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July 12, 2000

Tim Finchem


JEFF ADAMS: Tim Finchem, Commissioner of the PGA TOUR joins us. He is going to visit a little bit about the FORD SENIOR PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP this week, review the 2000 season and take a look at 2001, and then open it up to any questions and answers. Tim?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Thanks, Jeff. Thanks for being here, everybody. I'll just take a few minutes and run through a few details about this championship and the SENIOR TOUR, where we are today. We had a nice player meeting last night, getting the players up to speed on a variety of subjects. Of course, this is our 11th year playing in Dearborn; 10th at the TPC. We're delighted to continue to have Ford Motor Company a great company as our sponsor, in particular, the leadership shown; Steve Munsch, our general manager here, and the staff have done a super job. I think the superintendent and his staff have done the best job to date in terms of getting the golf course ready. I think with the rough conditions and the speed out there, unless we get torrents of rain, we will have the golf course in the best championship condition it's been, and we're very pleased about that. This will be the fourth and final major on the SENIOR TOUR this year, and we think the championship has continued to grow each year. It will have a record of $2.3 million, which is an all-time record for prize money on the SENIOR TOUR this year. The week has been a good one so far. We started off Monday with a good Grand Champions event, walking Doug Sanders, Howie Johnson, Billy Casper were there, which was very nice, and I think that series of events where we recognize the players who had an awful lot to do with the start of the SENIOR TOUR, but then because of age or disability, really couldn't take advantage of the financial strength of the SENIOR TOUR; it gives those players a chance to come back and earn some dollars and compete, as well. The Larry Dilbert Pro-Am on Monday went quite well. Of course, Dave Stockton is to be commended for his effort in recruiting the various players, 14 TOUR players who participated in that youth Pro-Am. As for the SENIOR TOUR this season, it has been very, very good. We're obviously healthier in almost every category on the SENIOR TOUR than we ever have been. We've got a great mixture now of increasingly recognized veterans, Irwin, Fleisher, Nelson, Jacobs, Trevino, Archer and others along with the newcomers, Kite, Wadkins, Watson, Doug Tewell, Andy North, and that will continue, going forward. We've had good individual performance this year from Watson, Eichelberger, Kite and Fleischer. Our prize money this year is up 10 percent over last year to nearly $55 million, or over $55 million. Interestingly, and very much a plus is the fact that our attendance is up nicely this year, on average across the board. And particularly in the sub-tournaments, it's up quite nicely. We've had a 20 percent increase in Naples, Tampa and Kansas City. Our ticket sales for the Instanet Classic next week, the first time week playing the TPC at Jasnapolana, in Princeton are up over 20 percent above where we were in Philadelphia last year. So it's starting to look like that move up to Jasnapolana was a good one. We're real pleased to be able to play there next week. It's the first playing of a SENIOR TOUR event at that tournament. We think it's a good championship golf course, and a great market, great place to be, and hopefully, all of you will be there to be part of that next week. Charity contributions as well continue on an all-time high in 2000. We're on target now to top last year's record of 11.05 million to charity in the communities where we play. Our sponsorship, if you include everything, title sponsors, subsidiary sponsors, on-site presenting sponsors, our umbrella sponsors, our television purchasers are frankly at an all-time high, which is underpinning the continuing financial strength, both with charity and prize money of the SENIOR TOUR. Later this year, we'll be playing the Lucayan Senior Slam in December, first week of December in Grand Bahama Island. Of course, we have players already identified: Kite, who won the Tradition, Doug Tewell, the Senior PGA Championship, and Hale Irwin, and we'll decide the fourth player this week. Looking forward to next year. I know all of you are aware of our new arrangement with CNBC where we'll have 233 events on CNBC. We had Bill Bolsters, the president of CNBC, here last night visiting with our players. And I think our players, the staff is delighted with the excitement and the commitment that Bill and his staff are bringing to the preparation for the SENIOR TOUR on CNBC. So far, the planning and execution is moving forward, although we have a lot of work to do to get ready for the commencement in the first quarter next year. Next year our rookie class includes some interesting characters and names with Roger Maltbie, Bruce Lietzke, Fuzzy Zoeller, all individuals who we think will really contribute to the growth of the SENIOR TOUR in the years to come. Bruce Lietzke has been talking to me for several years about playing the SENIOR TOUR, and I'm delighted that his plan is maybe not the first year, but after his boys graduate from high school, playing a fairly elaborate extended schedule on the SENIOR TOUR, starting in 2002, but he'll be playing some next year as well. And following after 2001, 2002, 2003, we will have Ben Crenshaw, Craig Stadler, Jerry Pate and Jay Haas coming out; and the next three years look very, very good in terms of new quality names of players to add to the strength of the SENIOR TOUR. We recently announced a new event for next year in silicon valley the Siebel Classic, and we're really pleased to finally get to San Jose. It's been a target of ours for a number of years. We wanted to be in that part of California with the SENIOR TOUR, and we're delighted with the development that allows us to start our tournament there next year. I would say that all in all, golf is hot and golf is growing, and the PGA TOUR is doing very well. The SENIOR TOUR continues to deliver value to its sponsors, our challenge is to effectively communicate that with good, solid television production the next four years and maintain and build our television audience, which we intend to do, but as I've said often in the last couple of years, at least in my mind, there's no question that the best days of the SENIOR TOUR are still ahead of us. I'd be happy to try to answer any questions you have on SENIOR TOUR business, Senior players, championship work, anything else; although, I reserve the right to take a pass. (Smiles).

