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March 6, 2016
CHRIS REIMER: We welcome PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem here to the World Golf Championships - Cadillac Championship.
I'll just open the floor to you, Commissioner, for some opening comments.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you. Thanks for being here. I know you'd much rather be watching the golf, which is pretty good at the moment. But thanks for joining me for a few minutes.
This is the first WGC of the year and I thought it was timely to make myself available to answer what questions you might have about what's happening.
A couple of things. One, I think everyone is aware we came off of a phenomenal year last year in almost every aspect of what the PGA TOUR is all about in terms of prize money, charity dollars, all-time record, impact on communities.
We seem to be taking off this calendar season where we left off in September and it's going quite well. Everything internationally is moving along nicely. We've got, as you know, from covering it, a really good mix of the fresh young players that are coming up, and now the veterans seem to be pushing back a little bit. So it's all good.
We were particularly pleased with our announcement last week with the LPGA regarding a strategic alliance to do a variety of things together. I know you all saw it.
And the reason we are pleased is that it's mutually beneficial, but it also allows us, we think to create more interest and focus on women professional players, given the fact that the women's game on the Amateur side is perhaps the fastest-growing aspect of our sport here domestically, and certainly around the world and Asia, etc.
Also, given the fact that we'll be sharing the billing here in a few months in Rio with our re-entry to the Olympics, having that relationship with very positive, as well.
So with that, rather than try to cover what you might be thinking, I'll try to answer your questions.
Q. Have you spoken with Donald since he landed here today, and how would you describe the TOUR's relationship with him?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I haven't spoken to him in two or three weeks, and I assume he landed just shortly -- earlier today. So the answer is no.
I think our relationship is good. We try to compartmentalize these things, but in terms of his focus on the game, on some of the facilities around the country and internationally, he brings a lot of energy to it. He's done a lot of good things.
And I think early on in his presidential campaign, we were concerned at one point because he referred to, quote, golf being supportive of some more controversial positions he had taken. And we, as you know, with the other golf organizations, issued a statement in that regard.
But other than that, I think a question came up recently that led us to point out that where we were this week, and that when we concluded this week, we'd be looking at options going forward. Which may have read to a lot of people like we were trying to end our relationship here, which is not the case. Although we are, like we do any week, carefully evaluate the performance of the tournament.
General Motors, which has been our sponsor for over 50 years, is contracted just through this week, so we are looking to get a final answer from them in the short term as to whether they are going to continue. Let me just say parenthetically, they have been a great partner for a long time. So whether they continue with us or not, we want to thank them for -- and helping us out significantly in the bridge of the Match Play which is now well-positioned in Austin.
So we conceivably would have a sponsorship question arising, and a lot of these things need to be nailed down. So we'll be doing a full evaluation. But in terms of our relationship with him, I think it's fine.
Q. Is your hope to continue your relationship and involvement with Donald at this tournament and with his other tournaments in the future?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think if you go back a few years to when Cadillac joined us here, that was a good example of the way we look at our tournament responsibilities in the community.
We've been here over 50 years. We have enjoyed very strong support in the Miami market, working with the community, millions and millions of dollars have been raised for charity. Some of those dollars have flowed to The First Tee, but a lot of it is United Way and other beneficiaries.
So if you look back on the last, say, 30 years, we have moved out of markets before, but not very often. And usually, we look at the situation as to how can we improve it. We're not looking to leave.
So we're very cognizant of the history here. We're very cognizant of our relationships to the community. The City of Doral has been very supportive. So we have to think very carefully if for other reasons we felt like we couldn't.
Having said that, we have to have sponsorship to conduct a tournament. So it's never in our business us making all the decisions. We have partners and stakeholders, whether it's the players, the charities, the sponsors that need to be involved, and they have a lot to say about these things, too.
But our hope is that the future could allow us to stay here and continue to build the tournament. But we'll have more to say about that after we do a full evaluation of our performance this year.
Q. Typically how long does that evaluation process last?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I would say that in the next -- not long. It's not unusual for us to be within a year; it's not rare that we would now be within a year of next year's tournament. So it happens, and it usually happens in concert with a change in leadership, either in the company or in the marketing piece of the company. And there have been a lot of changes at GM in the last year or so.
So it's not surprising when you have that kind of turnover that change occurs, if that's what develops. But I would say in the next few weeks we'll have our arms around how we performed this year. And then meanwhile, we will be working very hard on the sponsorship question.
