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August 26, 2009

Tim Finchem


LAURA HILL: Good morning. We would like to thank Commissioner Finchem for joining us here at The Barclays, the first event in the FedExCup Playoffs. We will take a minute or two for some opening comments, and then we'll just go right to Q&A.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you very much, Laura. I'm a bit under the weather today, so if my voice sounds funny, that's the reason. As a consequence, going to try to be maybe briefer than I normally am, but just a couple of things.
I have just been around the golf course. Of course I've been around several times in the past, but pleased with the staging of the event this week. We have had a good experience working with the management and ownership here at Liberty. The logistical challenges that we have here I think have been adequately met by our team, and we are looking forward to a good weekend.
Today is Military Appreciation Day. We have the Patriots Pavilion on site and will be making the tournament available to the military during the course of the week.
I'm delighted to announce one development which is that the family of Bob Hope, Hall of Famer Bob Hope has donated $200,000 to the Wounded Warriors Project. It is a part of our overall Birdies For the Brave Program and the family got quite interested in the relationship that the PGA TOUR events are having with supporting the military. As an outgrowth of that conversation, they wanted to make a special donation in Bob Hope's name. I just wanted to announce that and thank the family for that commitment and appreciation for it.
Here we go into the Playoffs. We are excited about the way the Playoffs are structured this year. We think it brings a new sharpness to the Playoffs. As we have said all year, we think, really, now it's really three things: It's the importance of the regular season, positioning players to get ready to compete in the Playoffs; and then three weeks of all of the best players in the world playing to get that seed position going into Atlanta; and then Atlanta being much more of a shootout, every player having a mathematical chance of winning, the top five being able to win with a win so they can control their own destiny. We are really looking forward to seeing how this plays out in the third year of the FedExCup.
I think overall thus far, as we get to our third set of Playoffs, we are very pleased with the traction the Cup has had in golf, the stature, recognition, positioning of competition takes years to accomplish, and I think this one has really been at warp speed to get to the position of where it is after only 2 1/2 years. Of course how far it goes depends on the history and the caliber of the competition and the excitement that's generated, and that's why we are so keen to see what happens these next few weeks.
After the Playoffs, we are looking forward to getting to San Francisco for The Presidents Cup. We think the win at the PGA Championship of our young Yang player is going to have a nice effect on The Presidents Cup in terms of generating more excitement and enthusiasm around the globe, particularly in Asia. Following The Presidents Cup, of course, we have our Fall Series back to determine and finish out who will be in the 125 for next year.
I will just also mention briefly that since we haven't been together in a few weeks that we are very encouraged by the vote of the Executive Committee of the IOC on recommending golf and rugby sevens to the International Olympic Committee for their vote in Copenhagen in October. That vote actually is the week of The Presidents Cup, so I will be at Harding Park in San Francisco, but we will all be watching and hopeful that the IOC determines the appropriateness of golf going into the Olympics.
As we have mentioned on a number of occasions, there is no next-day effect of golf in the United States, but globally over the next several years, there will be a huge impact on the rest of the game, in Asia, in Eastern Europe, in other developing areas, and also I think longer term it will help position golf as an athletic sport as it should be in the minds of those who sometimes question that.
I think we have already made that transition in reality, and having the IOC reaffirm that I think would be a very positive thing, as well. So we are cautiously optimistic. There are 110 people on that committee. It's impossible to know, it's a secret ballot, as you know, and the sports will be voted on in alphabetical order independent of each other. So the vote on golf will not be announced before the vote is taken for rugby sevens, so we'll keep an eye on that.
With that said, we are delighted to be back here in New York. I think the visuals this week for CBS and the GOLF CHANNEL will be outstanding. We have a good weather pattern moving in which is going to sharpen those visuals of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. So what we decided to go forward with a few years ago is in fruition and we are excited to see it play out this week. With that said, I'll be happy to try to answer your questions.

