What they said: Tim Finchem

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September 19, 2012
PGA TOUR staff

MORE INTERVIEWS: TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola transcripts archive

LAURA HILL: I'd like to welcome PGA TOUR Commissioner, Tim Finchem, to the interview room here at the TOUR Championship by Coca� Cola. This is Tim's annual State of the TOUR address. We will transition after the Q & A portion to a special World Golf Hall of Fame announcement. So we'll start with your opening remarks, Tim, and take questions from the media and do the Hall of Fame announcement. I'll turn it over to you, Commissioner.

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Good afternoon, everybody, again, most of you I saw yesterday. This is an opportunity for me to share with you some thoughts about where the PGA TOUR is as we come to the climactic finish of the FedExCup season.

Again, let me begin by thanking Tom Cousins and the East Lake Foundation for their partnership these last years and everybody here at East Lake for working so hard to prepare the golf course. It's in incredible condition.

I was just talking to some players about their reaction to it and to Coca� Cola for their continued sponsorship, and also Southern Company for their participation, not only in the tournament, but in presenting the Payne Stewart Award yesterday and last night, which was great fun and a special moment, I thought, for golf and for the PGA TOUR.

I think you're all aware we're very pleased with the way things are going and the way things have been going. But the last year and a half have been quite extraordinary. I'd like to take the liberty of sharing with you some data and some other thoughts about trying to quantify the performance of the TOUR for the fans and for the sponsors during the course of the year.

Before I get into that, we've lost a good friend this year in Furman Bisher, and I just wanted to make note of that and to do two things. One, to let you know that the PGA TOUR is in partnership with the golf writers' association of America, is going to make a contribution of $10,000 to the Furman Bisher Medal Scholarship Fund at the University of NorthCarolina. Then secondly, just to take a minute and remember Furman from my perspective, and to do that I'll just tell you this one quick story that kind of catches the essence of what Furman was all about.

Three or four years ago, we had what we thought would be a good idea for the members of the media at THE PLAYERS Championship by having a pig picking, and put together a little pig roast, and years gone by, when I ran for political office, I found pig roasts to be great fun, attracted a lot of people, and everybody had a good time. So we went about putting this together.

Well, Furman came to the first one we did, and I went and sat with him and had some pulled pork, and he said, this is great. This food is not bad. He said this is not a bad job, first time try at a pig picking. But there's no pit. I said, what? He said there's no pit. You don't have a pit here. I said, well, we're out here on pavement, Furman. It would have been a tough thing. We've got this cooker. He said, I know you got a cooker, but it ain't a pig picking unless you got a pit, you don't have a pit, so it's not really a pig picking, and I just want to bring that to your attention. So that was Furman.

But back to the PGA TOUR, I just want to, without boring you with a lot of information, give you a few things that we look at as we consider progress and what's happening and the reaction of the fans to what the players are doing, et cetera. By every estimation we've had a terrific year. It's this combination of from a fan perspective of their interest in the new young players coming up, the interface between those young players and the veteran players. Tiger coming back and having a very solid year. Rory McIlroy coming along, building on what happened in 2011 and having an incredible year with four wins. In addition, several players having multiple victory years. Hunter and Jason and Zach, some of the veterans like Phil coming back now toward the end of the year, playing well. Steve Stricker winning, Dustin Johnson winning, and then this combination of playoffs; but also pretty significant leads on Sunday evaporating.

In today's world, when we estimate� � you get different numbers on this� � but the estimates range as high as 65% of our television audience is following our telecasts online at the same time. Whether it was Kyle Stanley or Brandt Snedeker coming back or John Huh, at Mayakoba, six stroke leads, three different times, changing hands, people are following this online.

So even though ten years ago you might have been watching and one of our players gets a four or five� shot lead at 4:00 on Sunday afternoon, people started going a different direction. Now they may do that, but they're also following and they come back when things change. That happens with a playoff, and a lot of times this year it happened with leads evaporating.

Also the impact of HD television, I think continues to be a factor. I think we sort of take HD for granted now. But you know when HD was coming along, and we were encouraging the networks to bring it on quicker, we all felt very strongly that HD was going to help sports generally, but help us the most because of the pictures that come from where we play.

