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August 22, 2007

Tim Finchem


JAMES CRAMER: Good morning, everyone. I'd like to thank and welcome you to the first ever PGA TOUR Playoffs FedExCup event, the Barclays. Commissioner Finchem has made some time out of his schedule to have a couple of brief comments and then take your questions.
So with this, I'd like to turn it over to Commissioner Finchem.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Good afternoon -- is it afternoon? Good morning. Thanks for being here. As James said, I will be brief and be happy to try to answer any questions you have.
I'll just say that we're delighted to be here, unfortunately not real happy about the weather. When we moved to the August date, we didn't anticipate cold, wet conditions, but that's what happened.
You know, we've spent a number of years planning the FedExCup, working with our sponsors in the Playoffs starting with Barclays to put this series of events together. So we're excited about being at that point where we can now see it come to the conclusion the first year. We are very excited about that.
We're delighted and thankful to the players for coming this week and being here. We think it's shaping up quite well. Everything we see from a fan standpoint is very positive, and that's where we're most focused on and we think the players are really geared up. So, we're excited.
Barclays is a great partner. As I said at our reception last night, they have been just delightful to work with. Their focus on trying to this make as good of an event as we can have in New York has really paid off, and this is just another step in the road. So I want to publicly thank Bob Diamond and his executive team for their commitment and their partnership.
With that said, you all have been writing about the FedExCup for the balance of the year, all year long, and even more lately. So I'd be happy to answer -- try to answer whatever questions you have at this point in time.

Q. First question, you're here in the No. 1 media market, your No. 1 player is not here, you're promoting the Playoffs, big kickoff here, how much of an impact does his absence have on the promotion of the FedExCup?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, obviously I'm disappointed with his decision. It's not a decision that I like to see him make, candidly, any week of the year, but he doesn't play them all.
I think there's two ways to look at it. On the negative side, and I'll be candid about the negative side, you know, from the standpoint of the sponsor here, the fans in New York, it's certainly a negative. You know, I would like to see it the other way.
From the standpoint of the FedExCup and the Playoffs, it's a little different focus. I mean, clearly we've been carefully watching the e-mails and blogs come through over the last better part of a week now, and the fans seem to have a different view. They seem to think that Tiger was going to win this thing, and now it's not so sure that he's going to win it, so it creates more excitement and more enthusiasm.
I noticed one blog the other day on ESPN, a couple of them accused me to going to Tiger and asking him not to play for that purpose, which I thought was a little amusing. (Laughter).
But there seems to be this feeling, and some of the players have echoed it this week; that there's a chance that the lead that he's been given, that given his seeding could be eliminated this week. Certainly there's a reasonable chance that that would happen, and then he's playing from a different position for the rest of the Playoffs. So how that plays out, who is to know. We have looked at so many permutations on this thing, it's hard to say.
I'm disappointed this week; but I'm not so sure in the scheme of things it will have a significant impact over the course of the Playoffs or the FedExCup. We'll have to wait and see.

Q. If I can just follow-up, would you ever consider flip-flopping this event on the schedule, I know Deutsche Bank obviously goes over Labor Day, but knowing that Tiger always play that is and that it benefits his foundation and he has not played at Westchester since 2003, would you consider flip-flopping those events?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, you may all drift into a variety of questions about how we might tweak the presentation of the Cup, and let me just say at the outset, and I've said this all year long; it's just like a tournament, or an eligibility structure. You get through with it, you study it, you examine what the fans think about it, players think about it, sponsors think about it, and then you adjust. And there's nothing different about the FedExCup.
Over the years, we've probably changed eligibility on the TOUR every single board meeting. We've changed the format of the Presidents Cup. The Ryder Cup just changed their eligibility recently. We've changed the way the World Golf Championships are presented. We make change all the time. Change is the nature of what we are.
So I wouldn't rule anything out, but I certainly don't want to single any one thing and say that we're looking at that or we're looking at this because it raises the prospect that we might be doing something and I just don't want to go down that path.
We'll evaluate everything about the Cup, and if we can make it better and I'm sure that if we can make it better in some ways, we'll take appropriate action, but I think to speculate now is way too soon. I want to see the fans focused on the next four weeks.

