Finchem Addresses Growth, Rules and Charity

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem gave his annual "State of the Tour" address this week as the tour leads to the culmination of the FedExCup and the tour's playoffs. He touched on pretty much everything - sponsorships, growth of the game, pace of play, international possibilities, Rules, Tiger, young players, strength of veterans, and all else under the partly-cloudy skies at East Lake.

Let's hear it from Finchem himself, as he addresses the media.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to the TOUR Championship by Coca Cola. As is tradition this week, we have the State of the TOUR press conference with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.

TIM FINCHEM: Thank you for joining us this afternoon. This is a point of the year where I characterize how the year has gone, what's going on with the PGA Tour, and take a quick look toward the next year.

What I'd like to do is start with talking just for a minute about where we are right this minute, which is toward the end of the FedExCup season, and make a few comments about it.

I think the FedExCup has again this year taken another step up in terms of its involving the fans, involving the players. And through the playoffs these last four weeks in particular, we've had great play on great golf courses, at Barclays, at Deutsche Bank, at TPC Boston, at BMW, and then we're looking forward to this week.

I think two things of note are that we're very excited about how Liberty National played in the first playoff event and the reaction we had from the fans and the players. We were also delighted with the play at Conway Farms and are looking forward to getting to next year.
It might be good just to step back for a second from the FedExCup and maybe reflect on a few things that we think are indicators of how strong this competition has become. Starting with the players. I think all of you know the players are really into this competition now for lots of different reasons.

One thing of note is that, if you look week in and week out on the PGA Tour and I mean every week on the PGA Tour and consider the number of players who have access to that tournament and the number that take advantage of that access, and then you compare that to the first number of years now of all the playoff events on the FedEx Cup, it's interesting. 99.1 percent of the starts by players that were available to players have been actually utilized. Of the 975 opportunities, 966 have been filled.

It's an indication of the very robust interest, support, and enthusiasm the players have for this competition. And I think, as with the fans, it continues to grow. Secondly, obviously, the fans, the quality of our galleries at the playoffs in particular, the television coverage, which I think started off good, but I think it's gotten better every year in terms of bringing the viewer into the multiple number of stories that go on in each week of the playoffs in terms of who can make that cut of the week, who is going to make it to the next week, along with who's going to in a position to win the golf tournament.

And I think that has been a very important thing in terms of bringing the fans in and growing the interest among the fans.

In addition, I think the strong movement of international players to try to compete for the Cup has also been a very positive thing, particularly in terms of generating global interest in terms of what the FedExCup is all about. That has grown as well over these last six or seven years.

Additionally, while that's been going on, we've had - we're now well into the finals, and I must say in this first year we're off to, I think, a very, very solid start. The quality of the golf courses in the finals, the juxtaposition of the 126 to 200 from the PGA Tour against the top 75 off the Tour money list has, I think, proven to be very interesting to fans. Our galleries have been good at those events, and we've gotten good results on television.

So I think - I think we're off to a good start there, and I think here again, as fans get more involved in understanding this new system we have, I think it will continue to grow as well.

So it really brings every - and we will be announcing the results late next week. So everything comes together for the first time in this FedExCup era at the same time. It allows the fans to get their arms around what a real season means. You recall a couple of years ago we had the FedEx Cup and weeks later Luke Donald was still competing for whether or not he was going to win the Arnold Palmer award against Webb Simpson.

A couple of comments about the overall strength of the Tour at this point in time, one, continues to be - and I kind of put it at the top of the list the increasingly important focus on young players coming up. We've seen this now for the last three years. The fans, it translates into some interesting things that I'll come back to, but the fans are really into learning about these young players.

And I think that there are several reasons for that. One, they're winning. The percentage of tournaments won on the PGA Tour for players under 30 has grown the last four years. So the percentage of players who win has gotten younger and younger and younger over the last four years.

They are coming up as rookies with a maturity level and a confidence level that is significantly greater, in my view, than 10 or 15 years ago. They were coming up as rookies on average with more athleticism than has been the case in the past. That has been a steady progression now for a number of years. The athleticism of our young players.

They have, in addition to confidence and athleticism, we're also noticing their maturity and their focus on the other stuff, the stuff outside the ropes. I'd say in the last two or three years the number of players, young players, players who are in their first year, who are focused on charity, on giving back, on creating their own foundations, on doing their own fund raisers is significantly different than ten years ago when a player was almost entirely focused on can I stay out here? These players come out here, young men think they're going to be here for 20 years, and they want to do what the players who came before them have done, which is a terrific thing across the board for the PGA Tour.

