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November 25, 2008

Tim Finchem

JAMES CRAMER: Thank you very much, good afternoon, everyone. My name is James Cramer, I'm the vice president of communications for the PGA TOUR. I'd like to thank you for joining us on short notice this afternoon.
Earlier today the PGA TOUR policy board held a special teleconference to ratify changes to the FedExCup structure. Joining us on the line is PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem to discuss these changes and then take your questions. At this point I'd like to turn it over to Commissioner Finchem.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me just say happy Thanksgiving, everybody, and thank you for suspending a few minutes with us. This is just by way of an update today. The board today earlier in the day gave final approval to a number of changes for next year in the FedExCup. One major and several others.
By way of introduction, let me say to reiterate prior comments, we've been pleased with the first two years of the FedExCup. It's met our objectives across the board. Coming out of '08, that is to say, objectives meaning supporting our telecasts, creating season-long competition that has meaning for the first time. And certainly I think the first two years have been solid in terms of building the base for the future.
The biggest concern we had coming out of '08 was that Vijay managed against the odds to basically lock up the competition early on, which was not the intent. We had several minor concerns or lesser concerns. One was the extent to which the regular season is an important factor in terms of generating the top players moving into the final stages of the playoffs.
Another was whether or not the concern about whether or not we could make the system a little bit easier to understand from a points standpoint and a couple of other things.
But with that said, we set out to take some steps that would ensure that the playoffs build toward a climactic finish, and the FedExCup, indeed s decided at the Tour Championship presented by Coca-Cola.
We wanted to ensure that a significant number of players were in strong contention when we got to the Tour Championship to create an exciting week. We wanted to improve the likelihood that the regular season performances would get to the Tour Championship if they continue to play at a reasonable basis. And in regular season performances, we recognize that that includes players who play at a high level on average across the year, and players who win the bigger question.
With that in mind, those are our major objectives. We also, if possible, wanted to increase the playoff-type feel of the playoffs. And lastly we wanted to try to make the structure somewhat simpler.
With that all in mind, and I know you're aware of most of this, we've reached agreement with the board and gotten approval from the board on the following: One, that we would reset or reseed, if you will, the field. Not before the playoffs, what occurred in '07 or '08, but just before the Tour Championship.
Therefore, points earned during the regular season will be carried into the first three playoff events.
Those points will be distributed in the tournaments prior to playoffs, in a manner that we think is somewhat easier to understand. By that, I mean first place is 500 points and it goes down to one point in the 70th position. Then there is a bonus for winning a major championship or Players Championship, and lesser bonus for World Golf Championship, as is the case in 7 and 8. So smaller numbers is easier to understand.
Third thing is when we get to the playoffs, we would quintuple the number of season points of points versus the basic regular season event.
When we reset at the Tour Championship, we'll reset in a way that will allow all 30 players in contention to have a mathematical chance to win the cup. Clearly, the top half of that field would have a very good chance to win, and, indeed, the top 5 seeds would absolutely win with a win.
So if you stand back and look at these changes, we look at the following: That the regular season actually means more now because the points carry into the playoffs. We eliminate the cliff factor in the point distribution, which means that in the playoffs a player would not be substantially hurt just because of a cut.
But we add a lot of points in the playoffs, which means that the regular season is more important. But to position yourself for that last playoff event, the Tour Championship, those first three playoffs are very important.
Then when we get to the Tour Championship, we have a wide open competition. Wide open, but clearly if the five top seeds can win with a win, that will be the first priority for a player to maintain a position going into Atlanta as a top 5 seed, because then he controls his own destiny. He beats everybody else in Atlanta, he wins the cup no questions asked.
So we like the way it accelerates through the season, in through the first three playoff events, and then into Atlanta.
In addition to that, we did, to make the playoffs feel more special and really mean something, again, making the regular season more important we changed the field sizes to 125 at the Barclays, 100 at the Deutsche Bank, 70 at the BMW Championship, and 30 at the Tour Championship.
A lot of players, and I know a lot of fans argued there was not enough specialness to making the playoffs at the outset. And we do think that by going to that No. 125 the play during the regular season takes on even more importance leading into the playoffs.
So those are the changes for '08. We like the way it feels. We spend a lot of time on it. We've had a lot of outreach with sponsors and players. We think the system sets up very nicely.
In addition to those changes, we assume you're all aware, but we'll restate that the schedule now through the playoffs is such that we play the first three, take a week off, and have a dark week and then finish with the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
This is the change that players feel strongly about. That will be a change that we'll maintain at least through '12 through the rest of our television cycle.
And I would also point out, you may ask about this, that we are about to complete and announce the fall schedule, but we have one date in question, and we'll try to get that resolved in the next two weeks. While we are conveying dates, of the individual fall events, we'll be announcing the schedule in its entirety in probably about two weeks.
With that said, I'll just say, again, that we are delighted with the first two years of the FedExCup. This is a competition that in 2009 will pay out $65 million, $30 million in prize money for the four playoff events at $35 million in bonus money.
It has an incredibly important role, therefore, to the players in terms of the quality of their year. It also provides very strong support to our telecast and our television, which, in turn, supports the entire tour.
We have great expectations for the future of this competition. And we are delighted to continue to make the changes necessary to bring it in line with what we think its stature should be in the long-term for the game.
With that said, I will, James, make myself available here for questions, if there are any on the line, before we break for the holidays tomorrow.