Q. That said, what are some of the issues that you're focusing on next year?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, if I started listing them, I'd be focusing on them and I don't want to focus on them. We're going to look at everything.
I'll say this, though, categorically, that the enthusiasm and the excitement that we had as a team, working after a couple of years with most of the players, not all players got involved in the process, but the vast majority did. But that enthusiasm that we felt when we brought the Cup forward and announced it, there is absolutely nothing that has happened to this moment that detracts in any way from our enthusiasm about what the FedExCup potentially can be for the PGA TOUR.
We feel that it's a process, just like the Presidents Cup was a process from the time that we announced the Presidents Cup when it was a stepchild to the Ryder Cup and why are we doing it to today; it's a very compelling asset to the TOUR and to the players, and we believe very strongly that that is the case with the Cup.
I've said all year, I'll say it again, just to answer the next question, that if the Playoffs are not particularly compelling, if somebody runs away with it, Brandt Snedeker wins five in a row and after Chicago he's got such a big lead; if it's not particularly compelling through Atlanta, it still will have been a very positive beginning to the process of building the Cup.
If the Playoffs, on the other hand, are compelling, and you've got, you know, a bunch of guys going into Atlanta, they get to Sunday, there's still a bunch of guys in it, it heats up; then I think it's just gotten to the platform we'd like to see faster.
So, it's all a process, and right now we're very comfortable with our progress regardless of which way it goes.

Q. Just going back to Tiger for a second, have you had any conversations with him since he came to his decision not to play?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: We communicate different ways, but I've had communications with him, yes.

Q. Can you share the nature of that conversation?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: No, I mean, I don't like to be put in a position of speaking for him, but I'm just going to say what he said.
He said for an extended period of time during the year that he intended to play all four events; I think he did. I think he started to reevaluate as he, you know, got into the hunt probably at the PGA Championship, and I think two things happened with those two weeks. One, he sowed up the first seed, and the first seed was not a sure thing going into Bridgestone. And maybe, at least this is what players think, they surmise that the first seed gave him the luxury of then being able to say, you know, I get myself ready to win tournaments; if I take that week off.
But also historically, if you look at his record over the last ten years, when he has built to, you know, to major championship level and he's been on a streak, he will take time off. He took a lot of time off in the middle of the streak back in 2001. Because his major focus and his overriding goal is always to put himself in a position to win, and he knows if he can win, he can win the Cup.
So I have always taken Tiger at his word. I have no reason to dispute him. I think his record speaks for itself in terms of the way he prepares. And when he says: "I've concluded after these two weeks that I'm better off winning and my chances are better when I take that week off," I have to believe that's part and parcel of what he believes.
I've read some stuff, I don't know the extent to which Westchester was a factor or not. He's played here four times, he's finished 13th and 14th, not his greatest effort but there's a lot of points.
Had he not won Bridgestone, finished back in the pack at the PGA Championship, not had the No. 1 seed, you know, who knows, it might have been a different decision. I can't get into that kind of second guessing.

Q. My other question had to do with, when this venture was in its conceptual stages, I imagine at some point you went to him and bounced the idea off of him.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: We went to all of the players.

Q. What were the assurances, and what were the impressions that you had of assurances from him that he was going to play all four?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: I didn't have any assurances from any player. I didn't ask for any assurances. I asked for players to get involved in structuring and lending their best contributions in terms of what they thought would make an exciting, compelling series, and most of them, you know, certainly a significant majority did just that.
I never asked a player, and I don't ask a player, you know, to commit to me. That's a process that they have to deal with based on what we put out there in terms of product. That's the history of the TOUR.
I was delighted this year, however, when he indicated that he intended to play all four, and I thought if everybody played all four, that would make the Playoffs even better than perhaps we had envisioned. You know, we didn't establish the FedExCup thinking that all players would play every week. We didn't establish it thinking with the field sizes that everybody is going to make the cut. I mean, there will be half the field that gets no points this week. That's just the way it goes. I mean, if you don't play, you're not going to get any points; if you miss the cut, you're not going to get any points.
There are a lot of similarities between our Playoffs and other sport's playoffs, but there's also some differences: The structures of how we do tournaments; the field sizes, the awarding of prize money or points is a fundamental difference with other sports. It's not a win/lose, you go on. It's a, how well you play, you go on. So that results in some differences. I don't think they are bad differences, but that's what they are.

Q. With golf being so traditionalist-steeped and such, looking back, do you think you guys have maybe over hyped or over promoted this product at any point where there's been a little too much change?
Q. Last Friday the reaction was pretty harsh.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: But I think a lot of the harsh reaction was because people were excited about the Cup. I mean, that's certainly what I read in the fan comments. They have gotten excited and captivated about the Cup. They are looking forward to everybody playing. The No. 1 player doesn't play, they don't like it. I like to see that. I'm glad they had that reaction rather than saying, gee, whiz, we don't care.
No, I don't think -- we have to get people -- this is not -- listen, we've been through this. We created the Presidents Cup. We created the World Golf Championships. We created The First Tee. People didn't understand The First Tee and questioned it and why would you want to go out in inner cities and get kids involved with the game of golf.
These things, it's an education process. Unfortunately the Cup, because of the way it needs to be structured, has a lot of moving parts and there's more to understand. It takes us getting out there, communicating the players' attitude toward it, and by the way, we've got -- to use your word, "cheesy" or "hypy," I went over to the British Open and the first thing on everybody's lips was, "Boy, we love your advertising about the FedExCup, that's great stuff." They liked watching it; the players liked watching it; I liked watching it; hey, it's fun.
I think it's done in a way to first of all, get people to think about it, and secondly hopefully get them to spend a little time learning about it, knowing, of course, that until the playoffs get here, they really won't get that engaged. In fact, that's the case for many players. We had a lot of players call and say, "Gee, whiz, there are no alternates at Barclays."
"Well, no, that's right."
"How come we didn't know?" Well, we talked about it at five player meetings and greens sheets and all this stuff.
It's human nature. Until you're right there you're not going to spend as much focus on it. These are details that will go away. You have to take the long view. It's a process, and so far, we're pleased with our progress.