Q. Curious about the CNBC deal. Is there a timetable on when you want to have that all wrapped up, or that we'll know some details about what tournaments exactly will be on the schedule?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: The schedule is a slightly different process on CNBC. CNBC, for all intents and purposes, is done. The schedule is very close to being completed. I think we have two lingering issues, and I'd say we're -- what do we say, within 14 to 30 days for sure, part of the schedule, we're on the verge of getting it done. We'd like to, if we can, we'd like to announce the entire schedule at the same time. If we can't do that, we'll do it in pieces, but right now, we'd like to get it out in the next two or three weeks. That schedule will reflect television carrier.

Q. Any idea yet as far as CNBC goes, is the production going to be completely different from what you've got now, or might some of the ESPN on-air talent be re-hired or do you even know yet?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: CNBC has not hired any talent yet. They are finishing up the process of getting their coordinating producer in place. In fact, Bill spoke to that last night. They think they are close to getting that done. I think he said seven days. In the meantime, they have pulled together a list of potential talent, and as soon as they get their coordinating producer on, they will be sitting down and talking to potential talent. As a consequence, I wouldn't suggest that the sort of thematics of production or strategy of production have been worked out either. What we do know is that there is an awful lot of energy being applied to the process. We think that energy is going to result in quality product, and a fresh look, a fresh direction. Production is something that we think would be, you know, make sense.

Q. Did Lietzke indicate how many events he might be playing next year, even in that reduced schedule?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: You know, I've talked to Bruce two or three times, and I certainly don't want to put words in his mouth, but my recollection was that the first year when his kids were still in school, he would probably play a schedule not dissimilar to what he's played, but he envisioned after that, as so many senior players do, of having his wife join him in some travel and really playing a fair number of tournaments, much more than he's played in the past on the PGA TOUR. If that comes to pass, it will be interesting to see if he can play well, playing more often. He's shocked everybody so many times by not showing up for four months and leading a tournament on Saturday. But it's going to be having him play a fair amount of SENIOR TOUR, at least by the second week.

Q. Has anything been done or what is the status of Cadillac as an umbrella sponsor in the future?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Umbrella positions are still in the discussion stage. We hope to have everything wrapped up in 30 days, but I wouldn't want to speculate as to how that might come out right now. There isn't any question, though, that our umbrella sponsor positions will be worked out in a way that will allow us to meet our strategic objectives; so I'm very comfortable with where we're going to come out. Hopefully, we'll have some specifics here in three or four weeks.