The next thing I would mention, in addition to young players, is - and, of course, I would say the juxtaposition of those players with great veterans who continue to play well in Tiger and Phil and Furyk and Stricker, many of whom we just had a terrific exhibition from this past week - I think the golf courses on the PGA Tour are the strongest group of golf courses that we've ever had in terms of how they challenge, how they stand up to the best players in the world, how they're conditioned.

We owe a lot of people a lot for that across the Tour, but I think it's a very important piece that sometimes we don't talk enough about. I'm delighted that we're going to be going to Cherry Hills with the BMW Playoff event next year. Cherry Hills, we haven't played in Denver in a while, and we think that's going to be a mega event in Denver.

The last two things I'll mention are television and international. On television, we just had such an incredible year last year in terms of every metric that you could think about, and yet this year we managed to reach 100 we had 165 million different Americans tune in at one point in time. Over 100 million tune in on 10 or 12 events or more.

Finally, in the international area, we've had good success in the last couple of years, and we look forward later this year to, as we start the new season, to Malaysia, HSBC, the World Cup in Australia, and then in two years the Presidents Cup in Korea.

I should mention on television also we're pleased - we have a long way to go, but we're pleased with the impact of our simulcast as we started our first year of our new agreements with CBS and NBC.

And with that, let me turn to charity for a minute. I think we you've seen our advertisements. We're talking a lot about reaching the $2 billion number in charity that our tournaments generate in partnership with us, and we will continue to talk about that because we feel like, even though it doesn't tell the story of how the dollars are spent and the great stories that are out there in terms of helping people, it gets people's attention. We want people to recognize that this is a huge charitable platform. When you spend a dollar on the PGA Tour, a percentage of that is going to the bottom line for charity. 100 percent of the proceeds go to charity, and by doing that, we get more people involved.

I would like to particularly recognize the Tour Wives Association 25-year anniversary this year for the commitment they've made over the years to work with our tournament ins charitable endeavors, and that has been another stimulus to the charitable numbers that I'll mention in a second.

The First Tee program that we undertook to help raise a lot of money for last year is in terrific shape and making a large impact.

This year on the PGA Tour, we will set a record of in excess of $130 million raised. We should reach that $2 billion number right at the end of the year. We haven't figured out which week we'll go over that, but it will be an exciting moment. And I would point out that it took 67 years to reach the first billion and 8 years to reach the second billion. We're moving in the right direction from a growth standpoint.

A couple of words about 2014. I mention we're fully sponsored. We're delighted to have Valspar as our new sponsor in Tampa with a multiyear agreement. That's a golf course that is very popular with our players. It looks great on television. It's a good test. And we're delighted to stay in that market as part of our NBC package, Florida swing next year. We extended our Hyundai agreement. All of our tournament agreements for next year are out. Our schedule is done. I'm very happy about that.

I mentioned Cherry Hills. We'll also be playing the Barclays at Ridgewood. So two different golf courses in the playoffs. But other than that, we're pretty consistent with this year.

Q. Hi, Tim. We had another rules issue the other day where somebody not involved in the competition brought it to light. Obviously, a few times a year we have viewers calling in and such. Just curious again on your opinion on that phenomena of people calling in. Would the Tour ever look at perhaps prohibiting that?

TIM FINCHEM: Well, we've been talking about it and looking at it over the years. I think twice we've actually got pretty serious about it. It's not just one thing. It's sort of three or four different ways to look at it starting with one fundamental, which is disqualification reasonable for signing a card wrong when you didn't intentionally do anything?

Going from there to what's a reasonable point to accept outside information? Is it better to have some sort of limit on it? If you don't learn about something before X time. All the other sports close their books a little quicker than we do, so to speak.

But there's two sides to the story. I mean, it's not an easy argument one way or the other. I think it's cumbersome and difficult and awkward sometimes. On the other hand, sometimes it's pretty interesting to the fans. I mentioned this at the Players Championship.

But we seem to have three or four of these things this year. So we'll probably be taking another harder look at it after we get done with the season. Thank you.

Q. You said a couple years ago at the start of the year that the U.S. tour is better off when the European Tour is strong. Do you still feel that way? Is there any concern that as more European players not only come here to play, but come here to live that it's causing the European Tour to become too weak?

TIM FINCHEM: I don't think I said that. I think what I said is golf is better off when the various tours around the world are strong and vibrant. And the reason I say that is professional golf is the driver for interest in the game.