Q. You mentioned the platform that you'd like to see this eventually get to. What would that be on the pecking order when you've got the majors, you've got the World Golf Championships, you've got THE PLAYERS Championship and then you have the team events at the especially of the year. Where do you see this fitting in eventually?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: It's in addition to what's there. It's a coming together. I've seen this question asked of players during the course of the year: "Do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing for a 10-year-old to think as much about the FedExCup as he does about winning the Masters?" I don't quite understand that line of thinking.
It is in essence, it is in essence taking sort of what the Player of the Year Award has been, and adding to that the notion of somebody competing for a different set of things over the course of the season, and then having to perform in Playoff events. It's not designed -- we have absolutely no interest, and it would be folly for us to suggest that we should create something to take away from the major championships, THE PLAYERS Championship, or any of our tournaments.
It's actually engaged to build them into something that the fan has another reason at the Sony Open to think about the ramifications -- let's take Brandt Snedeker as an example. He played pretty well in the first quarter. He then comes back late in the year and plays well and gets himself in ninth position and he's in contention.
Now, next year I would hope that if he plays well in Hawaii and on the West Coast, people are thinking about that. Now, I understand why it's important to get yourself seeded in those Playoffs; so now I understand the relationship of playing well at L.A., or the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic or whatever in terms of positioning for those seeds. And that's what it's all about. It's to pull it together and create some story lines out of it that promote a player over the course of the year.
And so, as a consequence, it does move away from the historical Money List and for all of us; us, our people, you guys, men and women that cover the sport, the players, the fan, it takes a little while for them to readjust to that environment where you do have something that's reasonably important. It's not designed to challenge anything. It's designed to be a nice added addition to wraparound and can make that season more imperative.
Now, within that, of course, we are elevating the impact of THE TOUR Championship, and we are elevating the impact of these last three weeks. And so we are extending the value to the players of the base season somewhat into the football season, which is hard to do, but we think with this vehicle, we can do it; and then we are able to accomplish our mission a little better.
And I always say this, some people don't know this; the mission of the PGA TOUR is, one, to create financial benefits to the players; two, to grow charitable contributions around the country through our tournaments; and three, to grow and protect the game. Every time we do something, we are focused on those three things. And in this case, the Cup as an addition impacts all three in lots of different ways. You may have seen the Barclays Cup First Tee Competition was played here in New York a couple of days ago, and what we are doing to try to push and grow the game create more diversity in the game is an important element of what we are all about.
And so all of these things are interconnected.

Q. Just following up on the structure of the playoff format with regard to the top seed, when we see basketball tournaments, per se, usually the top seed has that perk of having that first-round bye. Was the unintended consequences with Tiger having the top seed, him taking this week off, people looking at it as a first-round bye, and would you be open to maybe considering that as something you would tweak as a perk to the top seed next year; that he has the option to take that week off if he wanted; that way everyone knows that, hey, if I'm playing for the top seed, I can take that week off if I want.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: No, I don't -- (laughter). Well, I've heard that, okay, he kind of got a bye. That was not our intention. And that is not our intention. So I don't see us institutionalizing a notion that somehow the points are organized in the seeding to give the top finishers an opportunity to take the week off.
You know, the math, we'll see what plays out. All of these things, we'll see what plays out. I think there's no question in my mind that -- and listen, I've never met an athlete in sport; I may not have met anybody that's as confident as Tiger Woods about what he can do. I got done being amazed by what he can do a long time ago, so who knows, but he's made it more difficult for himself would be my guess.

