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September 23, 2015
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us this morning. It is my pleasure to introduce PGA TOUR Commissioner, Tim Finchem, for our annual State of the PGA TOUR press conference here at the TOUR Championship. Tim, I know you have some overall comments and updates for us. We'll let you get to that and then we'll open it up to Q&A from the media.
TIM FINCHEM: Thank you, Laura, and thank you for being here with us today and at the TOUR Championship by Coca Cola. We're excited about this week. We have had an exciting year. Many of us feel like it's the strongest year we have had on the PGA TOUR, period.
There have been over 1.2 million golf shots hit since we started this season last fall, leading up to this final event, and I think the players who have made it this far are excited, they're ready to go. We're very disappointed to lose Jim Furyk for obvious reasons, but we hope he's back for the Presidents Cup in a couple weeks.
I would like to thank a few folks as we get going this week. First of all, Tom Cousins, who is with us here today. As I mentioned yesterday, we originally made the decision to come to East Lake in the late '90s, arising out of our interest in telling the story of what Tom Cousins had started at that point, in terms of revitalizing this part of Atlanta, using golf, and a really kind of First Tee program to stimulate a redevelopment, which has had a ripple affect that few communities around the country have benefited from. It's really phenomenal.
But I would like to mention that Tom's efforts in recent years have been to take what he's done here and transport it around the country through a new foundation called Purpose Built Communities.
And at this point, there are 15 projects around the country in different metropolitan areas mirroring, in some fashion, what's happened here at East Lake. And there are 31 additional communities that are in conversation with Tom's foundation about extending.
So, the extent to which we may have played a small part in that by bringing the TOUR Championship by Coca Cola here, by using the telecast to tell the story of that, we are proud of that participation and we look forward in the years to come to continuing to help Tom and his mission.
Secondly, we would like to thank Coca-Cola for continuing their sponsorship this week. They have been a great partner. We like the association with their brand. And their top executive team is involved in the tournament, which means a lot in any given week.
Southern Company, as well, has been a great partner and we appreciate their continued support of the tournament. Particularly, the presentation of the Payne Stewart Award ceremony, which we had last night, which recognized Ernie Els and was a compelling event. We got a lot of e-mails from people that saw it for the first time broadcast live on the Golf Channel. We appreciate NBC Golf Channel's partnership in that project. It was, I think, a great night for golf.
I would like to comment on sort of where we are from my perspective with the PGA TOUR coming out of this year. As I mentioned, I think this is, in many ways, our strongest year, historically.
I think it starts with one of the key fundamentals, which is the continued arrival on the scene of smart, attractive, technically good players who are ready to compete, ready to win, and actually ready to contribute to the bigger purpose of the PGA TOUR, which is to reach people, help grow the game, help grow money for charity. And it really is interesting when you look at the players who are here this week and their ages and what's happened.
This year and over the last two years, roughly 50 percent of all the tournaments in the last two years have been won by players in their 20s. So competitively they're outstanding players in their early 20s have moved forward to the top of the ranks. When you think about Jordan and Rickie and Rory and Jason. Followed right behind by players like Streb and Reed and Lee and Koepka.
So, it's a continuing waterfall of talent that's coming to the PGA TOUR. And Ernie Els made, I thought, a very salient comment last night at his ceremony when he talked about that phenomenon, and he compared this generation of players with the past. And he argued in his comments that this generation will blow past his generation and the following generation because of their unique skill set that they have developed from a young age in watching telecasts, paying attention online, really studying not just how you play the game, and not just how you learn to win, but how the game can work for you in developing yourself as an individual and work for you in your interests in helping other people. And that is certainly what we're seeing with young players today. And it has led us to a point -- I can categorically say that we have never been more excited about the future because of the youth movement and the quality of youth that we are excited about it right now.
If you look back on this year, we have had just an outstanding year. When you start with sponsorships and the length of sponsorships in the last year, we announced the 20 year extension of Chuck Schwab's commitment to the Champions Tour.
