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January 7, 2007
JAMES CRAMER: Thanks for taking a little bit of time out of your busy day today as we enter the final round. The Commissioner wanted to come down and say a few words. He has not had the opportunity to speak to a lot of you since THE TOUR Championship last fall, so with that, I'll turn it over to Commissioner Tim Finchem.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Thank you, James. Thanks for coming in this afternoon. I thought since I was here anyway we could spend a few minutes. I haven't seen you for a bit. I'll make a few comments to start, just briefly, and then toss it open to questions.
First of all I would like to thank Mercedes-Benz for their continued sponsorship. They are committed to us here through 2010, and everybody with Kapalua Land Company, this place keeps getting better and better. The plans for the next few years are very ambitious and very exciting. It's a great partnership to have this grand association with our tournament winners to start the season; it's a positive thing, and we're glad we are continuing with them.
And I would like to announce today the extension of our marketing agreement with Hawaii Tourism Authority through 2010, a four-year extension. This is an arrangement that has been very positive for the PGA TOUR, the Champions Tour, and of course the LPGA as well for the last decade or so. It's a partnership in which the State of Hawaii through the Tourism Authority works with us to support the staging of these tournaments. And, of course, the PGA TOUR starts its season here, the Champions Tour starts its season here, as does the LPGA, and this platform of golf that we see starting this week and the next few weeks has been I think one that's recognized by Hawaii as very, very positive and delivering real value and in return. We enjoy that support and that partnership that helps us do a better job of putting on our tournaments.
The third thing is, I'll just say that, you know, we're delighted to get going with the FedExCup competition. As I said a few minutes ago in a radio comment, any time you start up something new in golf, it's important to get some history on your side. That certainly was the case with the Presidents Cup, and that was the case with THE PLAYERS Championship 30 years ago and other changes that have come along, and this is a big one.
We're looking forward to getting some points on the board tonight, having a leader in the clubhouse, if you will, for the Presidents Cup preliminaries here as we get going here and head towards the Playoffs later in the year.
Everything tells us that we are on the right track, and we are just excited to get this first one down and get our fans an actual list of points, which is going to begin the process of bringing people into recognition of what the FedExCup is all about.
The last comment I'll make, and I'll be happy to take your questions, is simply to congratulate and thank the Golf Channel for their efforts this week. We knew about their plans. We have worked closely with them over the last year, but I think they have done an outstanding job in bringing resources, the number of cameras and new technology, and I'm particularly pleased with the effort they have made with player interviews. We've got a lot of first-time winners here, players who need their story told. We need to get them in front of the fan base, and those interviews are real important.
So we think they have done a fine job this week. We're off to a good start with that new relationship. With that said, I'll toss it open for any questions you have.
Q. You didn't have two of your biggest names at THE TOUR Championship, and they are not here, and I just wonder, in just getting this whole FedExCup started, not only for you, but for our side, I know several papers who were going to send people and as soon as Tiger announced, they pulled their guys. I know they're independent contractors, but how do you get around this and how do you get guys to support the events more?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, I guess your question goes to the longer term. I mean, if we're talking about the two events you referred to for the end of this year and start of next year that's the longer term.
You know, as I said at THE TOUR Championship about the same phenomena at THE TOUR Championship, sort of disappointed about that, but let me make two comments.
One is that your question goes to the future, and I'm focused on the future, but I'm also focused on the FedExCup right now. The future, in my view, has a lot to do with the new schedule. And we're not going to know until this time next year how that really plays out. We are still in the -- certain decisions have been made about scheduling the last few weeks and this week are still a part of what 2006 was about from a scheduling standpoint. It's our assumption that the changes we've made on the schedule that relate to the FedExCup will have some impact on those decisions, and we'll see.
We will see and we will go through the year and find out what the new schedule means. There are so many unanswered questions: Are players going to play a little more in the FedExCup part of the season? How much are they going to play in the fall? What does the flexibility now from the top players, starting with the second week of September, third week of September, have to do with what they are going to do later in the fall internationally and the start of the following season? Those are all questions that will be answered. We feel optimistic about that, but, you know, we'll see.
On the other hand, you know, and I don't want to sound like I'm trying to sugarcoat things, because I'm not. I am disappointed, and to your point, having a smaller press core here and less eyeballs because Tiger Woods is not at an event is not something that's a positive any week he doesn't play.