Q. First, spending 20 years in Jersey, New York is over there; but anyways, coming back here, I know you're going to go to Ridgewood, but the logistics that the undertaking of having this event here and some of the players we spoke with yesterday were, they bit their tongue a little bit about the untraditional layout and the untraditional construction of the course. I wonder what your long-term plans are and thoughts are for coming back to a site like this?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We can't fully evaluate the logistic challenges until we get our galleries out here the next four days, and that's really the most of it. I mean, we can work around the other challenges, but we want to have a good experience for our gallery.
So we don't fully understand that yet but our people are confident that we are going to be able to support the galleries nicely and we will have good movement, and we will see where that leads.
That's the kind of thing that any time we play at a new facility, we carefully evaluate those kind of things during the week, and when we get done, we evaluate it sort of postmortem.
As far as the competition side of the equation, it's always a challenge when you play, or most of the time, the challenge when you play at any golf course for the first time is particularly challenging when you play a new golf course. This is a tough golf course. This is a golf course that I think is going to play tough.
Even though it's soft right now, it's going to play tough. It's a long golf course, so there's a lot of challenge on this golf course. Usually when you come off a very difficult or challenging golf course, players morph into different groups of attitude. We will see how that plays out. A lot of that will have to do with our setup, the weather pattern, the wind conditions and what the takeaway is.
What we are looking for is an outstanding competitive format, something that creates excitement, and here again, you just don't know until you have some history on a golf course, how it's going to play out competitively. But we know the visuals are going to be great, and if the players oblige as they normally do by giving us a good, exciting finish on Sunday, that will be positive.
Then over the next several weeks we will carefully evaluate as we look to the future.

Q. Can you share how this event, from your point of view, how this venue was selected? Did the TOUR talk to a Winged Foot or some of the other great courses in the area?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, this golf course obviously is a new golf course. There have been a number of new golf courses built in the New York area in the last ten years. When we determined a few years back that we wanted to move the tournament around the metropolitan area, whether it be New Jersey or New York -- by the way, I went to first grade at Bethpage Elementary, so I have some historical relationship (smiling).
So when that process started, we started that and we continued to build a dialogue with an evaluation of golf properties in the general area. And we have talked to, evaluated, and talked to many of them and we continue that process.
We are very pleased with what's happened. It's not easy. The logistical challenges to move any tournament around every year, we felt like that's what we want to do here. Right now we are intent on continuing down that direction. What that will mean in terms of where we play, I would be speculating at this point, but I will just say that we have talked to a lot.

Q. What was the attraction to this venue?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, we liked the physical position of the facility. We think it's a good, solid golf course and a great test. Location-wise from a television standpoint, it's probably unique in the world. I think it's going to be an absolute stunning presentation on HD television. All four days are in HD this year.
It's also a location that we know from other things that have happened here, particularly July 4 with the Statue of Liberty, presentation so close by, the numbers of people that gravitate here on July 4, so people know how to get here.
We knew that we could have good galleries. There are a variety of factors but those are some of them.

Q. Is there a cap on the gallery this week? Is there a max that they can handle with traffic flow and parking or any of those, assuming they sell out?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We feel like we can handle 27,000 to 30,000 if we get that high a percentage of ticket buyers that come out. We treated this site much like we do The Presidents Cup but for a different reason. The Presidents Cup we usually cap our galleries at 25,000, and the reason being that we want people to have a quality experience, and if you get 40,000 people out there, they just can't see the number of matches. So we wanted to shy away from that.
But here it was different. Here it was largely focusing on that 25,000 to 28,000 range, because we felt like we wanted to be able to move people around and we wanted to be able to support the number of galleries that we had. So it's a work-in-progress. We'll evaluate what happens this week and we will go from there.
When we played The Presidents Cup at RTJ, we started at 25,000 and we eventually went to 32,000 or 33,000; we figured out ways to make it work, so we'll see.