We had a number of 10-year or 11-year extensions with companies like AT&T, Travelers, Waste Management, Wyndham, a series of others beyond five years. And today, over 60 percent of our tournaments are at five years or in excess of five years in their commitment.
The reason that that's important is that it sends such a strong message to the marketplace that we live in, in terms of companies being able to look out that far and saying, we have such confidence in the sport of golf, generally, and the PGA TOUR in particular, that we're prepared to make that kind of commitment.
Secondly, we have been very active this year in new media. We launched Scratch Television early in the year and it's off to a good start.
When we launched PGA TOUR Live, which allows our fans to watch featured group action early in the day on Thursday and Friday, which has been very well received. When when we watched the numbers grow in social media to 36 and a half million people in the United States alone follow our players, our tournaments, our brand in various social media activities. This is very great, significant progress.
But particularly, and overridingly, in my view, are the television numbers this season. Over 160 million Americans have tuned in at some point in time to the PGA TOUR, which is one way to look at it. Usually people look at sports in terms of ratings numbers, and I'm delighted to report that as we go into this week, starting last year in October, on average, our broadcast ratings are up over 20 percent over the previous year, which is a stunning increase and has to do with the number of playoffs, the attractiveness of the players who are competing and winning. And all that adds up to us being very bullish as we look forward to the next four or five years.
I think that as I've talked about the youth, this capability to demonstrate the talents of veteran players at the same time that the young players are playing exciting golf adds another dimension.
When you have Phil Mickelson getting selected for the Presidents Cup team, Tiger getting in shape before his most recent surgery late in the season, players like Jim Furyk, Davis Love winning at 50 years old, it's just a great combination of story lines and I want to thank the media who are here today and your peers, for doing such a great job this past year of communicating that in a compelling way week after week in all the different avenues you have to, in your craft.
We could not have been looking at these kind of numbers but for your consistent application of your skills to communicating what's going on out here with these players. And we appreciate it very, very much.
Just a word about our other tours. Obviously, the Champions Tour is coming off a very good season again this year. We're playing at Pebble Beach right now in the First Tee Open at Pebble Beach.
The WEB.COM will conclude next week at the WEB.COM TOUR Championship in Sawgrass. It has had a very good year.
We'll be converting the Champions Tour, I think everybody knows next year to playoffs, like we have in the FedExCup. On our three international tours, PGA TOUR Latino America, PGA TOUR China, and the MacKenzie TOUR in Canada, are starting to develop as pipelines of talent into, first the WEB.COM TOUR and then the PGA TOUR. I think there are seven players in the -- playing now in the finals from one of those three tours, playing in the finals of the WEB.COM.
So that -- the reasons for that, those developments and those three tours, are starting to demonstrate themselves as making sense as we move forward.
In addition to that, I would just say that our tournament activity, tournament-by-tournament success this year financially has been very good. Reserves have been built. Our charity numbers will hit an all time high this past year again.
We're continuing to see a movement by more and more tournaments in taking advantage of the marketplace they're in and use our platform for charity and to help people.
And again, I think if I was to comment again about the players, would I say that the focus the young players have on charity, which they have seen in veteran players, will be a big impacter in that over the next five or 10 years as well, because the players year in and year out are becoming much more involved in the day-to-day activity of the tournaments and their efforts to raise money for charity.
So in a nutshell, I would say we had an A plus year, a five star year. It's not over yet. We look for a great finish this week. I think the points on the FedExCup are in good shape right now. And the system is doing exactly what it's supposed to do when you look at the top-5, 6 coming into Atlanta, that's the right top-5, 6. And that's not to say one of them's going to win, and I talked to a number of guys last night and the last couple days who are not in the top-5, 6 that are convinced that somebody else from the top-5, 6 is going to win.
But I think it leads us to a point as we finish this season that we're even more bullish about next year, and we look forward to it. I would be happy to try to answer any of your questions.