Q. You mentioned maybe the lack of players' focus on the Playoffs until they actually got here. But what was the educational process for the players adapting to the Playoffs, because a lot of them as recently as Akron and the PGA Championship seemed confused as to what the format was. So I guess can you talk about how many meetings did they have; how often were they briefed about what the format would be?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, I don't think -- let me make sure we're clear. I'm not suggesting the players didn't focus on the playoff until they got here. I'm saying a lot of the players didn't focus on the details on what's involved until late.
For example, alternates or no alternates; it's just a straight 144. You play all year to get to 144 and you're in and then it cuts, little things like that. I think there's been a focus all year long on the Playoffs, and that has resulted in some scheduling impact with certain players knowing they are going to play a lot late and addressing their schedule in such a way.
Although, my sense is from talking to players during the course of the year, they weren't really going to be at a comfort level about their schedule until they got through one of these in terms of how it played out. We have had an uptick of the number of starts in the Top-30, Top-50 players, which is a good thing for the first year. It's a spinoff benefit we'd like to see the Cup have.
But to answer the second part of your question, the two and a half years of player meetings, individual meetings, PAC meetings and board meetings; extensive review. But it's one thing to lay out details like alternates and expect players to really focus on it until it's time for them to commit. And then they find out, well, you can commit if you want, but you know there are no alternate, little things like that. These are little details.
I think the big pieces, the vast majority of players, in fact, I think Ernie Els said it as good as anybody the other day. He said: Look, I've got the bait, it's going to be four Playoff events; I understand the payouts; I understand they are good prizes and golf courses, and that's all I need to know. I don't need to know the rest of the stuff.
I think it's true with fans, too, by the way. As I answered a question some time ago: Do you think that the FedExCup is too complex. I said, "Too complex for whom?"
If the fan just wants to know that you get more points every week and the guy with the most points wins, I guess that's all you need to know. If you want to delve into it and study, you know, the fact that I guess six guys -- there could be up to six people mathematically that could pass Tiger this week; he could fall as low as seventh, can't fall beyond seventh but could have a significant gap between him and No. 1, that's of interest. Gives you guys some other scenarios to write about and to engage the fans. But a lot of fans might really not care about that. They just want to see, you know, what happens and they will read the Top-10 and then they will go on to the next week. So, we'll see.

Q. What made the decision to make the Cup a points accumulation competition as opposed to a knockout?
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Because -- as opposed to what?

Q. As opposed to a knockout.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: You mean match play?

Q. Well, almost. Essentially, yes.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well what, essentially -- so match play.
Candidly, I don't think we ever seriously entertained match play. I think match play has it's place once a year. One of the reasons we created the Accenture Match-Play Championship and the WGC series, it's of interest to the fans and it prolong -- well, it recognizes the historic role of match play in the development of the sport at the highest level.
In today's world, though, I think a long time ago, everybody pretty much concluded it's not perhaps the best way to measure competitive skill over a period of time. And in the Playoffs, we want an extended period of time. We want a build-up over four weeks. It just didn't seem to fit. We like this approach better.

Q. I have a regional question. Some of us in this part of the world have either written or talked about the fact that we know what happened to The INTERNATIONAL which was not one of Tiger's favorite stops and I just wanted to know what your thoughts on the long-term future of this tournament at this course.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Well, I don't know how they are inter-related. The INTERNATIONAL is a whole different set of circumstances and it didn't candidly have all that much to do with whether Tiger liked it or not.
We have already addressed this course for this, what I call, cycle, six years we are under a contract for six years with television through 2012. We will play here three or four times in the six years. I think we have already said publicly we are going to play at Liberty (National) in 2009. We are looking at the longer term on, we like the idea of moving around the metropolitan area so people in the metropolitan area feel more relationship to the tournament, not a tournament that is necessarily totally Westchester-based. And so that was our reason to talk to the people at Liberty. And so we are looking at other opportunities. I think it's a more fluid site arrangement going forward, but it was done for that purpose and not for the purpose of any particular competitor.
I think this business of Tiger playing well here is overdone. Everybody said Tiger wasn't going to be able to play Tulsa very well, not a golf course that suits him. So he didn't do too bad.

Q. There was a feeling when this started that you would have to go through the first year, and then be able to identify a few things that needed tweaked and it might take two or three years before you got it just the way you wanted it. Have you identified any things that you might be willing to change next year without getting specific, unless you wanted to be specific.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: No, actually we haven't and we've consciously not done. So as I think I said a little earlier before you came in -- (laughter) -- but you did get DQ'd.
We are going to look at everything. We are going to talk to the fans. We'll be very interactive with the fans, talk to the sponsors, talk to people in this room, talk to the players, and we'll systematically go through it. It's kind of like a tournament that you have a list of 83 things to try to make it better, and if you get 22 of them done the following year, you're better. The difference is, this is new.
We are open to looking at everything, but we are just not prepared to say that any one thing stands out as something that needs to be fixed. And candidly, I personally, and I don't know what our team -- how our team thinks, but I have consciously not come to any conclusions about anything. I want to see things play out. I want us to get the whole picture and then we'll look back and some things have gotten on the list I suppose but a lot of it is detail at this point.
JAMES CRAMER: Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER TIM FINCHEM: Thank you very much.

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