Q. During the dark week, will there be a Fall Series event opposite that, like a Viking or something like that?

Q. It will be completely dark. And secondly what are the odds that this points system stays in place through the rest of the TV cycle?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: If I'm not mistaken, you asked me this question in Atlanta, but okay.

Q. That was someone else.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Okay. I have no idea. I think that we're moving in the right direction. But as things play out, I mean, we learned a couple of things in '08 that we had not contemplated, and it led to a couple of changes.
I think on the basics of the structure though, we're actually very comfortable and we're very comfortable. One of the things we looked at was moving away from the basic structure and doing some things that were very outside of the basic structure.
We rejected those directions though because we like the structure. We think the sponsors like it, the fans are picking up on it, like it, we get good reaction from the fans.
So we think it's working, but I don't see us moving away from the structure. I think we're going to stay the course. Whether we tinker with the point distribution a little bit, that's a different subject. But, you know, I wouldn't swear that we wouldn't, although I like where we're at right now.

Q. I think the first year the idea was defining a season-long champion. This year it seemed like it defined, you know, the best final month of the season. What do you think the winner of '09, what will it have defined what they've done that year? Will it be a year, a month, or kind of a hybrid?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think that the real question here is what place does over the long-term, does the FedExCup take in the game at the professional level? What does it really mean? The answer to your question is where are we on the continuum between the role of the regular season, the role of the playoffs, the role of the Tour Championship? I think it's a nice balance in this slightly restructured system.
My question would be I don't know where or how people probably perceive that differently. But the fundamental question is what is its role in the game? I think that when you stand back and look at it, it's not one week, it's not four rounds, it's not a multiple number of weeks, it's an entire season. Then playing against the best a multiple number of weeks. So arguably one of the most difficult things to achieve in the game.
If that, in fact, becomes what it is known for, a compliment to the season, a compliment to the big tournaments in golf, but something that is as tough to win as anything, I think maybe that's where we're really hitting on something.

Q. I'm looking at the points payouts and the tweaks from the high to low. It looks like to win this thing, you basically have to play all four events, correct?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't think you have to. I think that if you want to, knowing that when you get to Atlanta, a winner from the Top 5 is going to win it outright. Then your first objective has to be -- your overriding objective short of winning it, has to be to get in the Top 5. Now you can win it outside the Top 5, and there will be some guys that win it at 12 or 14 or 15, theoretically, down to 30.
But if you know that there are five guys up there, any one of which could win the tournament, they beat you, you're putting yourself in the big disadvantage. So I wouldn't say it can't happen, but I think the incentives are there that it's more and more important as you go on. So, yeah, you need to play.
Of course, our role is to put the best product out there, and hope that players believe in it and want to take advantage of it, and I think that's what we'll see in '09.

Q. On the climactic finish front, this basically cements with certainty that this thing can't be clinched until we get to Atlanta, correct?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Correct, no chance.