Q. A number of the players have been asked about the Player of the Year balloting, and they have said almost overwhelmingly that the Majors is what matters to them, so in their minds their vote is already locked up. That suggests that from a performance standpoint, if not money standpoint, the playoffs are superfluous. How do you feel about that?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I think it depends on the year. I think if this was a couple years ago when Jim Furyk had not won a Major Championship, he was the Player of the Year. He won the FedExCup. And that year, I think, four different players won the Major Championships.
So, when we started the FedExCup, it wasn't designed to compete with Major Championships. We support a hundred percent what the Major Championships are, what they have always stood for. They're a great part of the game. But, on the other hand, it was to give more balance to what the season means. And that it means a lot. And I think the players have responded to that in terms of who wins the ballot, it's always interesting to see how those things go. But I think certainly when you win multiple Majors, it puts you in a very strong position for consideration.
On the other hand, there's some very interesting dynamics that are going on right now as we go into this week. So, the players are going to vote and whatever they say is who will win the Player of the Year award.
Q. You said you're bullish about next year and where golf is at at the moment with this youth movement. And in particular, what's being called the big three, maybe Rickie with the big four. Can you just elaborate on just what it means to the game to have these individuals at the top kind of carrying the flag for the sport and maybe not just next year, but just for the next half decade or decade?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, if you go back several decades to the big three, where you had Arnold, Gary, and Jack, it just seemed during that 10 or 15 year period that they were in a sense, at a level of their own, and then it led to a series of matches, which were compelling. You've had a little bit that have since, but there hasn't been a consistency of rivalry at the top.
When players are playing different schedules and playing some overseas, it's even better if you have four or five or six players who are all playing at a consistent level.
When you saw the same faces coming down the stretch as many times as you did this year, it was significant. So, it's a tremendous situation. And then you have historical fan support for veteran players. Tiger Woods sitting out there, two wins away from tying the all-time wins. And things like that going on at the same time. So it's just a tremendous time. If you're a fan, you got a lot to get excited about. That puts us in a very strong position.
I mean, the day at THE PLAYERS when Rickie Fowler did what he did, I've had so many people come up and tell me that's one of the incredible days of golf. I mean he people come to the 17th tee and he came there three times in one day and birdied three times. I mean, how does that happen?
We were delighted that the players, I think I'm correct in this -- Ty, you tell me if I'm wrong -- had the second highest audience level of the year, all tournaments. So, it just demonstrates what good golf can generate.
And Davis Love coming down the stretch at Wyndham I thought was compelling. And on and on and on. So it's just all really good right now.
Q. In regard to the Player of the Year voting, it seems like either way it will be a close call this year. Is there any thought to having more transparency with publishing the vote totals and the percentages that they would have?
TIM FINCHEM: There has been thought, but I don't think we have had any thought lately. I haven't been involved in any conversations about it lately. So, there isn't going to be any change this year. But we're always welcome to suggestions, open to suggestions.
Q. When you look at this year, the top three, top four, whatever you want, the combination of what they're demonstrating on the golf course, how they act in the media room and how they act in public, it's just outstanding. If I give you a magic wand, and you want to improve next year, what would you wish for?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I just hope that the young players, when I say young players, I'm talking about players that come and are playing the Junior Players at Sawgrass or playing the AJGA or playing high school or eight, nine and 10 and wearing a Rickie Fowler hat and want to play the PGA TOUR in 15 years.
The extent to which the players you're talking about are watched by these young people, that's what's done it. I mean the players coming out now, the rookies, they know everything about Tiger and Phil and players who have been at the top for awhile. They know everything about it. They know all about their swing coach, they know about what they do physio-wise, they know about how they dress, they know how they do their marketing deals, they know what charities they support and what fundraisers they have. And they grow up wanting to be like them. Just like young people grew up watching Arnold Palmer and wanted to be like Arnold Palmer.