Q. And it's perhaps unfair to ask you, hypothetical, but there's great concern in Miami: The tennis tournament on Key Biscayne faces a very uncertain future; Doral now faces a very uncertain future. Can you envision a TOUR in 2017 and beyond without a Doral stop?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Could you repeat that?
Q. There's a lot of concern in Miami --
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: There's concerns in Miami that we might leave, and could I conceive what?
Q. Could you envision the TOUR going forward without Doral being on the schedule? Does that even compute as a logical possibility?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I could envision. I mean, I don't waste my time doing that because I would be speculating.
The TOUR is -- we play 47 tournaments, so no, it doesn't hinge on any one tournament or any one market. So I could conjure up a scenario that would say, sure, I could, but that would sound like we want to leave and that's not where we are at this moment.
Q. Agreeing that you don't want to leave, and talking to Donald Trump today, he indicated that the contract you signed with, I'm not sure if the TOUR or WGC signed with them, goes through 2023. So if that was the case, what would you do in those situations if you found a sponsor that wanted to leave here?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: If we found a sponsor that what?
Q. That wanted to leave here.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I'm not going to -- actually I don't think it's in our interests to get into the details of the contact. Contracts are contracts and they have a lot of details in them and a lot of paragraphs. So I don't think that would be healthy.
I think at this moment, what we're focused on is getting our arms around how we performed, what the future is of the tournament as best we can see it from the standpoint of delivering to the community, making sure of that; and then meanwhile working on sponsorship and it all needs to come together.
Q. Can you confirm that you have a meeting with him today at four o'clock to discuss the tournament?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I have a meeting with him sometime. I don't know exactly what time it is. But I'm sure you will know. (Laughter).
Q. The next WGC is the Match Play. The format is going to be in its second year, new golf course. Have you got a chance to talk to players about the new format and the new venue and the new date and everything, and are you comfortable that it meets with their approval?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, yeah, that went through our entire process: Lots of players involved in commenting, player advisory council review.
But with respect to the changes in the format and to playing a new golf course, I know from experience you don't ever really know until you execute. This is a golf course most of these players haven't seen. And I know situations where we thought we were playing on the best and the greatest, and all of a sudden, 50 top players in the world didn't think it was so great.
But we anticipate a very good reaction from the golf course, and yes, a lot of the players, or most of the players we talked to were in favor of a few tweaks from last year, and actually I think the tweaks we think are going to help the competitive nature of it.
We really think that the Match Play in Austin is going to be fantastic. Dell has turned out to be a very engaged sponsor. As I've gone around the country since we made that announcement, I've come to realize how strong the brand Austin, Texas is. Everybody knows about Austin, Texas. Everybody knows it's young, hip, high-tech, growing. I guess it's the fastest-growing city in the United States.
So it's going to be I think really, really good. Sold out; galleries are going to be terrific, and for match play, that's very, very helpful. So at least -- this is before we start the week, but going in, I think we're very high on how it's going to perform.
Q. Is there any prospect of this World Golf Championships event going overseas?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, there's always a prospect. We are constantly looking at ways to grow the brand of the World Golf Championships. Certainly the addition of Shanghai has been a huge success, and that tournament has shown in what we would call a new golf market, continued growth and impact in China, which is important for a lot of reasons; I don't have to recite them for you.
So we are always looking for other opportunities. At the moment, the sponsorship structure the way it is, would probably lead us to stay the course for a bit. But let's see what develops on the world schedule here in the next few years, and we'll see.
I think that what's going to happen after Rio, as we gear up the next four years to Tokyo, the fact that golf is in the Olympics is going to put more of a focus on global golf. We have to pay attention to that and maximize it for all the tours.
We are very engaged in thinking through different ways to do it, and when you do that, you always -- Jay Monahan is back there, he'll say, okay, let's wipe the slates clean here and put down some things we never thought about. I think in the years to come, you will see the TOUR be doing things that maybe right now you would be surprised that we would think in that context.
So it's a little early to say yay or nay, but we are open-minded on a lot of things right now.
Q. And would Europe come into that equation, as well? Obviously Asia provides lots of potential.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think you've heard me say on numerous occasions that we think that what's in the paramount best interest of men's and women's professional golf is coming under one unified organization with a genuine global brand, and be able to compete on a global level in the global markets, much like soccer and a few other -- there aren't that many sports that are as in-depth active on virtually every continent as golf. And that's the reason why the IOC wanted us as part of the Olympics, so I think we should be taking advantage of that.