A few weeks ago I was looking for some basketball game, and you know how on satellite it gives you the HD channel and the regular version, and I thought something was wrong with my television, because I wasn't on HD and we forget what the quality level is. I think that's really helped us sustain the audience.

But when you add all those things up, we had just a tremendous year from an audience participation, audience television audience standpoint. Let me give you some data. If you take just the weekend coverage through last week and compare it on average for the year, all weekends included for the year, our ratings were up 31% thus far over last year. On Thursday and Friday coverage, all of which is the Golf Channel, that was a 14% increase.

Thus far through the BMW, our cumulative audience for the year is 169 million Americans have tuned in to some of our programming sometime along the way. When they've tuned in, they've stayed on average 19% longer than they did a year ago. So they're more involved in the stories that they're watching, perhaps more involved in trying to find out more about these young players coming up. But from whatever perspective, there are more of them, and they're staying with us longer.

As we look at the playoffs alone, the FedExCup playoffs these last three weeks, an incredible performance with the television audience compared to a year ago. Through the first three weeks of the FedExCup playoffs, viewers were staying with us twice as long as last year. 56 million people tuned in, some of each of those first three weeks, which was a 9% increase over a year ago. We saw that same dynamic in terms of the level of the galleries that attended tournaments, averaging over 100,000 total fans in each of those three weeks.

If you flip over and look at the digital side of the equation, we've been averaging, PGATOUR.com, has been averaging a record $800,000 plus unique viewers per day during the playoff events, up 75% over last year. PGATOUR.com had over 15 million site visits for those three playoff events. Visits are up 80% over 2011. On Sunday alone at BMW, we had over 1 million unique users come to the site, representing a 115% increase over 2011.

Through the BMW Championship, PGATOUR.com's live streaming coverage had produced close to 2 million total streams, of those 25% came through either iPad or iPhone app access.

On the social media side for the TOUR as a whole, we saw an increase of 11% through the 2012 playoffs and 16% through the course of the year. On YouTube, we've had over close to a million views in the 2012 playoffs as well.

So when you look at those numbers and consider what it means in terms of the interest of the fan, not just to find out what's going on, but to spend time with what's going on, whether online or on television, the ripple effect it has with our sponsor support, and we're definitely a sponsor centric sport, it says a lot about what the players are doing, how interesting these players are, how competitive it is, and all the things that go into creating interest and excitement.

Interestingly, this week I was asked by two different people in the media about whether or not� � this is incredible to me� � but whether or not Rory McIlroy becomes viewed as a "player who is dominating the TOUR." Would that be a good thing or a bad thing for the PGA TOUR"? And the reason I say it's incredible is I've told many of you this story many, many times. Before 1996, I was often asked the question, what are you doing? How can you make the PGA TOUR grow? You don't have a dominant player. Nobody's dominated since Nicklaus. What are you going to do? And I said we're growing every year. Then Tiger came along and I was asked the question, how can you deal with one guy dominating. He only plays in 18 events and there are 47 events. Well, we grew all those years.

Now in the last three or four years, I'm answering the question, well, there is parody again, 16 majors in a row, different players winning. You don't have your dominant player anymore. How are you going to deal with that? Now we're talking about going back the other way.

The reality is fans like good golf. I think the difference now than any time in the past though is the number and the caliber of the young players coming up, which is really capturing the imagination of fans at a different level and created a platform for us that allows us to generate these kinds of numbers. So from that perspective, we couldn't be more pleased.

On the business side of things, when I did this little visit with you a year ago, we had just within the past prior three weeks completed our television agreements. It extended us out ten years. Since we were here in Atlanta a year ago, we extended our FedExCup agreement. We added web.com to our group of sponsors for the umbrella sponsorship of formerly the Nationwide TOUR. We made the decision to bring our digital operations in house effective January 1. We launched PGA TOUR Latino America. We have seen charitable giving at our tournaments come back to procession levels, which is very heartening, and we're now looking forward to, we think, being in a position to pass the $2 billion mark in 2014.