But having said that, let me just make also another point, which is that somebody's going to be leading the FedExCup tonight, and it's not going to be one of those two guys. You know, that's a certain dynamic that will play out as the course of the year goes.
I think that there is some interest there. I also referenced earlier the interviews on the Golf Channel. I think that it's not my preference, but it is not a negative thing. There's more focus on some of these players here, Trevor Immelman, our Rookie of the Year; J.B. Holmes, who is the leading guy coming out of Qualifying School last year. Some of the fresh faces that are here this week are getting an opportunity to get more exposure, and that's a good thing for the PGA TOUR.
So would I prefer it this way? No. But we're going to have a certain leaderboard starting off the FedExCup season, and, you know, this is going to be an important competition. We'll see how it develops, and maybe that will play into scheduling decisions next year. We'll have to see about that as well.
In the meantime, I was with all of the players last night, and we have great enthusiasm for this event and the guys are real happy to be here.
Q. Why was there a conflict with the Sony Open and the Wendy's Champion's Skins Game? They are both being played on the same weekend, Saturday and Sunday.
RIC CLARSON: Wendy's Champions Skins Game is traditionally played on the Super Bowl weekend, and some of the television windows that were available were not available for 2007 only, in order for that event to continue, we needed to move it to this coming weekend, which did put it on the same weekend as the Sony Open.
We did talk to the Friends of Hawaii Charities about it as a one-year situation, and we've already assigned dates to that event for the organizers to start working on their television packages. We wanted to keep the events going and showcase the tomorrow Champions Tour players, different islands, different air times. And while it might fragment a tad of the media core here in Hawaii for it, but we thought over the long haul, it would be best to be able to maintain that event.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: When we say one-off, I think I'm correct when I say that our long-term schedules are now done through 2012, so it's the only time it happens in the next six years.
Q. With such enthusiasm on the staff's part about the FedExCup, and interest in educating and so forth, I was out there so much that when Vijay came out here and was asked about it on Thursday, he said was tired of listening to it and went on to compare it to the Presidents Cup. At what point do you scale back the full core press on FedExCup promotion, and at the same time still keep people educated on what it is?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, we could promote it, you know, none, or promote it five times as much, and that really wouldn't be what affects you guys asking Vijay questions.
I think what he said was he was tired of answering questions about the FedExCup.
Q. It could have been anything with us, too. (Laughter).
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: And there is a lot of questions about the FedExCup because everyone wants to know what they think, and that's a good thing.
Vijay has been pretty, consistent starting with last year, about his enthusiasm for the FedExCup. The fact that he individually determined that he had said that enough, that's his prerogative, and it doesn't have anything to do with our promotion plans. We think we're on the right course in terms of explaining to fans what the FedExCup is, and we will continue to do so.
I think the thing about the FedExCup -- somebody asked me the other day, or I saw a comment, that perhaps it was complicated. I'll just say, I think it's the perfect thing. I mean, it's very simple. It's very, very simple. You get points, the guy who gets the most, wins.
Now as a fan, you could settle for that amount of information, and you could watch each week, the standings, and wait to see who gets the most points, and you might be satisfied with that. Based on our research and what we're seeing in terms of inquiries, there's a lot of fans that want to know a lot more.
They want to know, you know, how many points are distributed, where they are distributed. They want to know -- they want to know how a player's schedule relates to point accumulation. They want to know how the intervals and the seeding react to a player who is 10th or 15th or 18th on the list having a chance to win.
And so I think that that's probably true in every sport. If you take all of the fans and put them on a grid, they want to know varying degrees of detail about statistics or the competition.
At its core, the FedExCup is a very simple process, but we are going to see people spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure it out. And you'll see the television commentators as we get into the season, if Player X birdies this hole, he's on this par 5 in two; if he two-putts for a birdie, he'll pick up X number of points, and he'll move from sixth to fourth or more. So you'll see a lot of that during the course of the season.
I think it's going to be a year, really, until the Playoffs are fully played out before people really do have a sense of it. Sometimes I rely on my wife, Holly, as a barometer, and she was extremely interested in the golf week article that laid out different scenarios of point distribution. She said, her reaction was, "This is fascinating how this could play out."
We hope people are fascinated. But I think everything dramatically changes tonight when we have a leaderboard, we have points distributed, people will know how many you get for winning. That's going to be clear on into the season.
Q. As an unrelated follow-up, on The Presidents Cup team this year, I imagine you have to stick with double the money, given that was the format under which you began. Does that change, do you suppose?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: It's not changing this year. Whether it changes in the future is something we'll look at. But for this year's team, it is not changing.
Q. Would it seem likely it would change since there seems to be an effort to deemphasize money?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: There's different ways to look at it. If we -- there's just different ways to look at it. Whether it should be a multi-year system, is it current enough; those are issues that we review constantly anyway, and they are still relevant, and we look at them every two years.
We would like to get a bit more sense of the fall because the fall in the first two years is an important piece of the equation. We don't award points in the fall, but we might want money because we want the fall events to continue to have an impact. From the time the eligibility starts right now until we cut it off, every shot means something. Every official money event shot means something. And we don't think it's inconsistent to say that the FedExCup means this, and everything else means something else.
But we might have a blended system, we might go to points, but right now we're sticking with money. And we won't really get into that question really further until we're actually through this season through the Presidents Cup in Canada, and we'll take another look for 2009.
Q. One element of the system that players seem to question is playing such a heavy-scheduled window late in the season. Looking forward, are there any options there, or is this just something they will have to adapt to?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: You know, yes and no. I mean, I think our basic -- as I said a few minutes ago, our basic schedule is pretty much set through 2012. And, frankly, we're not sure this is -- to what degree this is really a problem. We are not going to spend a lot of energy worrying until it develops if it's a problem. The idea that it's important that you play a good number of events through the Playoff season is just what it is. I mean, you know, Tiger Woods played, I think, seven out of nine weeks in 2006, and he won six of them. So it didn't seem to detract from his play.
One thing is, as a player, is it different from my normal play schedule; that's one thing. Another thing is, is it a lot of events. The answer to that is yes; that's another thing. The third thing is, is it bad, is it tough on me physically, is it too difficult, is it a bad thing. And I would have to say on that third one, we at least know we don't know right now. I think we get there and players are suffering through it and have difficulty making it work, that would be one thing, but to say that right now is highly speculative.
I think Phil has played six out of eight on the West Coast, two or three times. Personally I don't see this as a big issue. Now, the way the events set up and the juxtaposition of other things in the season, it might develop into a big issue. We're just going to have to see. It's one of those things. We're just going to have to go do it and see it.
Never had a situation where everybody's played head-to-head four weeks in a row. We hope that's what happens this year, and if it does, it would be a first, and everybody will see how it worked. I think stamina is an important thing in the sport, and if stamina becomes a factor, I don't think that's a bad thing.
Q. You said that you renewed your Hawaii Visitors, whatever it is, until 2010, I know after you made the decision with the TV networks you started trying to sign people to 2012. When will you revisit the contracts that are signed through 2010?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, it's a little different -- the answer to your question is, it's different for a lot -- there's lots of different points. We've already extended some to 2012. We will continue to have conversations; we're talking to our sponsors now about the future.
The thing about it is when you get past three or four years on the horizon, what you run into is there are a lot of companies that just don't do that. They don't -- corporately, they don't make commitments that far out, so it's a little bit of a long horizon, but we are having a lot of success moving forward in nailing down things post 2010, and it will be our effort to continue to do so.
I can't today tell you what that time frame will be, but right now, we're almost 100% sponsored, as we've always been, and you know, we're absolutely comfortable with our sponsorship structure.
When we extend is kind of an ongoing detail, and each year we'll extend more of them.
Q. You talked about the seven events at the end of the year, not really sure who is going to play and so forth and so on, how does the new release system work with those seven events?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Release for?
Q. Is the PGA TOUR over after The TOUR Championship if the players want to go overseas or something like that, or are they restricted like they are during the year?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Our release policy carries right through the fall events. You have to have a release to go play someplace, and we will not release a player to go play someplace during the Playoffs. You know, that's not going to happen.
Q. But after THE TOUR Championship?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: In the fall, sure. Releases are not a major issue for us. We haven't had a player in, I don't know, a long time, six, seven, eight years now, who has pushed the envelope in terms of release requests given our guidelines. We've had a consistent reduction annually for the last five years to the number of release requests we've received.
There is not a significant appetite for players to seek releases, so it's not a top of mind problem for us. That could change, but certainly if you go back ten years, there were some issues with it. Just doesn't seem to be an issue today.