Q. I wanted to ask you something about the current format for the FedExCup. It looks like it's sort of gone from being a season-long points race where every shot matters; I think was kind of the promotional hook early into more of a four-week sweepstakes, and I wonder whether you can have both, because there's a possibility Tiger could win the next three, go to Atlanta with eight wins this year and not win the FedExCup.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Right. Exactly. I think that we went out recently and asked 30, 35 players to comment on their attitude about the Cup, today. And one of the themes that came back from that, one of the things a number of players mentioned is that configured as it is, the FedExCup may be the hardest thing to win in golf, because you do need to play well enough all season long, to put yourself in the position knowing that the points are going to be increased that you chose the example of a guy who wins three. But if a guy is not playing well, he wants to come into the Playoffs as strong as he can. You never know what's going to happen.
Then yes, then we shift to more of a shootout with an advantage to how you play all year and how you perform against the best players week-in and week-out for the last three weeks. But it's only an advantage, and if you think back to when we started the Cup, that's more in line with what we wanted. We wanted the finale, THE TOUR Championship, to be something where if you had the No. 1 seed, you sort of had something akin to a home-court advantage in, let's say, NBA basketball. You can lose, but you've got an advantage.
I think the intervals that we set for that first seed provides you an advantage. Now, it's a bigger advantage over No. 3 and a bigger advantage over No. 5 and a bigger advantage over No. 8; so obviously a guy looks at that and says, I want to be the highest seed I can, which means he's going to play all year well, carry those points into the Playoffs and set the stage for THE TOUR Championship.
I think that is what the players are talking about when they say it's the hardest to win; maybe not the hardest tournament to win, most people say that about the U.S. Open given the grueling conditions, but the hardest thing to win given it's all year long, it's multiple weeks, you have to perform comparatively well to be in position, and then you have to bring it home at the end. If that were to develop as to what the FedExCup really is, that would be terrific.

Q. Is part of your long-term plan to establish some kind of a regular rotation for the event, in terms of sites, and secondly, are you going to be sharing those comments from the 35 players to the media?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yeah, you'll see them on the air this week, PSAs. (Smiling).
I would say maybe we go to a regular rotation. Ten years ago, I probably would have answered it differently. I probably would have said, yes, we really want to get into a regular rotation, or no; and I've come to find more and more years in this job, it's better to take the long view and see what happens.
I don't know, because if we get to a rotation that really, really works and we feel like provides access to the tournament to a good percentage of the metropolitan area, is a good mix of golf courses that the players really liked and creates exciting golf on the weekend and works for the galleries, then I suppose that's possible.
Right now, it's kind of fun to try, answering this gentleman's question about playing here, it's kind of fun to do this. It puts a little different sidelight on it when you play someplace new.
We are open on that question at this point. We will continue to look at opportunities and see what develops, and I would say we know that we want the New York metropolitan area in the mix for the Playoffs for the long term; that's a given, the largest media market in the world and a great place for golf fans.
So if that's the case, then we want to do the very best we can to present what that Playoff event is in this area. We just need to keep working on it like anything else we do to try to make it better.

Q. Does the size of a property now no longer matter in hosting this tournament, because we were at Westchester, a big 36-hole facility, going to Plainfield now, sort of a small -- I guess property-wise, cramped facility and this is small, does it now no longer matter; as long as the course is good enough, you'll find places to put the tents and the people?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It matters. I think it's easy, it's much easier if you have more space, when you can do more things and you can -- one of the things we like is the concept of interactive fan arrangements, like we have THE PLAYERS Championship, certain places, where we just can't get that done. You always want more room. It's just easier.
Having said that, it's not the only thing. To be able like next year to go to Plainfield which has we think a great golf atmosphere, a traditional feel, and a club that's absolutely committed to this wonderful First Tee facility they are doing right across the street, we think it's a great opportunity to highlight The First Tee program in New Jersey, and to highlight what the club has done there, in addition to having a great golf course, just makes for nice improvements and to taking it back to where it was years ago.
So there are other factors. The nice thing about moving it around every year is we can be at some venues where we have more room but are more challenging and we can accomplish different things. I think what we are looking for this week is a great presentation. I think that's our No. 1 thing.