We are toward the end of what we think will become and be known as a very successful and sort of threshold development for the First Tee Program by having a successful campaign that will give us the capability to double the impact of that program and reach 10 million new kids in the next seven years.

We have completed work, finally, on restructuring both our qualifying system and our season. I'll just mention a couple things about both of those. With respect to the ending of the season this week and beginning the season next year in October for the 13� 14 season, we'll now this week be� � if you think about it in this context� � it will be in four days from now, we'd be bringing to an end the FedExCup competition.

But on the same day we'd be determining the Arnold Palmer Award winner for leading money winner. We'd be sending out the ballots on Sunday for the Player of the Year honors and Rookie of the Year honors. We'd also have determined the Byron Nelson Award for lowest scoring average.

So starting next year, everything will come to an end for the season as we complete the TOUR Championship presented by Coca� Cola.

So it really redefines a lot of stuff for our fans. Last year you may recall we completed with Bill Haas' tremendous victory here. We completed the FedExCup. A month later, we were still watching Webb Simpson and Luke Donald play on for the Arnold Palmer Award. Now all of that will change. We think that's going to mean this week takes on additional level or two of importance in the minds of the players and the fans.

With respect to the qualifying system, the web.com TOUR now becomes the primary pathway to the PGA TOUR, and we think the way the qualifying system is structured now by bringing together the top 75 off the web.com TOUR with an inviting over to the end of that TOUR, the 126 to 200 will be able to do a couple of things.

One, we'll be able to better promote and communicate what pressure there is in qualifying for a PGA TOUR card. In the process, we're going to have a system that creates a better way to get new, young players some notice and some recognition earlier in the process than they currently do. Because we've found that the fans are into the young players and we want to promote them more heavily going forward, and that process is going to allow us to do that. So we're very excited about those changes for next year.

Yesterday we announced three of the four finals events on the Web.com Tour, the Chiquita Classic in Charlotte, NorthCarolina, at the Longview Club, the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship at the Scarlet Course at Ohio State University, and the Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne, Country Club of Fort Wayne in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

We'll be announcing a fourth in a few weeks, and we think they'll work together to provide a very solid finish to our season.

Lastly, I'll just talk about this week's competition for a second. I think that the way it's come together really says that the system has worked again this year. Players have had to play well to position themselves for the playoffs, and they have to play pretty well the first three playoffs. Then they come here and they've got to do it again, so it never really stops from the time you start the season until you finish, you've got to play well in all three phases of the season and we're set up for that.

Having two of the Top 5 being players who can win with a win, two of the Top 5 being player who's have won on this golf course, a third being Rory McIlroy, and then the fourth and fifth being players who have really excelled during the course of the season and are on the Ryder Cup team as well in Snedeker and Watney in and of itself set it's up quite well.

But beyond that we've had a good number of players win in their 20s this year. A number of them are here, continuing what we know the fans are interested in. So we're excited about the quality of the field and the way the field is organized in the seeding. It sets us up for what we think should be a great four days of competition.

As I mentioned earlier, the golf course is in spectacular condition, so we're delighted with that. In talking to the players, they're ready to go.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this week will be a continuation of the efforts along with Coca� Cola and Southern Company to generate funds for East Lake Foundation, which $13 million has been raised in our time here, and we'll continue going down that path this year as well.

So we're excited about where we are. We have more work to do, but we're poised for the changes for next year.

And with that, I'd be happy to try to answer questions, if you have any.

Q. Do you have any bad news to share??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No.

Q. When you announce this Web.com finals, there originally were three events. Why the addition of the fourth??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, a couple of things. One, a lot of interest in being a final event. We had assumed for a long period of time, three, but we were I think really two factors. As we brought what was a long process to conclusion, we started to hear from more potential tournaments or current tournaments that would like a shot at being part of the finals. The other thing was that as it become more evident that this was going to happen, we heard a lot from players about trying to create a good mix of tournaments, and it's easier to do that with four than three.

So both of those reasons, we looked at four, went back, had more conversations with our board and the player directors and determined that four is the right number. We think it's going to play out quite well. Also, the way the playoffs are scheduled, we're looking at that NBC, Comcast� Golf Channel partnership.