Q. Speaking of sponsorship, why can't you find one for Tampa, and what's the status there?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: I suspect we will, and we are in conversations with a sponsor right now, and we fully anticipate Tampa will be sponsored.
Q. By the time you get to the tournament?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: We will have more to say about that in a couple of weeks.
Q. You can't tell us who it is?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: That would be announcing it, and we're not prepared to announce it, no. (Laughter).
Q. NASCAR has recently announced that after three years in the current points system, they will change the format for 2007. Do you see that as something the PGA TOUR can look to if the current pointing standing doesn't work in a few years?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Absolutely. We ran over the space of two years umpteen models, and those models told us certain things about what we should do, for example, on the interval of points that are awarded for seeding positions. The struggle there was you wanted to be volatile, and you wanted players to have a chance to win it.
On the other hand, you're trying to provide an advantage for players who played better than the other guy all year long, so you want it both ways, and you come up with an interval. That interval tells us certain things about expectations players will have about the Playoffs. They may be wrong. The models might be wrong. First year, second year, we might have a situation where, we didn't anticipate that, we ought to fiddle with it. That's just one example.
No, I think it's a work-in-progress. We'll watch it this year, and we'll learn from this year. And if there are weaknesses, we'll try to address them. Absolutely.
Q. If there are weaknesses that you find after this season, would you be adaptable to changing in the 2008 season?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: It's not a problem when we're finishing in September to change the details of points, point distribution, intervals, any of those things for next season, not a problem.
Q. Is there a part of you perhaps eager for the first year of the FedExCup to be behind us for that sense of history to be established, or do you have a thrill of anticipation for all of the uncertainty in the Playoffs?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: When I became Commissioner, 100% of the players on the Champions Tour were older than I was. And now, 65 percent of them are younger than me. (Laughter) So I'm no longer in a position where I'm eager for any year to be over. (Laughter).
I'm very comfortable enjoying it. But seriously, let me answer it this way. We're set up to monitor and evaluate, and we love to have your input as we go through this process. When we -- as I say, when we award these points tonight, and it's on PGATOUR.com tomorrow and people are checking it out, commenting on it, from that point on, it's an evaluation process of every week and what it means, and lots of storylines are going to float out of this, we think.
I'm excited about going through that process. I think it's going to be fun. And then I'm really excited about the Playoffs.
So I want to enjoy the year just like everybody else, and I think these players are pretty excited about it, and, you know, who knows, we may have some real surprises here in terms of what's going to happen with guys being able to do what they think they could do this year.
But, having said that, when we get done with the year, then we'll be at a point where we'll know a lot more to your question about what went right and what could be better, and we'll know a lot more about how people are relating to this different kind of look at the season. So that's exciting, too, to get through it.
Q. Given the fact that there are no guarantees in the Playoffs, do you think that when Vijay win, or whoever wins today, is going to be more excited about 45 points or $1.1 million?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, I think the way we designed the program was to balance the import of the season with everything else that had been important and to create another reason for you all, or another thing for you all to communicate to our fans, and hopefully something that the fans can relate to. And that's why it's important.
It's not important to measure it against anything that's currently in the game. I mean, trying to decide what's more important to a player, winning THE PLAYERS Championship or getting extra points is not really relevant. That's the beauty of it, is that all of these things are compatible and should be compatible.
Q. How do you define success then? At the end of the year when you're trying to figure out to change it or not change it, what would you measure as success, to say, this succeeded, so there's no reason to change it?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, let's say that we got to a point where a player was seeded first, won the tournament, the first playoff event, and the next eight guys have all missed the cut and this guy was sailing -- it was almost inevitable that he would win. Our models tell us that's not going to happen. Well, let's suppose it did. Then we might want to change the intervals. We might want to reduce that size of the interval.
There are things that can happen and our models tell us, in terms of movement, that are exciting, that are compelling, and there are things that could happen that we don't think necessarily would be a good thing. It's hard to be more specific than that right now. But if you go back and ask the NASCAR people three years ago where they were, they were very sure about some of this stuff and they have concluded by public reaction and media scrutiny that some of the things will the Chase didn't work so they are changing it. I wouldn't be surprised if some of those things happens.
Now maybe we are all geniuses and maybe this is going to be perfect and we're going to be sitting here next year saying, oh, this is great. But don't force me trying to anticipate something that we're not worried about right now, we don't see it as a problem.
JAMES CRAMER: Thank you very much for your time.
End of FastScripts