Now, there are all kind of structural issues and turf issues and attitudinal issues, and change is always sometimes difficult to get to. But sooner or later, I think everybody is going to get on that road, and when they do, I think it's going to be a very positive thing for professional golf.
Q. When you make your evaluations as you were just talking about in the coming weeks of this tournament and talking about how it performed, what are some of the specific criteria that you'll be looking at?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: The standard things that you would think about, starting with net dollars to charity. I mean, that's the net financial performance of the tournament. Our tournaments across the board have been with one exception, coming out of -- and I can't remember the actual year, 2009 or 2010, coming out of the financial crisis, it's grown every single year. It's been on an upswing, and the last two or three years, increasing trajectory.
So we want to see that continue to grow, and we evaluate that very closely. The extent to which we can get our arms around the economic impact this week of the tournament in the community is very important. The way the tournament sells compared to historically; that when I say way: Tickets, hospitality, whatever it is in inventory we sell compared to prior year and also compared to communities of like size around the country. We do a much better job analytically today than we did even five years ago in those areas.
Quality of the title sponsor, financial contribution of the title sponsor, performance on television, impact internationally in television in terms of total viewers, all those things add up to the total picture of what the tournament is expected to do, and whether it's growing or falling back. And those are some of the things we'll be taking a very close look at.
Q. Are there any restrictions regarding equal time access or anything on if Donald Trump were to appear in the telecast today, any concerns, or do you have to, if he is on, let's say he's up in the booth for 15 minutes, is that okay or would that cause some equal time access repercussions?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I haven't studied the language on equal time requirements. Our folks have told me that there is some restriction; if you hit a certain number of seconds or something and all of a sudden you have to provide access to other presidential candidates. But other than that, I'm not aware of anything in particular.
We'd like to see the telecast focused on the competition candidly, but I don't know if anybody in the media has been able to pull back from covering Donald Trump every day this year. So I don't expect we should expect it now.
Q. But he could be on, and if he was, it has to be a short time?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think if he is on for a certain period of time, that it triggers a requirement that if one of his competitors in the race asked for it, they could get equal time, which kind of messes up their programming. If I understand the situation correctly, that applies to network television but not cable television. That's about all I know about it.
Q. Can I ask you just two European Tour-themed questions? What was your reaction when The European Tour made the announcement they were allowing players to wear shorts during practice rounds and Pro-Am days?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: What was my reaction to shorts?
Q. To letting European Tour Members play the practice round and also the Pro-Am in shorts.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't know if I had a reaction. (Laughter). I guess -- but seriously, we've been asked a little bit about it. Although candidly, not nearly as much as I might have anticipated.
The way we look at it, it's like some of the things you hear about, changing this or changing that in golf. We feel like the professional game is the strongest it's ever been in history, from a viewership standpoint, a popularity standpoint, young people paying attention to the game at the professional level. All of our data shows that we're the strongest we ever have been.
So in that context, we're hesitant to make changes unless you can really demonstrate, you make this change and then it's going to kick up a notch or two in everything. And we wouldn't to that conclusion with shorts.
Q. In relation to the Bridgestone Invitational, you know The European Tour are not affording Ryder Cup points to those European Tour Members who play in Akron. Just wondering what your reaction is to that, and also, have you had discussions with Keith Pelley about this subject?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Have I discussed what? We have discussed it.
Q. Also the impact.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think it's -- I don't know exactly how to say this. It was a conflicting schedule that resulted in it. It's an unfortunate result.
When we said no to golf in the Olympics for 12 or 14 years, the main reason we said no is because of scheduling difficulties. The Olympics are played typically in the summertime in the height of everybody's schedule.
So we knew we were going to have issues. We have this issue. There doesn't seem to be a resolution to it available. I think that what we are focused on, however, is making sure it doesn't happen again. I think if we can go down that path; that is disruption that it's generating could be yesterday's news hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
But to my knowledge, we've sort of collectively tried just about everything we can to figure out a solution, including some odd ways to go about it. But just nothing's worked. So it's unfortunate. We'll get it behind us and we'll move on.
Q. Billy Payne is getting on ten years as Chairman of Augusta National. I'm wondering what you think his biggest impact on the game has been?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think he's been superb. I think the combination of the way he has used the platform that is the Masters, which in my view is the strongest brand. A lot of people say the PGA TOUR is the strongest brand in golf. I think maybe the Masters, and there are several, but has the biggest penetration among people, the most intensity to it.