Q. By any chance did you have any of your numbers guys run the numbers against what happened in '08? And if you did, could tell us who the Top 5 would have been going into the Tour Championship?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We ran, I'll be honest with you, we ran an awful lot of numbers. A lot of different permeations not just on 7 and 8, but even back with the Tour Championship. If I could have our people circle back around to you after the call on that one, I can get you some worked out.

Q. Is there a reason why you use quintuple versus quadrupling or tripling the number in the playoff scenario?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No, we looked at all kinds of multiples and numbers. We wanted to keep things in relative perspective, given that players are accumulating points all year long, and then coming into the playoffs. It makes the playoffs very compelling in terms of positioning.
We just like the way that played out after looking at lots of different renditions. There isn't any particular magic to going in a slightly different multiple. But we looked at a lot of them, across a broad range, and we liked the way this looked.

Q. I believe correctly, the way the pensions work for players, everybody that made it into the FedExCup playoff system from 144, even below that, actually, received some kind of money in their pension funds. Obviously, now the numbers changed to 125. Will players below 125 to some number?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: They will, they will. That's a good catch. I mean, from 126 to 150, there is some payout at the bottom there. That will continue for point earners pre- playoffs, correct. And those bonus numbers will be fixed, obviously, going into the playoffs for the guys that don't make it to the playoffs.

Q. Was the vote by the policy board unanimous?

Q. When you talk about the fundamental structure, I think there was some clamoring for an 18-hole shootout, reducing the field down to 16 and 8 until you get to the last 4. Lots of out-of-the-box ideas. What is it that you didn't like about that scenario?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, by the way, we had a range of suggestions of that vein, some internal, some external. We looked at a lot of things seriously. But at the end of the day, we kept coming back to one major overriding premise, and then there was a second reason.
The overriding premise was that we had, and are getting and are getting strong support for the current structure. Notwithstanding the fact that the air went out of the balloon a little bit when Vijay pretty much wrapped it up after two weeks in '08.
Even then from fans at BMW and in Atlanta, from our sponsors, very strong support for the structure as is. So when we went into this process, we went into it looking at it let's stick with the fundamentals here. And the fundamentals to argue are basically to make sure it's not over till Atlanta and make sure that a lot of guys are in the hunt.
So you once we figured out ways to accomplish that, we were not persuaded by moving further to rebuild something we thought was working. We had a great year in '07 and a good year in '08.
So that said, as you look at some of the things that you're referring to, also our concern was that most of them went in the direction of taking away the value of what happens all during the year and the playoffs.
We still like the basic concept that you still have a home-field advantage if you, at the top coming out of the regular season, you carry a bit of a home-field advantage into the playoffs. If you play well enough to keep that, you have a home-field advantage going in.
Also, the basic premise that something this important should be decided over 72 holes and not a shootout. We had a match play interest, and we liked the 72-hole format, and we liked the idea of making Atlanta and building it and continuing to build it into something very special. So for all those reasons, we stuck with the basic structure.

Q. You got a lot of input from players, but just curious if you personally, were you able to speak to Tiger, Phil, Vijay, you know, some of the top guys who, obviously, they're being in favor of this might be important to you? I'm just curious what kind of feedback you got from them, if any?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We talked to a lot of players. I talked to those you mentioned and others, myself. We surveyed between myself and other people, 60 or 80 players.
In addition to that, we had regular, thorough involvement by the player advisory council which, I'm sure you're aware, is 16 players elected by the membership. Regular, and thorough involvement over the last couple of months with our player directors.
A player meeting in Scottsdale which was not terrifically well attended, but had about 40 players there, and a variety of input and we had a thorough discussion with players.
I think the players while they may and did differ, as you would suspect, once you get into details they're pretty consistently supportive, and very consistently supportive. And I would say quite supportive on the fundamentals. Which were, as we developed them, that it shouldn't be over till Atlanta. There ought to be a lot of guys in it at the end.
The regular season should mean a lot, et cetera. So I think this is the steps will be well received by players, and based on the conversations we've had.
As is usually the case in these kind of situations. The interface we have, and the information we glean from the players is fundamentally important to bring these things forward. So I like to think we did a good job in that regard.
JAMES CRAMER: Thank you very much. Commissioner, thank you for taking the time this afternoon.

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