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May 6, 2008
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA
LAURA NEAL: Thank you everyone for joining us, and Commissioner Tim Finchem, thank you for being here. I know you have some opening remarks and several special folks you would like to acknowledge before we go to questions and answers, so I'll turn it over to you.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you all very much. Thank you all for being here today. I'll make a few comments and try to answer any questions you have for a few minutes after that, and then we have an announcement.
First of all, welcome to this week, as you can detect by now if you've been here for more than a couple of hours, everybody is very excited about everything that's going on with the tournament. I guess I would start with just mentioning the three things that we think distinguish THE PLAYERS as a superb Championship on the PGA TOUR. The first thing is the quality of the players that have won here, and certainly we are delighted with the year that we've had celebrating the win of Phil Mickelson last year and the style in which he won it.
Secondly, the golf course over the years has proven to be a terrific test, one that various different kind of players can win on, but only a player wins here who plays exceptional golf. We think that's going to be the same case this year. We've got the golf course we think in terrific condition after the rebuild coming into last year. I think Fred Klauk and his team have done a great job, and I'll have more to say about Fred in a few minutes. We've seen firm and fast conditions, and challenging rough conditions, and we have that and we're right about where we want to be. With the weather forecast the way it's laid out at the moment, it should be just a tremendous week and a tremendous test.
Third, I think that the quality of the field is superb. Obviously we miss Tiger, not having the No. 1 player in the world here is a frustration, but we celebrate everybody else that's here. And I think it's interesting that without Tiger here, and you look at the quality of the field; and we like to think about the quality of the field here as the depth of the field; the extent to which you go down into the field and find players that have the opportunity or the potential to win is, we think, the deepest in the game of golf.
And this year, as the same as other years, we looked at it a couple of different ways; and I think it's interesting to note that over 101 players here have won on the PGA TOUR of the 144 in the field. That's the most of any tournament in the last five years, and we quit checking after five years; 47 of 48 PGA TOUR winners of the last two years in the field, obviously Tiger being the only missing player; 24 major champions; and 49 out of 50 on the FedExCup list are on the field, so we continue to have extremely deep fields.
In terms of the three things we look at most frequently, the quality of the champions, the quality of the golf course and the quality of the field, we're delighted going into this week.
A couple of words about the international focus of the tournament this week. THE PLAYERS is pleased that we have 55 players from outside the United States representing 16 countries in the field. We'll be broadcasting our telecast to over 200 countries; some 550 million households in 35 languages will have the opportunity to watch the broadcast.
Of course, we want to thank the commitment of our proud partners, JELD-WEN, UBS and PricewaterhouseCoopers for the commitment they make that allowed us to have not just a lot of coverage, 22 hours of GOLF CHANNEL and NBC coverage over the four days; but limited commercial interruption coverage that we think makes the experience very, very special.
We also will have this year our coverage on XM Radio. We will be streaming Live at 17 for the ninth straight year on PGATOUR.com, and we'll have a sellout for the 20th straight year. So we will work hard on the experience for the fans here, including last year's unveiling of the new technology, Mitsubishi electronic scoreboards. This year we expanded the Stadium Village, which I know a number of you have been able to experience, and we think it's a nice addition to the staging here for the tournament; and we'll be having some more changes for next year, as well in the electronic area.
A bit about the season. You know, while this is the 35th year of THE PLAYERS, it's actually the 40th year of the PGA TOUR. We'll celebrate our 40th anniversary here in December. Since December 1968 when the first board meeting of the PGA TOUR was conducted. And tomorrow when we recognize Jack Nicklaus with the PGA TOUR Lifetime Achievement Award, we will focus to some extent on the role that Jack played in creating that day when the PGA TOUR starting in 1968 and the tremendous growth that's occurred over the years with Jack's support and commitment.
I think if you were to go back over the four years and studied the ebb and flow of great stars, years where we had dominating performances, years where we had more parity at the top, you would find a lot of stories.
I think the interesting thing about this year so far is that certainly at least thus far in the season, is certainly in the area of youth, where we've had eight players under 30 that have won. Anthony Kim made it five out of the last six tournaments have been won by players in their 20s, and he became the third first-time winner this year. I think the notion has been received a lot of focus the last few years about where the young players are; and perhaps we're headed in a more aggressive direction of young players coming on in the cycle, and we'll see how that develops the rest of the year.
Let me comment about Fred Klauk who is with us today. Fred has been here 23 years. I think all of you know that it was announced earlier that he will be retiring from full-time work after this years PLAYERS. I think during my years, the thing that resonates with me the most about Fred, really, first, and obviously given my position, the most obvious thing to me is that he has delivered this Championship in spectacular condition, the golf course in spectacular condition for the Championship year-in and year-out for those 23 years.