Q. You talked about Lietzke being enthusiastic. As you go into this era of Tom Kite and that generation, guys who have made millions of dollars, some of the biggest money winners ever, were you ever concerned that some of these guys may not have the enthusiasm to keep playing the senior golf, and what's been the reality? It seems like maybe these guys are going to be more enthusiastic than might have thought?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Are we going to be?

Q. Yeah.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I always look at the barometer of Arnold and Jack as who guys who obviously are financially secure, certainly don't need to play for financial reasons. And yet, they just want to play. And they both have played a lot. I think Jack told me last year, you know, the year before his hip surgery he played more tournaments than any time in his career. And, of course, Arnold has continued to play a very active schedule at 70 years old. So what I see when I talk to these players is that regardless of where they are in a financial situation, they are players who have spent their entire lives playing competitive golf. They love doing it. When you get at some point in your career, the SENIOR TOUR is the place you can do it with the kind of competition that they thrive on. So I don't see any fall-off on that. I suspect it will have the occasional situation with a Johnny Miller who wants to concentrate on broadcast. But by and large, I think if you go out 15 years, if we're creating -- if we're getting a good critical mass of the best players, and we're playing on good golf courses with challenging conditions, I think players will continue to play. The fact that we can generate financial rewards for good play is a benefit, but I think the cutting thing there in the decision is wanting to compete.

Q. This will be a meandering question, maybe one that's tough to answer. It seems like this tour was built because the old name players from the regular tour, Nicklaus and Trevino, when they first came out here, won right away. Now you've got this year's crop out here, the rookies that everybody has been waiting for and they have not won right away. Instead the big winner has been a total unknown named Bruce Fleisher. If that continues to happen down the road, could it thwart the TOUR, in terms of TV, which is what really counts? Could the fact that the Watsons and the Kites don't win as much as they did on the regular tour hurt the SENIOR TOUR; that you've got to have the big names on the PGA TOUR come on win on this tour?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Let me answer your question in two parts. The real history of this tour, if you go way back, the early strength of this tour was as it was getting formulated between 1981, 1986, 1987, there you had a group of players that nobody had seen for a while. Because in those days, guys quit playing when they were 35 or 40, and we had a group of players that nobody had seen play. But they were name players and it didn't really matter. Then you got into this period whether it was Peter Thomson or Chi Chi Rodriguez or Lee Trevino, they would come off the PGA TOUR and win six or seven times in three or four years, and they get to be 55, it was like 55 was a cliff and you fall off the cliff and you don't win much anymore. I always predicted I think going back four years that when Hale Irwin, I thought Hale Irwin would be the first player that would sort of set the new standard; that he would continue to win after 55, because of his physical fitness, and that would be followed. Now, when you today talk to players, I remember talking to Payne Stewart last year at the Ryder Cup. Payne Stewart was 42 years old, and he had his game plan laid out, including SENIOR TOUR for at least eight or ten years. His physical fitness approach to the game, to get ready, was to be able to accomplish that, which is a totally different situation than a generation ago when you just sort of phased out in your early 40s. So, I saw Hale Irwin as a guy who begin a trend that players would continue to win after 55, and you wouldn't have that cliff anymore. I mean, I may be proven wrong, I don't know but if you look at Peter Thomson, again 55 as a number -- or to answer your question, the second part of your question: Yes, I'm not so sure it would be a positive. I think it would be a negative if the name players from the PGA TOUR who have built up a fan base over the years come over here, and I wouldn't say winning necessarily is necessary, but I certainly think being highly competitive. I think it's important to television, and I think we all recognize it, and we certainly do focus groups and stuff like that, that the name players need to be in the telecast, and to be in the telecast, you have to be highly competitive. We need that. There isn't any question that the SENIOR TOUR can generate an audience. You need look no farther than the playoff at Tradition. On network television, again, you've got a very solid rating. It depends on what's on. We need to avoid having PGA TOUR golf on at same time, because you just split the golf audience, and we are accomplishing that with CNBC by going 6:00 to 8:00 every week, solid time frames across the board. And we need those players playing well. There's no question about it. But, given the number of name players that are coming out, you go all the way to I think the farthest we have looked is 2007. 2000 we have this incredible list of players. You go all the way out, the list gets bigger. And the reason the list gets bigger, because on the PGA TOUR side if you go back 30 years, the list has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger of name players, and because television has grown so much. So there are just inherently more name players each year as you go out getting to the age of 50. And that phenomena I think is going to mean that anybody not all of them, but certainly a good percentage of them, will be competitive or play well and we see these guys gearing for the SENIOR TOUR at age 40, 41 and 42, staying in shape for it I think that will be the outcome. So we feel good about that. But again, we might be proven wrong.