Q. The upcoming Olympic vote, can you give a sense of is there still a full-court press, or is this just a waiting game at this point?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I mean, no, I think that we tried to make ourselves available. Ty Votaw is on our team and has spent a lot of time on this, Peter Dawson with the R&A, and others, making ourselves available to answer questions from the IOC members. As we move forward, some IOC members raised their hand and had some interesting questions about the sport, the organization of the sport related to staging of the competition.
The key things that the IOC laid out going in that they thought were important to the Olympic movement, which include: Is the sport global, is the sport growing, is the sport reaching kids, is the sport successful in the television department, is the sport one that tracks sponsorship. We think we have a great story to tell on those metrics, and so we are continuing to try to make sure the word is out on where we stack up in those areas.
But at the end of the day, there are a variety of different ways to look at adding sports to the Olympics. Some people look at it from the standpoint of if it's golf, okay, what's the value to the Olympics to add the sport; that's in our advantage if they look at it that way.
Some people, on the other hand may look at it from the standpoint, I'm involved with X sport, I don't want the television coverage of the Olympics further diluted by having to cover two more sports. So I understand there may be more value there, but we are fine where we are. And some people may be voting from status quo I suspect. It's hard to tell.
But to answer your question, we are staying engaged, absolutely.

Q. There's no more presentations involved?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: There will be a presentation in Copenhagen, as well. We got a very good reaction to the presentation we made to the Executive Committee, and our presentation in Copenhagen will be very similar, but not the same presentation.

Q. Have you looked at or thought about what the implications of the Olympics will be on the competitive balance in golf at the highest levels? You have mentioned there's going to be no next-day effect on the golf in the U.S., but how do you think over the years the inclusion of countries that have not excelled at the sport, what do you think that will do?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: There are a number of countries which are on the launching pad for growing the game, and that means growing world-class players. That's going to happen anyway. That those things are moving, particularly in Asia, China, India are gradually getting on the path that's already been followed by first Japan and then Korea, and some areas of Eastern Europe. We are starting to see more focus in South America, as well.
So it's going to happen. With golf going to the Olympics, it accelerates and changes the trajectory significantly, especially where you have countries that are absolutely committed to being competitive in whatever sport is on the Olympic program. Now in golf, we know what that means. You have to have facilities to produce a player who is a Top-20, world-class player. You have to have a lot of men and women competing to get to that point. You can't higher a gym to turn ten people into whatever; you have to have thousands of players playing the game to generate elite players. They understand that, and that's what's going to happen.
The trajectory of growth is going to be very, very different. So what that does is in the world of golf is make it more global, more international television distribution; the strength of world-class events is greater yet. If history repeats itself, the next 25 years, from the last 25 years, you will see a growing pressure from abroad of players wanting to play the United States Tour, as long as the United States Tour is a world tour, so we will see that. There will be spinoff, ripple effects that we will have to deal with. My guess is eventually it may lead to different configurations of competition globally but that's a ways down.

Q. One thing you mentioned about the Olympics, does the sport attract sponsors; why does it the IOC necessarily care if golf attracts sponsorship?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Because the IOC is a sponsor-centric entity, much like golf. A huge amount of revenue is sponsorship, either directly or indirectly; directly through their corporate partners at a huge price point, and then eventually they are also reliant on the extent to which their television partners could sell sponsorship. I don't want to over state, but I think the history of golf in this area is very, very positive.

Q. If you were to get in, and I know that's a bit of a hypothetical, but it does look promising, if you were to get in, does that open doors for you with the PGA TOUR kind of getting access to the Olympic sponsors and possibly parlaying that into more sponsorship on the PGA TOUR?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't think so. I mean, if you look at the configuration of the sponsorship of the Olympic Games, it's companies that we already talk to. I don't think there's much for us there, and No. 2 I think we are largely sponsored already. Even though we will have some turnover on this downturn, we are already working hard to fill those gaps. I don't see that.
But I do think that the texture of the game is richer to some extent with golf in the Olympics, which makes it even more attractive to sponsorship. So I think it will help us possibly globally with sponsorship, even though it may not be a direct interface with some sponsor that happens to be at the Olympic Games, so indirectly.
LAURA HILL: Thank you for joining us.

End of FastScripts

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