While we're excited about having those playoffs covered, we're also sensitive to the telling the story of what's happening in those finals and how it's happening and who is making it happen in the playoff event telecast on the PGA TOUR. So working a schedule that makes that as robust as it can be was a factor perhaps as well.

Q. How would you characterize if you've had discussions with Augusta National when you go to the wraparound season with more full FedExCup events, whether they'll keep with the idea of whoever wins an event gets into the Masters??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: How would I characterize?

Q. Your discussions with them, or have you had any with them??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think we've exchanged information. I'm not actually certain about this, but I think where we are is we've exchanged information on assumptions that relate to what happens. I know one of Augusta's factors is their field size. What happens to the field size, so I know they're taking a look at that.

But we haven't engaged in any specific conversations. At least, I haven't yet. I'm sure there is some conversation going on with our staff about the details of what all this means and later on in the year we'll have more conversations.

Q. This is completely off the subject, but the PGA TOUR has no involvement in the writing of the rules of golf, but there is going to be a rule change probably toward the end of this year concerning the long putter that could have a dramatic effect on how a number of your players earn their livings. I'm wondering what the TOUR's position is on that, and if you've had any discussions with the rulings making bodies on that subject??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, when I speak to a position, we as an organization haven't had an interface yet with the direction that those discussions are taking specifically, so we haven't had the opportunity as an organization to look at that and determine whether we should have a position, and if so, what it should be.

I think what I've articulated from the position I hold is simply that this is important to a lot of people, not just on the PGA TOUR, but to golfers. It should be done carefully, reviewed fully, and discussed thoroughly and at least at this point I'm confident that will happen.

Q. Assuming that the rule change does go through, several of your players have said there may be some lawsuits pending. How would the TOUR position itself if that were to take place? You've got a member over here filing suit, and a rule making body on the other side of that suit?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, that's an impossible question to answer because I don't know nearly enough to make any assumptions. I mean, we just have to take a process and follow it through. That includes educating� � if this moves forward, educating our players as to what it is, specifically. How it's going to be implemented, specifically. And we have an equipment committee. We have a group of people that work with them on the rules and evaluate what it means to us as a sport, as a professional sport.

But also, one of our three parts of our mission is to assist in the growth and protection of the game. So what our position would be, if any, as it relates to the game as a whole. How that would flow into what you're talking about is impossible to project at this point.

Q. I know it's a long way off, but are you at any point discussing how 2016 is going to work with the Olympics and the playoff events and all of the intricacies, the Ryder Cup that are going to fall from that? Have there been any discussions or anything that can you share?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yes, there's been a lot of discussion. In fact, we've been working off some certain assumptions on this since the time we decided that we were in favor of joining the Olympic program. But those were assumptions and projections made then and things change.

So it will be a matter of focus the next year or so. It's not that long away, actually. We're all going to� � it's less than 48 months. I mean, in the blink of an eye it will be here. Plus the schedule you have to do well in advance. So it's top of mind, and there will be more discussion about it. There is a fair amount to it.

But I think that we all went into this knowing that there was going to be challenges on the schedule. And the challenges vary depending on what the schedule is of the games, and we didn't even know that then. We didn't know we were going to be in Rio. We were kind of hoping we'd be in Chicago. So you have to kind of wait for that to happen. But there is a lot of work to be done. Everybody knows that we're going to be dealing with these issues, and we'll get through it.

Q. Is it true that you can't play any FedEx playoff events during the Olympic window, the entire window, or just during the Olympic golf portion??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: You can't play� � I didn't understand. Probably not would be my guess.

Q. It's unclear if you're allowed to have any of your events during the Olympic games at all, or is it just during the portion that golf is in the Olympics? Do you know? Can you clarify that?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, the likelihood is that golf will be� � it's three weekends in two weeks, and that's 16 days. The women will play one week and the men will play the other. But, no, we're not taking the position we wouldn't play any golf that week. We probably will for a variety of reasons. It works. There are 60 players, 60 men, and 60 women will be in Rio. So, no, we haven't made any such� � come to any such conclusions. I suppose we might, but we haven't at this point.