And we have now with the amount of media that's out there that can be digested through what you do and what's on the air and what's digitally available, an ability for a young person to learn an enormous amount. And as long as our role models, the current players, who are winning tournaments and getting the attention, they're the ones that have to be the role models, are doing what they do best, and that's what they're doing today, then I think the future is really in good hands.
Q. You mentioned you're happy with where the points are with the playoffs, but there was one incident this year where Sergio Garcia skipped the first two playoff events. Has there been any thought whatsoever to maybe penalizing players who decide to skip an event by either taking points away or something along those lines?
TIM FINCHEM: You know, no, because it's such a success. The playoffs have been hugely successful. As we look at the next five years and some of the thinking that our team is doing, I think it's going to continue to grow in its strength and doing anything that would say, okay, this player has to do this or that, that's kind of a negative.
The extent to which you're going to play in the playoff events should be a competitive situation, just like any other tournament has. We don't require anybody to play THE PLAYERS Championship. We don't require a player to play because it's Jack's tournament. We don't require you to go play a Major because it's a big deal. So, I don't -- and we don't penalize you if you don't. So I don't think we would go down that path. If things started to fall apart, that would be different. But losing a player here or there, regardless of who it is.
We lost -- if you go back during the playoffs, there's been several years where a fairly significant player had for whatever reason said, I'm not going to play that week. It's not helpful, but the amount of talent that's out there now, it's not that big a deal. We don't like it, but we would rather -- we always want to see Sergio play -- but I don't see us going down that path.
Q. But then aren't you -- sorry, aren't you requiring players -- I'm not saying token by that, by that proposal that they play something they haven't played before? Aren't you --
TIM FINCHEM: There's a proposal being discussed to, to require a player to move his schedule around, to choose. It doesn't require a player to play any particular event. But it's a requirement that you got to have some more movement in your schedule. We think that's a little different. You could argue that, okay, that's making a player do something, I suppose. But we feel like -- and it's still under discussion and the details of it are under discussion, but if it comes to pass, I suspect it's going to be, as conversations have told us with most players, reasonably well accepted and over time it will be kind of forgotten as it's just moving your schedule around, which frankly most players do to some extent. But we'll see. It's, again, I should emphasize, it's under discussion.
Q. Then secondly, as it relates to participation, there is just a feeling in the way Jordan was speaking at Barclays, given the year he had, that it was all about Atlanta, no matter what he did, he was going to stay in the top-5. Is there any concern that when you have a year like that or like Rory had last year, that there's going to be a more of an occasion to go ahead and sit a week out, just because they don't need to play and it's not going to affect any type of competitive advantage?
TIM FINCHEM: We don't have that concern now. As I said, I mean, if it developed into an issue, but I think you have to remember, these are big tournaments. They're big tournaments, they're on, in general, great golf courses, large galleries, good television numbers, a lot of visibility in the sport, great international television, if you're an international player, really good international television distribution. So if you look at it, it's not -- so they're compelling on their own, aside from what it means for Atlanta.
But it's just something that -- right now we're not uncomfortable. It's something we always look at though.
Q. With the when the schedule came out months ago?
TIM FINCHEM: Use the microphone.
Q. When the schedule came out a few months ago, no title next to Colonial, what's the status there and is that any concern not only for Colonial but any others that are expiring next year?
TIM FINCHEM: There is work to be done at Colonial. We don't have a title to announce at Colonial at this point. We are making progress. We do not anticipate it moving off the schedule.
Q. So based off of, you say you will give this season 2014-2015 an A plus rating, five star. So based off of that, in addition to more young people becoming involved in golf do you think that the 2015-2016 will generate, I guess, more buzz around golf, like what it's about, getting more people involved to play?
TIM FINCHEM: If the play, if the play is as good as it was this year and the finishes were as compelling, yes. I think that historically in the United States going back to 1960, there's a direct correlation between the level of viewership and interest in the professional game and participation growth in the game. So as long as we're going in the direction that we're going, we would continue to be a driver of interest and interest translates into some participation, so, yes. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your time.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports