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June 30, 2010

Tim Finchem


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: We'd like to welcome PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem to the interview room here at AT&T National. I believe you want to start with some brief opening remarks.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thank you, Joel. Yes, good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. First of all, let me just thank the membership at Aronimink for not just hosting the event this week but doing such a phenomenal job to get the golf course prepared. It looks spectacular. I think it's going to play very well on the telecast this weekend all over the world.
Secondly, we're delighted to be back in Philadelphia. We've been gone for a while. We haven't played PGA TOUR golf in this market for a number of years, and it's a great sports town. It's a great golf town. So we're looking forward to this weekend.
As far as the PGA TOUR goes, we're pleased with the way the year has developed. I think perhaps the highlight as I go around the country is more focus on young players than I've seen in a good number of years, and certainly young American players with ten players in their 20s winning, the youth movement is very solid. I think it's created a lot of enthusiasm and balanced by great performances already this year from some of the veterans like Ernie Els and Phil and others.
So it makes for, at this point in time, late June, a good, solid year competitively in building toward our Playoffs here for the FedExCup in a couple months.
Finally, I'll just throw out that while the economy continues to lag, we are pleased about how we performed in the marketplace with sponsorship and other related type issues, and we do continue to expect our overall charitable giving, which is the measurement for the bottom-line performance of our tournaments, to grow this year nicely over last year, which in this environment makes us feel very good about how our tournaments are performing in their sales effort in markets around the country.
So I'm just really here to see if there's anything on your minds and anything I can help you with, with issues of the day or questions regarding the future. I'll open it up for questions.

Q. What do you need to see or what would need to happen to have future PGA stops back in this area on a consistent basis?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Not much. I mean, we know the market is a good market, and there are a lot of good golf courses here, obviously. When the folks here at Aronimink talked to us several years ago about possibly playing after they had redone the golf course, it was an exciting opportunity, and the Tiger Woods Foundation became very interested, too, with the Open going to Washington.
So I think it's -- obviously we'll watch the reaction of the market, as well, but we have great confidence it's going to be a very successful event. We're back here next year, and after that we'll look for opportunities. But certainly this is a market we'd like to play in longer term.

Q. Can you give us an update on title sponsor search for Hilton Head and Doral/WGC, and as a follow, is contracting the schedule if that doesn't go well a possibility?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I mean, I'll answer the last question first. We have to have sponsorship to put on events, so if it got to a point where sponsorship wasn't available, it's always a possibility. But candidly, we are basically on track with where we are in most years, good or bad economy, in terms of the amount of work we have to do either to renew sponsors or bring in new sponsors.
With regards to Doral and Hilton Head, we have conversations going on right now, and we feel good about where we're headed. I think the market is soft generally, but for our product it continues to perform well, and we don't anticipate any need for contraction.

Q. The market you're not in this year is Washington. What's the TOUR's level of commitment to staying there as a place you've been for a long time?

Q. Washington.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I mean, I think this tournament has a multi-year agreement with Congressional starting in '12, when they go back. They've just done some additional work on the golf course at Congressional to make it even better. So you know, obviously we love the Washington market. We left for a brief period of time because we wanted to reposition a new tournament. When Tiger offered us the opportunity to work with him on a tournament, it created that opportunity. So we're excited about it. We don't see leaving the Washington market.
And in addition, we're playing the Senior Players at TPC Potomac this October, and we've had a number of players play there and got a great reaction. So we're really excited to see the Champions Tour players on that golf course.

Q. Do you have any theories on the 20-somethings, like why they've sort of had this breakthrough? Is it just better coaching at a younger age, or do you have any ideas on that?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, yeah, I have my own theory, which is really predicated on it's been 12 years since Tiger Woods stormed on -- 14 years since Tiger Woods stormed on the scene, and I noticed in the couple of years after that an upsurge in the interest among kids, but also an upsurge in the interest of parents in terms of, okay, I have an athletic kid, male or female, and rather than maybe the percentage of parents pushing that kid in baseball and football, basketball, a higher percentage were focused on golf, because golf in many ways requires more of a commitment from the family.
I often tell the story of the doctor that lives down the street from me that when his kid was 12, about seven years ago, he had a swing coach, he had a trainer, and he would go to Orlando once a month to visit with a sports psychologist on how to win. You know, you see that repeated all over the country.
So I think a little bit of it has to do with the number of kids interested, focused on the game. We see it in the First Tee program, but we also see parents who say this is a real positive avocation; money has increased significantly in that period of time. If there was one thing to point to, that would be it.

Q. (No microphone.)
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: He's played reasonably well in college, but I don't see him in Q-school. So we'll see. If you were to go out and play with him, you'd say, this kid can shoot 66 on a dime. He's not going to make it, though.