Q. Where do things stand on the British Open qualifier in the States?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We haven't announced any details, but we are -- we have the parameters of an arrangement worked out with the R&A, for some in-U.S. qualifying for the British Open, beginning I think, next year. There are some details yet to be resolved in terms of exactly how that's going to work. So I probably shouldn't comment about the details that are on the table since they might change. But I think it will accomplish a couple of things. It will allow the R&A to have some qualifying presence here in the United States, which they seem to be interested in. The other thing it will accomplish is it will facilitate ways in which our tour players can gain access to the British Open. And in my judgment if it all works out, it will result in a higher number of our members actually playing in the British Open through a combination of qualifying here and traditional qualifying in the British Open. So we hope that comes to pass, and hopefully we'll have something to say about it in the not-too-distant future.

Q. Talking to some players on the practice tee who were at the meeting last night, they were concerned that there was a lot of finger-pointing at ESPN, things wrong, that need to be addressed. What do you say to that kind of comment?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I don't know who is pointing any fingers. What we have said, certainly from my perspective and the perspective of staff is that ESPN has been a television partner of the SENIOR TOUR since 1984, and during that time, they have expended significant effort and resources to build the SENIOR TOUR audience and the SENIOR TOUR as a sport and as an organization, and we're indebted to their partnership. The fact that things did not precisely come together for a continuation of that the next few years should not diminish in any way the impact they have had. That's No. 1. No. 2, ESPN next year, after the SENIOR TOUR goes to CNBC, will have more hours of coverage of the PGA TOUR than any other television carrier. So it would be kind of silly and counterproductive to criticize, and there's no reason to criticize. They have done a good job, a solid job. They have worked hard. And I don't know where that's coming from. It's the first I've heard of it. Anybody that's pointing fingers at ESPN, they ought not to be, and there's certainly no justification to do so.

Q. Any solution in the works for -- a couple times this year, networks having to cut away before tournaments concluded, anything you might put in the contract for next time or do you have any plans to resolve that? Obviously, you never watch a baseball game in the 8th inning; they never go off the air because they are running late, but it keeps happening in golf.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We have contractual provisions that relate to it in most of our contracts. Going on forever isn't in them. But usually, most of the year, that's not really an issue because you're going to get dark at some point. The specific issue, the specific situation we had with CBS was not consistent with our contract, and we have been assured it's not going to be repeated. So given that, I'm reasonably comfortable with where we are with our contracts. But, we're always looking for a way to strengthen them. I think that the vast majority of our program is protected in that sense, reasonably. That's not to say it won't go on forever, but 90 percent of the situations are covered, I would say.

Q. Also, ABC at Westchester cut away, sent it over to ESPN2, which a lot of people get but some people don't get.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Now, we get into a different kind of -- from the networks and the carriers, we wanted some consideration since we've become much more aggressive to go into Monday, we want some consideration outside of our contractual agreements on broadcasting on Monday. Like we had the PLAYERS Championship, which was very successful with NBC; like we had at Memorial, which was very successful with CBS. In exchange for that from time to time, we are willing to accept a shift to a different carrier if there is proper notification. But like I said, in the vast majority of cases, we're still protected on Sunday, but that's one of the things we'll be looking at in next year's discussion.

End of FastScripts....

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