There were those that said when we moved to May, a little different pattern and Fred had it on remote control in March, early; and, well, if there were any questions, they have been answered. The golf course is even better than it was in March.
The second thing is the work that Fred has done the rest of the year to prepare the golf course over those 23 years for our guests and customers that have come from around the world to play the golf course; he's done it with energy and commitment, and he's done the job extremely well.
And then thirdly, and I'm not so sure the people on the outside of the organization recognize this as well as those of us who work here; Fred is a great role model. He brings a great attitude to his work. He has great integrity. He exudes that integrity with his fellow employees, and the way he's raised his family. He has been a great addition to the broader TOUR family and Fred on behalf of all of us, I want to thank you for those 23 years.
Tom Vlach, his replacement is seated to the right, my right of Fred. Those of you who have not met Tom yet this week, please take an opportunity to do so. And both Fred and Tom will be around after we get done here to answer any of your questions.
Let me also, since we are talking about milestones; that we have a number of people in the media who have been with us for a good number of years. Some of these people I'm going to mention may not like to be mentioned in this context, but nevertheless, it's our 35th year here at THE PLAYERS, and Melanie Hauser has been with us for 25 years; Tim Rosaforte has been covering here for 26 years; and both John Hopkins and Furman Bisher have been here 28 years; and Tom Stein has been here 27 years.
More closer to home, Sam Kouvaris has covered THE PLAYERS since 1980, and both Rex Edmondson and David Lamb have been with us since the Championship moved to Sawgrass Country Club here locally in 1977. I want to congratulate each of them and thank them for their many years of spending time at THE PLAYERS.
With that, I'll take a few questions and try to answer whatever you'd like to ask me.
Q. I know at last week's players meeting, slow play was one of the main items on the agenda. Do you accept the premise that it's a problem, and if so, do you have any specific ideas in mind as to what you might do about it?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It's a complicated subject that I'd be happy to spend some more time with you off-line perhaps later in the week.
Pace of play has always been a problem; more so in the eyes of some than others, perhaps. And I always in my mind divide it between the extent to which it's a problem at the professional and the extent to which it's a problem just in terms of how long it takes to play a round of golf for the average player that wants to go out and play.
I think there's a debate as to how they overlap, those two issues. But just focusing on pace at the professional level, it's always been a challenge to maintain a system that's fair to the competitors and tries to maintain etiquette in the game. You owe your fellow competitor the courtesy of maintaining a reasonable pace.
We make it very difficult, because we put a lot of people on the golf course on Thursdays and Fridays, sometimes 156 players; we push the number we play based on daylight. We set up the golf courses as hard as we can set them up. We put the pins three paces from the side of the greens. We try to create excitement on the golf course by having reachable par 5s and drivable par 4s. All of these things slow play down. They create situations that bottleneck play.
So in too many weeks, we have players waiting on the tee, and some weeks, we struggle to meet the television window; and sometimes of the year, we struggle to get done by dark. Most of the year we put ourselves at jeopardy of the vagaries of the weather, because the longer it takes to play, the more difficult it is to play in.
So these are all challenges, and they emanate from lots of different reasons. Some of it is because some players are slow players, but that's only one element of it.
But because some of these factors have accentuated in recent years, it's come to a point where we are going to have to really analyze all of it and ask ourselves: Is there a better way to do it, whether it relates to a slow player, whether it relates to the setup of the golf course, whether it relates to field sizes and the rest, and we are committed to doing that.
We feel strongly on this issue now. I think it's a whole other debate as to the extent to which what people watch on the air impacts how long it takes the average player. I watch virtually all of our golf on the air, and it doesn't make me a slow player, as I want to get done as fast as I can get done. But there is that sense that we need to set a good example, too.
So we have identified not a complete list, but certainly the beginning of a framework of how to effectively analyze this subject more effectively. I think it's time to do that, and I think it's a combination of identifying things that could be done in communicating effectively, primarily with players, talking about the professional; but also yourselves and the fans about what the realities are, what the causes are and what steps could be done.
Q. Might you consider the steps the LPGA has done, such as timing players without even warning them, and penalizing them?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Sure, absolutely, that would be one of many things on the list. Some of these things require more staff. Some of them require more expenditure.
But rather than go forward and say let's go try this and let's go try this, we want to try a more comprehensive approach to it.
Q. On this tournament, what do you consider to be a greater challenge, getting this to be a national event in terms of attracting fans nationally to come to this event, or getting people away from referring to it as TPC, players included?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I'm not worried about the second one.