So he's used that to communicate a lot of good things: Membership in the club, pro diversity, helping charity, investing. They have enormous resources, investing a lot of those resources in helping grow the game, both domestically and internationally; Drive, Chip & Putt.
So the way he's handled all that and really kind of pivoted what the Masters represents to people, to be bigger than best-run golf tournament in the world, is I think a real credit to him. So we're very pleased.
He's been great on our interaction, which has a lot to do with player movement and eligibility and those things, and we've always had a good working relationship with Augusta and that's continued on. I think the steps he's taken to grow the impact of the Masters have been very smart. He was a good choice.
Q. In regard to the strategic alliance with the LPGA that was announced this week, there was language in that press release that stated there is a possibility for mixed events in the future. Is that something that's been discussed at all, and where would that be in those potential discussions?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, joint events is certainly one of those things we're going to be talking about. It's also a challenge, given how you would do it and the format, given the fact that we play every week.
So that part's just beginning: Interfacing our digital business, our broadcast rights, working on collaborating in tapping the global marketplace. I mean, the LPGA is already positioned as a global tour, and an increasing percentage of our customers, whether they be title sponsors, official marketing sponsors or just involved in the tournament at some level are international companies.
So we feel like, we think Mike Whan and his team have done a very solid job the last few years maximizing what that tour has to offer, which is a lot. We're at least moving toward a point where it's maximizing. And I think now working together we can help him get it even further, which is where he wants to go, and their board wants to go. He's got a very solid board, too. There's a lot of things we can do together.
The competition, and you all -- I'll just add, everybody here should think about this. If we did have an opportunity to do something together, what would be the coolest format we could use. Because if the opportunity came up, we would want to take full advantage of it. We used to play the JcPenney for years and it was kind of interesting. Some players didn't want to take that week and get ready for other tournaments, but the ones that played really enjoyed it.
So there's different ways to do it. You could come up with a whole new format. You could do something that's more traditional like a better-ball or a team competition. But just showing off the comparative skills, I think would be something that would be well received.
And again, I think I'd have to applaud the LPGA for making the tough decision to say, okay, we're going to be a global tour; and as a consequence, we're not going to have as much presence in the United States, but we are going to take advantage of parts of the globe where they are more popular than the men. That was a very smart way to go about it.
And again, the growth of women in the game is crucial, absolutely crucial, to our ability to grow the game, and it has the most potential in our view. Second only to young people, but kids are harder to figure out in terms of their longer interests.
So I think there's a lot of good stuff there. I think Jay and our team did a great job working with Mike to put all that together.
Q. Within the PGA, where did the original criticism of Mr. Trump's comments come from? Was that you particularly?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, the only thing we commented on was the fact that he intimated that we -- if you read the language, made it sound like we just broadly supported anything he says on an issue or a criticism or whatever, at a point in time when there was a fair amount, and I guess there still is, back and forth on some of the things that he points out.
And all we were saying was we asked him that he not categorize us as taking a position on any issue, because we're not -- we work very hard to not be involved in presidential politics, not be involved in partisan politics generally. We don't think it's in the interests of what our fans want to see us do or be. The same thing with our players and candidly, we don't think it's smart.
That was the only thing. We didn't pick at one thing or one thing and say, we don't care for this, that and the other. By not doing that, the people that don't like those comments show -- we've gotten our share of e-mails, though not a lot. And I think people generally recognize that our position is trying to compartmentalize. We have a relationship and he happens to be running for the president, but we are not involved in presidential politics.
So we have nothing to say about this stuff. Not going to make everybody happy, but that's kind of the way we look at it.
Q. I think the main word used was inclusivity in the original --
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yeah, we used the word inclusivity. But there were a number of different things said that would conclude that if we were -- if it was assumed that we supported it, it would be inconsistent in our view with our long-term belief in inclusivity.
Now, you can debate the semantics of that on all kinds of levels, and we don't want to, because we don't want to be involved in it.
But you know, the presidential campaign has a few months left, and I suspect that whatever happens, this won't be front and center what we're talking about next year. But that's just the nature of politics in the United States.
Q. Do you expect a statement after your 4:00 P.M. meeting, if it is 4:00 P.M.?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Today's meeting?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No, I don't think so, unless something strange happens (laughter).
I think we are going to have a meeting and catch up about what's going on with the tournament this week, and probably same conversation we've had here in the last 30 minutes about this is the way we look at it and this is what we have to go do and do and these are the steps we're going to take. I suspect it will be positive.
CHRIS REIMER: Thank you, Commissioner.
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