Tiger Goes 3D

1. The Masters Through a Different Lens

If you're a golf fan, or more of a general sports fan, or just like being outdoors on a beautiful spring day in a place demonstrating the best Nip/Tuck job on nature man has ever achieved, then Augusta National in April is for you. Rae's Creek covering Muddy Waters? A little blue dye will do the trick. Azaleas not quite in bloom? Bring on the space heaters and blow dryers. Big celebrity looking worse for wear? Put him in a cozy interview room with five cameras, surrounded by friends, dressed in a sparkling good-guy white hat, a soft Easter egg pastel striped shirt, drinking pink lemonade.

If you're not one of the tens of thousands lucky enough or loaded enough to set foot on the grounds of Augusta National, 3D TV might just be an answered prayer for the Masters' armchair gallery. Amid the nauseating amount of tournament and Tiger Woods coverage this week, sports media execs may have found a use for the cutting-edge broadcast technology that goes beyond the gimmick, providing an experience that's truly the next best thing to being there.

Last week, cable giant Comcast (CMCSA) held a demo screening in New York for its planned distribution this week of the Masters in 3D specifically for home consumption. Industry analysts present at the screening claim the technology translates well to golf, due to the wide-open, outdoor setting of the sport and the noticeable variations in course topography. "This takes you to the place in a way that HD can't," Mark Hess, Comcast's senior vice-president for advanced business and technology development, was quoted as saying. "It's subtle, and you can really appreciate the elevation changes, the undulations." Six of the course's back nine holes will be shot in 3D, including Amen Corner.

Comcast is planning to offer the Masters 3D content to subscribers for two hours each day from Apr. 7 through Apr. 11, alongside Cablevision (CVC), Cox, Time Warner Cable (TWC), and select Canadian and European cable providers. Most in-home viewers can access the 3D technology through those inexpensive sunglass-type lenses, although some manufacturers are offering 3D-enabled models that utilize an active-frame "shutter" technology that doesn't require the glasses.

How many people actually have 3D TV sets in their homes? According to Information Week, global 3D television shipments should number about 4.2 million units this year, with revenues of $7.4 billion. By 2015, that number is estimated to drive all TV sales and rise to 78 million units, with corresponding revenues of $64.4 billion. (Total television sets in the U.S. are estimated to number 327 million.)

This week, however, Comcast expects 3D viewership to be "in the thousands." The company admits it doesn't yet have a full-fledged business model for the technology.

If you can't watch the tournament in 3D and are in fact stuck at work, the elegantly redesigned Masters.com site and CBSSports.com will run about 86 hours of live online video throughout the tournament, an increase of about 50% from 2009. Since live tournament coverage on ESPN doesn't begin until 4:00 p.m. Eastern on Thursday and Friday (the lone exception being that Augusta National has agreed to let ESPN televise Woods' first tee shot live at 1:42 p.m., playing alongside K.J. Choi and Matt Kuchar), the online option will likely be your next best thing to being there.

And if you weren't able to watch Tiger's press conference on Monday, the numerical snapshot looked something like this: 206 media were issued tickets for the room, and as could be expected, male reporters outnumbered their female counterparts about 10 to one. Only three of the 34 questions asked in approximately 34 minutes were asked by female journalists, but they were the most hard-hitting questions of the bunch, covering Woods' relationship with alleged HGH-pushing doctor Anthony Galea; whether Elin Woods would attend the Masters; whether Tiger in fact would be better off elsewhere, working on his marriage; and whether he would keep his business team intact. Not once in the 34 minutes did s-e-x come up. All in all, it was a press conference presented in soft focus.

2. The Masters: What's in Store?

Has Woods' newfound infamy actually boosted his merchandise sales? While the aforementioned soft pastel striped shirt is not yet available through Nike's (NKE) online Tiger Woods Collection catalog, similar shirts are selling at $90 each, and Nike expects a return to brisk sales of Woods' Thursday-to-Sunday Masters wardrobe.

Nationwide retailer Golfsmith is reporting an 8% rise in sales of Woods-branded Nike Golf products from Oct, 1 to Mar. 13, despite Woods' temporary retreat from the game during much of that period. According to releases put out by the company, Golfsmith sold 9,564 Woods-branded products, compared woth "8,855 items during the same period … last year." The biggest category was hats with the TW logo, whose sales grew 24%.

Are women, the bedrock of the retail industry, still willing to buy Tiger-branded merchandise for the golfer in their lives? Most retail analysts queried said they don't think the scandal has really hurt Woods' retail sales, and other golfers are being promoted more strongly to fill the void. Callaway, for example, has stepped up its promotion of spokesman Phil Mickelson and is even offering full refunds for three of its new drivers purchased from Mar. 12 to Apr. 7, should Mickelson win the Masters come Sunday.

This week, EA Sports (ERTS), appropriately timed, releases Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online, the company's first major push into interactive browser-based video gaming. The game, accessible at tigerwoodsonline.ea.com, includes free play or subscriptions priced at $9.99/month and $59.99/year. EA's more comprehensive Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2011 game is scheduled for release in June.

While all of Woods' sponsors hope to benefit from the golfer's return this week—even Gillette and others still on the fence about when the right time is to reintroduce him to their ad campaigns—a Masters win, or even a strong showing, could make new sports and nonsports brands alike look closely at an alliance with him, since millions of eyes worldwide will likely follow his every move for some time to come.