We do want to open up THE PLAYERS to the country. We want fans who support us in North Dakota or Iowa or Arkansas to feel like we want them to come to the tournament. So we want very much to have national galleries and want to figure out a way long-term to have a way that we rotate access, and to do that, we have to reach out and communicate to our fans. We have not quite figured out how we are going to do that, but it's certainly something on the front burner for us to do.
Q. You brought it up in Harding Park in 2005; have you made any progress on it, of attracting a more national audience?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, we decided two years ago that we were going to get all of the changes done here that we started in three phases last year, and then we were going to turn our full attention to that; but it is certainly a major goal of THE PLAYERS to do that. It's not just about the Championship. It's all about this is the flagship event of the PGA TOUR and we want to use it to connect to fans. In the new media world, we think THE PLAYERS is a wonderful way to do that, so we are looking at ways we are going to execute that over the next three or four years.
Q. For the second time now, in a couple of years you are going to hire a new executive director of the tournament; what do you see now as the future in the next five or ten years of this tournament?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think we announced that Henry Hughes will be stepping over to take Ron Cross's position in June. And Henry has experience; he used to run THE PLAYERS before he moved on to the PGA TOUR. His challenge really is twofold: One is to maintain the pace of the growth of the PLAYERS, which has been significant these last three or four years; and two, to bring in the long-term management team for THE PLAYERS over the next couple of years, so you put your finger on it.
Now, in terms of within that, what is that growth, there's still infrastructure things here that need to be brought online the next couple of years. There is moving into the arena of relating directly to fans from the platform of THE PLAYERS in a variety of different ways, and we're looking at some pretty exciting ways I think to do that.
And then thirdly, translating that into very much a national gallery that's representative of our fans around the country. You know, I would say those are the three things that are on Henry's plate at the outset, along with the rest of our executive team.
Q. You guys are supposedly studying data on the cuts for next year and looking at 65 and ties; I'm wondering what type of data you're looking at and whether you see that transpiring. And a second question would be you have an invitational next year with the Fry's event in the Fall Series; wondering how that works in the Fall Series when Disney did not have any players in the top 20 in the field last year.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: First, on the cuts, all we are doing is comparing week-in and week-out the impact of the current rule, as opposed to what 65 and cuts would be, to challenge our assumptions of what it would look at, and that doesn't necessarily mean we would move off the current rule. But when we went to the current rule, we said we would do that, and that's what we're doing.
The answer to your second question is, I have no idea. An invitational in the fall is a new direction for us. We have every reason to believe that it could be a very, very solid tournament; that's what we think it will be. But until we get there and we play it, I don't know. It depends on what players' attitudes are on where the tournament is and when they will play is, and it's like any other tournament that comes on the TOUR, how well the tournament is run. Some players now under the current system want to take a fair amount of time off in the fall; whether that pattern changes significantly because of the quality of this event, we just have to wait and see, but we think it's worth giving it a shot.
Q. A reduced field at the time of year, is that ideal, and are they throwing a bigger pot of money purse-wise to attract a stronger field?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, they will have a strong purse and they will have what I believe will be a very strong tournament; otherwise, we would not have taken the step to put it on the schedule.
But to answer your earlier question, we will have that year, the first year that's played, 47 PGA TOUR events, and $290 million; so from a Money List standpoint, I don't see any downside to doing it.
Q. Any plans this year or next year to bump up the purse here, since there may be a European Tour event next year at the end that will be a $10 million purse? Any plans to bump the purse here to assure it will match the highest money purse in the world?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, yes and no. There are always plans to bump the purse; the question is to bump it up to what. The purse has always gone one way, and that's up. We don't expect that to change, and this year the purse will be $9.5 million. We have certain things we look at in terms of setting the purse; you know, what the purse is going to be in Dubai is not one of them.
But, we are delighted, and as I said last year, our congratulations to the European Tour for securing the support for a $10 million purse; and we think that's not good for just the European Tour but for professional golf. You know, when we get to that point, I couldn't say at this point. I don't think it's whether; obviously we are moving in that direction and we'll get there. But we are not going to do it in response to any particular timetable or complementary to the European Tour's schedule.
Q. Despite some changes you've made to the schedule on the TOUR, this has always been traditionally a date specific kind of sport. You've anticipated THE PLAYERS Championship having to settle in to a May date, is that happening, and do you see evidence of that?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I'm not so sure what you mean by "settle in."