Q. Another sponsorship question. Back in December when Tiger went on his indefinite hiatus, AT&T had ended their sponsorship with Tiger. Was there any talk or concern from the TOUR about AT&T in the sponsorship of this tournament? Did they at any point approach the TOUR in conjunction with ending their sponsorship with Tiger possibly getting out of this contract?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No. They obviously monitored the situation, but they were committed to what the foundation stands for and to PGA TOUR. So we have a long, very positive relationship with AT&T.

Q. Can you just talk about where the conversation is in terms of designated tournaments and/or possible flex schedule and how feasible something like that could be in 2012 and beyond?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yeah, it's a work in progress. We've been reviewing sort of flex scheduling, moving tournaments around year in, year out, to take advantage of different kinds of fields that are available because there are some weeks during the year that certain players just aren't going to play for a variety of reasons, and there's a lot of reasons.
And then at the same time perhaps we're looking at a system where we would each year identify a short list of tournaments that had serious field needs in terms of ability to build a tournament in the community they play and asking top-30, top-50 players to play one of those the next year. And that's a possibility.
You know, it's probably going to be two or three months until the details are ironed out on that, if we decide to move forward.
I think in the meantime I'd have to say that we've had a pretty good run of players moving their schedules around a little bit and generating some surprisingly good fields two or three times this year that we would not have anticipated. So that's good news.
But we still want to go in in the next cycle of getting through this economic patch with our sponsors being very positive and upbeat, basic -- everybody seems to refer to this as a Tiger and Phil issue; it's really not. It's really about having a representative number of top players week in and week out. It's hard to do because we have a lot of tournaments over a lot of weeks, and they're all good nowadays. They're all good golf courses, they're all in good shape, they all have good purses, so the players have a lot of options.
So it is hard work, but at least for the moment we're going to stay the course on the number of tournaments generally and see what we can do with field because we have more and more good players coming up.

Q. Getting back to the question about young people playing, as you described, the people coming onto the TOUR, it's obvious that they come from a different economic background, higher. Has there been any success in getting golf, other than the First Tee, into lower economic segments of our society so that those people might come forward?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, the First Tee is that initiative. The good news is it's touched an awful lot of kids, and it's brought the game to a point where it's available to more kids. But it is a herculean logistical task to make the game available to millions more, just because it's not like putting up a basketball net up on the side of a building. You need facilities, and you need access to facilities.
But I think Joe Barrow and his team have done a great job. Almost 4 million kids have been touched with the program now. But as we were just talking, there is a difference between making the participation side of the sport available to kids, which over time will change the demographic look of the sport from a participation standpoint and certainly from a fan standpoint. There's a difference between that and the resources that go into bringing a kid along at a young age to play at this level, because you just go out and talk to players on the Champions Tour right now, all of them between 50 and 65 or so, and virtually all of them started playing when they were six or eight years old, and most of them had some level of resources to be able to go and travel and compete and learn and get better.
It is a real challenge in that way, too. And I don't know exactly what the solution is. We assume that if you can change the participation side among youth, some of that will gravitate to the elite, competitive levels, and I assume it will. But at what speed, that's hard to evaluate.

Q. What have been the impediments in the past to bringing and keeping a TOUR stop in the Philadelphia area? You identified this market as a place where you want to be year in and year out.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: One is just date and availability; two is, you know, marrying the market with a sponsor. Every potential sponsor has their own ideas about where they would like to play for a variety of reasons. I suspect third is golf course access a little bit. I mean, this is a phenomenal place. You know, if Aronimink passed a motion at their next member meeting saying we welcome the PGA TOUR here any year they want to play, any date they want to play and whoever wants to sponsor them, that would be helpful. But there are other golf courses, as well.
We just have to see. A lot of factors have to come together to be able to get a tournament that's staged at this level on the schedule.

Q. Back to scheduling overall, how much do tournaments come to you and say, hey, we'd really rather play this date. Is that a constant kind of battle for you?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yeah, there are battles. I'd say most tournaments, most tournaments, the majority of tournaments, like the dates they're in. In fact, some of them like the dates they're in so much that even if you could put them in a date where they'd have a better field, they'd prefer to stay in the date they're in for a variety of reasons; corporate scheduling, vagaries in the marketplace, access to their customers, or even -- the reason they use the vehicle from a marketing/sales standpoint ties into certain things they're doing. So there's a lot to that.
Most of our sponsors are happy with their date structure. Some would like to move around, but that's not too many. Some would like another date altogether; we just don't have it available.

