has generated $4.6 billion in NCAA Tournament ad revenue. The network's tourney success also is carrying over to its online platform, where March Madness on Demand will bring in about $37 million in Internet ad sales, up 20% from last year.

Between the parallel lines of tennis, the East-West power duo of Sony Ericsson and BNP Paribas (BNPQF:US) tournaments are clearly creeping up on tennis' slams as must-go, must-watch events. Tournament executives in Miami and Indian Wells call the connection between the Paribas and the Sony events "the March Madness of Tennis," drawing a combined 600,000 people (the just-completed BNP Paribas Open drew a record 339,657 fans) and producing hundreds of millions in regional economic impact. This year's "Hit for Haiti" fund-raiser in Indian Wells also generated 2.3 million YouTube views and a guaranteed $1 million contribution (including the Oracle match).

While the BNP Paribas and Sony (SNE) exchange "best practices" information all the time, and the similarities are obvious, the Sony tournament draws a much heavier Latin American audience (from Brazil, Columbia, etc.), a trend that tennis broadcasters are following with great interest.

Orange Effect

Bouncing back to basketball, communities hosting early round games are definitely seeing a positive impact from energized fans. In upstate New York, the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau estimated the economic impact from the games at well north of $5 million, boosted when the Syracuse Orangemen were selected to play their first two games at HSBC Arena. San Jose expects to reap a $20 million windfall from its March Madness first- and second-round games, the fourth time the Bay Area city has hosted part of the men's event since 1997.

In Milwaukee, all of the 18,600-seat Bradley Center suites were full as local firms hosted events for employees and customers. Milwaukee tourism officials stated the event was expected to bring more than 20,000 fans to Milwaukee and generate more than $2.2 million in economic impact and 3,500 room nights.

In Houston, a local survey reveals that March Madness has more to do with auto traffic congestion than with traffic in the lane. Of the 14 host cities across America, Houston has the longest persistent traffic jam during its tourney turn, averaging 8.5 miles every day on Texas Highway 6, according to TomTom.

3. Beyond the Box Score Hits Bookstores Nationwide

It may not have taken as long as the Democratic Party's decades-long quest to bring health care to all Americans, but at times it certainly felt like it. After three years, 82 interviews, and countless hours of intensive research, our new book, Beyond the Box Score: An Insider's Guide to the $750 Billion Business of Sports, published by Morgan James, hits bookstores and online booksellers in broad-scale distribution this week.

Beyond the Box Score is the first comprehensive look at how the ever-growing professional sports industry really works. To a great extent, the casual fan is kept in the dark about to what degree this "pastime" is an incredibly complex multinational operation on a par with the biggest Fortune 100 companies. Beyond the Box Score is our attempt to turn that light on.

What are the real components driving this multibillion-dollar industry? How does the Super Bowl shape every other event on the sports calendar? Who are the alpha team owners—and who are just second-generation followers? How do $1 billion ballparks get built? Who designs them? What affects the price of your ticket, how you take in a game, what you see on Sports Center? Why did free agency change every aspect of the games? Via dozens of interviews with sports industry leaders, we take an in-depth look at the beyond-the-scenes drivers controlling the fan experience, affecting fans' perceptions of what happens on the field of play.

With a foreword by former National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Beyond the Box Score focuses primarily on pro football, basketball, baseball, and Nascar—the biggest revenue-generating segments of the sports industry. The book also contains examples, illustrations, case studies, lists, and compelling facts from all sports as they are relevant and contribute to the main themes and body of knowledge.

Exclusive Q&As with the sitting commissioners of top professional sports—Roger Goodell (NFL), David Stern (NBA), Gary Bettman (NHL), and Brian France (Nascar)—add these influencial people's personal insights.

We hope you'll relish the insights found in Beyond the Box Score as much as you do the thoughts we put forth each week in this column. If you want to check it, please visit www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.