Q. Well, for so long, people expect that this was the first big tournament that people saw, and kind of came out, is it settling in in the minds of golf fans in your mind and the way you anticipated it being on the schedule?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, we had a 24 percent increase in our television audience last year compared to the three years on average in March. It's an advantage to be first, but we're not so sure, it's a necessity.
So, no, we are not concerned about that. But there are other aspects to it. I think that the weather has been discussed over the years; the agronomics was discussed over the years, what would it be like to move to May. We held off moving to May for a long time because we could not get comfortable with the agronomics of the grasses.
Last year, with as cool as it was earlier in the week, everybody was looking at each other saying, why did they do this.
I think this is typical May weather. It's a little drier. It's warmer for people to come from around the country to enjoy the rest of what's around here. We like that.
It's warmer, yet it's a lot cooler than a lot of weeks on the PGA TOUR. So that's not a concern, and I do think that, you know, it takes -- it's a different flow to the schedule. So yeah, to that point, I would say maybe it takes a couple years for the fans to kind of get used to where you are and get used to the fact that we're positioned during the second weekend in May, but there isn't any indication that there are any negatives to it; only pluses.
Q. You talked about a study regarding pace of play and about cut lines; a couple of weeks ago, the chairman of the board of EDS talked about his extension and the fact of negotiations regarding the date of the (Byron) Nelson. Can you talk about the studies you're doing about rotation of dates and things of tournaments that are always looking for better dates?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, dates are always an issue, when you fill up the schedule soup-to-nuts January to Thanksgiving, it's close to that. It's some weeks with two events. It's hard.
And they change; they are not constant. The flow of players' schedules changes, competitive events in market changes, alternative programming changes, television changes their attitude about how they want to schedule something; it's a constant process.
I think that we've already announced some changes in the cycle for the first quarter for next year in the Florida period of the calendar, and to make some adjustments based on certain things going on in the market, a number of factors that just make it, we think, better, and we'll continue that process.
We just have a longer television window this time, so we have a six-year network window. In the past, we set the schedule for four years, and not that much will happen in four years; although we have made adjustments, but with six years, you'll make more adjustments. No point being more specific than that.
We are evaluating carefully and looking at a level playing field in terms of generating value to sponsors and tournaments and trying to raise money for charity, and to do that, we need to juggle the schedule somewhat from time to time, and we'll see how that plays out.
Q. What is the status of the two tournaments that are losing their title sponsors, and what sort of deadlines do they face?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, help me out here, I thought we announced Tampa. Did we announce Tampa?
JAMES CRAMER: We haven't announced it.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: (Laughter) Well, we have two big problems, one is Tampa -- (laughter) -- and one is Atlanta. And I think I'm not supposed to say anything else.
Well, it's still our intention to fill the title positions in those two tournaments. If we are not done in Tampa, we are very close to being done. And we are down the road in Atlanta.
It's still a little early to tell -- we are getting into the year, so we need to get this process completed, because if we don't sponsor both of them, we'll probably make some schedule adjustments, but we are not at that point yet.
Interestingly enough, even when the uncertainty of the economy and some aspects of the economy falling off and a lot of concern about the economy, our product is holding up very nicely. We don't have the phones ringing off the hook about sponsors that are having problems and want to get out of their position, so that's very good. So given that, I feel bullish about being able to handle those two and we'll see what happens.
Q. There was a video in the news last week I'm sure you saw of John Daly in a course opening with blue jeans and no shoes and no shirt; is that a behavioral pattern that you'll talk to him about?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It wouldn't be something that I would talk about. If I had -- so how do you do this, if you say, I neither confirm nor deny ... (laughter).
Q. You announced Tampa and the purse already.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I'm not going to comment about any particular player.
As I said at the player meeting last week, there are certain things about presentation that we must insist on; there are certain things about presentation that are not going to be tolerated. And you know, but I think that the world changes and you make adjustments, but I think perhaps we need to be more direct in our comments to players about specific do's and don'ts, and increase focus in that area to make sure that we have a level of professionalism going forward that we're comfortable with.
So I'm not going to answer your question about any particular player, but we are in conversation with all of the players on this subject, and have been for a number of months.
Q. But when you talk about presentation of the players, are you talking about on or off the course?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Presentation and professionalism relates to anything you do in public, period, not just in the ropes, not just on the site, but generally in public. If you're in the public domain; I think we take great pride and have over the years that players who play the PGA TOUR don't shrink from the notion that they are role models, and we talk about that a lot and we have to live up to that. I think in balance we do.
But I do think that from time to time, it's important to reinforce and refocus on those areas and we have been in discussion with players on these general areas over the past couple of months.
LAURA NEAL: Thank you.
End of FastScripts