Q. The earliest flex schedule would be 2012?

Q. How do you measure strength of field?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: A couple different ways. Comparatively, percentage of top players in various lists, top 30, top 50, 125, exempt players, World Rankings versus other tournaments. We also have a method where we measure other kinds of performance; players who have won in the last two years, players who have won in the last four years, players who have been multiple winners, players who have finished top 5 in x number of most-watched events.
Then there's a sort of throwaway or a unique, subjective category, and you might have a player -- Freddie Couples pretty much plays on the Champions Tour. Now, if he comes and plays in your tournament he's going to help your field because he's a story and he's exciting to fans and people want to see him. John Daly is not playing well at all right now, but when he plays people want to see him play and hit the ball. He's always been a fan favorite. You know, if Jack Nicklaus comes out and doesn't play but he's there for the week, that helps, too.
So there's lots of subjective things in terms of "marquee players," different ways to look at it, and you need to look at it all the different ways to really measure why a tournament is performing at a level versus another tournament is performing at a different level; is it really due to field list or what.

Q. What are those different areas? What's the one that gets the tournament director's attention the most? And secondly, if you were to go to that three or four designated tournaments a year, how do you designate which tournaments need it?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, let me answer the first question and I'll ask you to repeat the second one. If you were to -- if it's a really good tournament director, they'll look at it lots of different ways because they're evaluating it differently. But generally it would be the number of top-20 or -30 players off the current list is the most important because that's what the media in the market tends to write about.

Q. Which list, FedEx or World Ranking?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It could be either list, depends what the media is writing about. And then the sponsor reacts to media attention on whatever that list is. So that's probably their top-of-mind measurement. But increasingly they look at it different ways because it is important to do so.
What was the second?

Q. If you were to designate four or five tournaments in which a player must pick one to play, how do you designate which of those tournaments need help or --
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Probably based on the tournament that had what we would consider a weaker field and perhaps had that weaker field for more than one year. Sometimes you have a vagary in the schedule that will drive -- impact negatively a field that's a temporary situation, because golf courses get other factors. Probably that list, you would look at that list and say here's three events, four events that have been weak for a couple years, it's time to give them some help. That's kind of the theory.

Q. Where would you put Greensboro in there given its location of coming after WGC, a major, then followed by the Playoffs?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It's a unique week simply because players that are -- most of the top players are going to play six out of seven right during that time frame, and many of them, given Presidents Cup, Ryder Cup, seven out of eight already. So it creates a unique week that probably needs to be dealt with a different way in some fashion.

Q. I want to go back to the question about Philadelphia. The three categories that you gave really are pretty much the stock categories for a tournament anywhere in the country; you need a sponsor, a site, and -- Philadelphia has plenty of courses. Date, you can make that not the problem. Sponsorship is the problem. When does the PGA TOUR get involved and say, we need to help encourage a sponsor toward one of the largest markets that hasn't had a tournament in so long?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, first of all, when you say you can make that happen, not at the expense of our current tournament structure; that's not fair. We have loyalty to tournaments. We're going to be really excited after this year and next year because this tournament, the AT&T National, performed very well in Philadelphia. We'll be excited about it. It will reconfirm that PGA TOUR golf can be successful, very successful, in Philadelphia, but there has to be a date opportunity coupled with a golf course interest, and then we have something to talk to sponsorship about.
But what will change because of this two years is that potential sponsors will now, in my view, look at Philadelphia. It will be more top of mind when you're talking to sponsors about, okay, we have a date opening, we're going to create a new event, you'd be a perfect sponsor. They're going to be more inclined to nod their head if Philadelphia is in the discussion than they would have been prior to this two years. That's about all I can tell you, but that's a positive thing. If you're interested in golf in Philadelphia, it's a positive thing.

Q. So you've already stamped this as a successful event?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I'm saying I'm assuming it's going to be quite successful.

Q. Is it correct to assume first that Memphis would be a tournament that would fit in the category of needing help, deserving help?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't know. I think they have pretty good fields. It's not quite as strong the week before the Open as it was for some reason five or six years ago. It used to be -- let's go back ten years. Westchester and Washington, D.C., would scramble with each other every year about wanting the date before the Open. It was a really good field date, not quite as strong as it used to be, but it's possible that Memphis could be a candidate for the list.

Q. On average --
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't have a date in front of me, so I hate to speculate.

Q. Should we expect some announcement on this change in say a month or later this summer, or should we just say it's something being discussed?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: If we're going to do something in '11, if we were going to put this into play in '11, my sense is that it would have -- it's got to be approved under our system. Tournament regulations need to be approved twice by the board. It's a failsafe mechanism that causes us from -- keeps us from doing damage to ourselves. And in this case, though, you would want the fourth quarter to educate players and tournaments how it would work.
Yeah, I would suspect in the next two months, 90 days maybe, we need to finish it up. Certainly by September.
JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Commissioner Finchem, thank you very much.

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