Q. This is an old question, and I bring it up because Tiger and Rory both addressed it today. But are you still comfortable with the way the playoff points are going? In theory you could have Rory winning the last two events, finishing second here this week and not winning the FedExCup. Are you comfortable with that? I assume these are still things that you're going to look at as time goes by?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't think we're uncomfortable with that phenomenon. I get asked more about a player winning without winning a tournament, which I guess we have one player in the field that could pull that off, theoretically. I think Jim Furyk could have done it three years ago, but he came in at third or fourth. So it's possible.

The system rewards winning, and it also rewards consistency. Again, it's a system that is predicated on you have to perform multiple times. You can't just perform here. You have to perform� � or the odds are very much stacked against you if you come in seeded low. The odds are very much helping you if you come in Top 5. So that part of the structure we like. So I think it's worked well, and the right people have won. Finishes have been fantastic, and the fans like it. So we have to be dissuaded from that.

Again, you could pull out little things that could theoretically happen, but there are much more likely consequences that it will happen.

Q. How soon before you think you'll start simulcasting your broadcasts, TOUR broadcast online and mobile? Will that be first of next year?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Yes. Well, we may play around with some stuff before that. I guess we are with streaming, but, yeah, fundamentally the first part of next year. We anticipate the share of our programming will be simulcast the first week of the year and going forward. We're excited about that.

Q. Given the success of some of the guys coming off the Korean Tour have had coming off the PGA TOUR that went to qualifying last year, are you concerned at all that the new rules of qualifying are going to discourage foreign players from coming over here and playing??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No. I think players want to play here, and they'll do what they have to do to play here. I think you'll see� � you've got to remember the top 200, 126 to 200, will be in the finals. So a player can get in the 200 if he gets four or five sponsor exemptions and played pretty well a couple of times, he'll be in the top 200. So you'll see more of that focus. That also applies to amateurs and players coming out of college getting sponsor exemptions too.

But the draw� � I mean, just look at what's happened on the Web.com Tour in terms of players, international players trying to play that tour. It's because it's an avenue to the PGA TOUR. Now we're seeing on PGA TOUR Latino America already greater focus on those events down there because there is a specific tie� in to access to the Web.com Tour, which leads you to the PGA TOUR. So we'll see how it goes. But I would anticipate it's not going to be a barrier.

As players like to say, if you can play, you figure out a way to get out here, and that's what they do. But having said that, we don't just assume that. We like a fair and reasonable system. The thing about this system is there will be some increase in players who will spend a year on the Web.com Tour before they come to the PGA TOUR. But everything tells us that that's a good thing. Good thing for them, and a good thing for the tour.

Q. One of the things you talked about in the beginning about the numbers of growth and television ratings, you mentioned the growth in people who are tracking online at the same time that they're watching the telecast. You relaxed your standards this year for mobile devices for fans. A number of players over time have seen a great shot and actually commented and said that shot was so ridiculous I wanted to Tweet it, but during competition they wouldn't. Do you ever foresee yourself going there and allowing players, whether it be at an unofficial event or at some point allowing them to interact with fans through social media during an actual tournament??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: You know, I don't think we spend a lot of time thinking about that. I think there is a question that arises sometimes about stuff that's up on video boards, but we haven't spent a lot of lot of energy worrying about that. I suppose it's something we can look at.

But the candid answer is we do not anticipate anything right now in that regard, but we may have to deal with that. I just don't know.

Q. Are you opposed to that happening??

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't feel one way or the other about it. It's something we really haven't thought through.

I think there is a question, a broader question about electronic devices generally during competition, some of which we've addressed. Other sports are dealing with the same thing. It's a continuing progression of activity. You know, we're just watching and seeing what's going to happen.

[The Commissioner misunderstood the question, as he thought it related to players receiving information about the competition via social media or other media on site. To clarify, on the issue of players tweeting or using social media during competition, the PGA TOUR does not anticipate a change to the existing policy in the near future, which currently prohibits players from using cell phones or other mobile devices during competition.]

Q. Any update on the sponsorship situation in Tampa? Are there any other sponsorship voids that need to be filled in the upcoming months?

COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: No, and no. But we hope to have some resolution on Tampa in the next few weeks, but we just don't know at this point.

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