If you just go look at Arnold Palmer and Augusta in '58 and what happened 25 years later. So when you have big tournaments, exciting tournaments, the media spends a lot of time on them, good crowds, it creates excitement for the game, and I think that's important.

It doesn't necessarily mean year in and year out that the PGA Tour would necessarily benefit in and of what we do, but I think we have a bigger we have to focus on the long term, what's best for the game globally. If the game grows globally, that is better for us in that context.

Q. Tim, following up on Bob's question about fans calling in, one, what steps would need to take place in order for a change like that to occur to maybe prevent or prohibit fans from calling in to change a ruling? Secondly, you said you tend to close your books a little bit later than other sports do. I think football, when you review a play, if the ball gets snapped on the next play, it stands. That's the way it is. Could you foresee a case where, if a player isn't alerted of an infraction before it reaches the next tee or plays the next hole, what sort of scenarios would you see?

TIM FINCHEM: Well, the answer to your first question is you could just write a rule and say we're not going to accept outside information after X. So the execution

Q. The players would have to vote on that, correct?

TIM FINCHEM: Well, technically, our board - it's a board decision, and there are four players on the board and four outside independent directors, and President of the PGA of America. But that would be the technical execution of what you're talking about.

In terms of - the second part of your question, there's all kinds of issues with that, with talking about this subject in terms of equity, where are we going here digitally, are we going to be at a point in time when there's going to be a camera on every ball at every moment anywhere on the golf course? It's just going down that road.

It's a real question of is there an unfairness - two things. One, from the standpoint of the competitor, is there unfairness here? From the standpoint of the presentation of the sport, which is what you see with the leagues when they get into are you going to have replay? What's your time limit? How are you going to do it? It has to do with the presentation of sport.

The time it takes to play the competition, how they want the viewer to be engaged in what's happening on the playing field. And I think it's fair for golf to consider that as well.

I'm just saying these are the issues. I personally, as I've sort of mentioned now a couple times, I don't have a strong view one way or the other. I don't like it sometimes. It feels awkward when it happens. On the other hand, I hate to say it's part of the tradition of the game because actually you can't really argue that because it's changed with the degree of television we have. It's really changed as a reality.

So I don't know. I think we need to do some more thinking about it. I think people in the game need to think about it.

Q. Just come back to Doug's point earlier, in the context of the overall growth of the game which you referred to, could you foresee a scenario where the best outcome is for the PGA Tour and the European Tour to become one and the same?

TIM FINCHEM: Well, I don't know about that. I do think that we've been going down a road for a good while now really. And actually next year will be 20 years since we created what then was the International Forum of PGA Tours that then became the International Federation. It then launched the World Golf Championships that has since worked on the re bringing of the World Cup back. So it's a constant, I think, movement down a road of more cooperation, more collaboration, thinking jointly more. Up until then, there wasn't much of that, if any, and thinking about how what we can do together.

So where that leads, I don't know. I think being one and the same would just be you know, I suppose there could be at some point integration of tours, but there could also be collaboration, and through partnership, more global competition focus.

So rather than it become a graduation tomorrow, it's a continuation of what we've seen. I think that's equally likely. But I do think the ability to utilize worldwide media effectively, to be consistent in the delivery to quality global company title sponsors, to generate interest, increasing interest in the sport on a global basis, those things argue for a unified competitive structure on some basis. I'm not out selling a basis. I'm just suggesting we keep talking, keep talking, and try to figure out if there's a better way to present. There's a lot of models out there. Just look at the sports landscape of sports that are global in nature. And there are different ways to do it. But I'm not saying we have to do it. We're doing quite well right now, so we don't feel like this is something we have to do. We do have this view that long term one and one and one could equal six or seven, and that's something I think we should spend some energy focusing on. We all have other things to do, and we have things to run, but think it's just a healthy exercise at this point. We'll see where it leads.

Q. Tim, related to this again, I'm curious if you're at all concerned the rules of golf do allow for outside people, whatever, spectators, to point out infractions.

TIM FINCHEM: Absolutely.

Q. Do you feel like the USGA or the R&A would have to make a ruling on this before you would, or would you have to go outside of that?

TIM FINCHEM: First of all, put the cart before the horse. We have to include that a change is something that we want to do. Sure, we go talk to the USGA and the R&A. Our batting average with them haven't been real good the last year, but we'd have a nice conversation with them. And then it would be we'd have to decide what we want to do.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.