I was unable to sit in on Tim Finchem's year-end press conference but all of the questions I would have wanted to ask came up. It's a fascinating, slightly shocking and at times mesmerizing script to wade through. It's also one that I think we'll look back on a year from now and think either,
A) the man really knew his partners, the corporate world and his "product" and its ability to lure the networks into a lucrative new deal
B) he was deep denial about PGA Tour golf's place in the sports landscape.
Doug Ferguson focuses on Finchem's big takeaway that there are exciting young players in the game (an apparent first!) and notes at the end of his piece that Finchem's comments about the Commissionership after his contract is up. (He doesn't sound like he's make it sound like he's going anywhere anytime soon.)
Helen Ross has the tricky task of having to sum up Finchem's presser for the house organ, knowing white men in stock issue oxfords and brandishing leather folios will be studying every word she writes.
I think the takeaway on the competition side of 2010, more than anything else, was the tremendous interest in young players coming up. I've never in my tenure seen so much buzz and interest about rookies and young players creating exciting performances.
Actually, it has led us to conclude that we really need to focus on that dynamic as we go into 2011, and it will be our primary promotional focus to get people to pay attention to how well the veterans continue to play, and the young stars, the competition between the newer generation and the more experienced and older players, we think makes for good theatre this year, and we are excited about that development.
Translation: they're busy little bees at PGA Tour Productions cooking up cutesy young guy-old guy promos.
Next question: any indication from FedEx about re-upping their deal? It sounds like the thought hasn't crossed a certain commissioner's mind.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It's never occurred to me that it wouldn't continue. I have no reason to believe that it wouldn't continue. We'll be sitting down and talking to them later this year, but the response that we have gotten from the company from the start really of the program has been very, very positive.
And regarding the wonderful playoff format and its indecipherable, contrived points system.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think so. We are going to; we are; have this year, not just spent a lot of time not just measuring it and looking at it from our perspective, but listening to people talk about it, and we think we are in a good place.
We know we are in a good place from the standpoint of the fans embracing it. We are getting a lot more traction with it internationally, significant uptake in television and fan interest overseas with it this year. The finish has worked out very, very well.
Uptake! I do believe though that the word is uptick. There were three upticks today and based on the writer tweets, the uh, takeaway from today's call. The memo clearly didn't make it to ASAP headquarters.
And there's a nice balance between play early in the season, and because it's been demonstrated time and time again, that the stronger you play early in the season, it increases the chances that you can position yourself in Atlanta.
That's a ridiculous thing to say. There are two points reshuffles! And the eventual winner was disqualified from the first round of the playoffs!
But I wouldn't ever say we wouldn't change it, but right now, we are very comfortable with it and we really like the trajectory of interest and focus by the fans on the Cup.
Yes the fans do seem so focused on it. Hmmm...I think I just got a story idea! Thanks Tim.
Q. And along those lines, have you given much thought to how you can make golf more appealing on television without losing some of the tradition of the sport?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think that it is appealing on television. I think that the challenges we have are promoting what we have effectively.
And there you have it in a nutshell. It's all in the marketing. The product and its presentation is A-okay and the ratings slide is all Tiger's fault.
And we have had more challenges this past year on what's up against us than we have had in a while: The Olympics, the Winter Olympics performed significantly higher than anybody would have anticipated, and that hurt us three weeks early in the year, three weekends. The NFL combined; again in the first quarter; the NFL ratings were at an all-time high. That hurt us. And we have had four or five other instances later in the season where there were just uniquely popular programming up against us.
Maybe it's uniquely popular programming because it's infinitely more interesting to watch than the average PGA Tour event? Therefore, wouldn't one seek ways to make one's product more uniquely popular?
As for the audience...
I said this many times, from a television perspective, Tiger broadens the audience, increases the audience. But the core audience is there week-in and week-out, and it is at a very acceptable level from a sales standpoint. It's not at the same level from a sales standpoint as it is at a higher rating point, but it is at an acceptable level. It is at a level that allows us to grow, and I think that that dynamic and that reality is sort of the backdrop to any conversations we have with television.
He is right, it's easy to grow when you're ratings are falling. Nowhere to go but up, baby!
So I see that as a major part of what we have a responsibility; to assist in that. At the same time, we want to make sure that -- we have been distributing our product internationally for 25 years. We want to make sure that the brand strength that we have globally, and we are taking advantage of for the benefits of our players.
Distribute that product and build that brand strength. Oldies but goodies.
On the tour's efforts to help longtime events find sponsors...
So we go the extra mile. Sometimes we push it to the 11th hour, but we work very hard to maintain that continuity and we continue to follow that, and will. However, situations arise where it just doesn't work out. That happened with Castle Pines three or four years ago. We had gone to extremes, and there just didn't seem to be any reasonable prospect of sponsorship for that particular event, and we made a change.
I wonder if anyone is going to call Jack Vickers and just double check if it's in fact true The International could not line up a sponsor.
On designated tournaments:
But no, I wasn't disappointed. As a matter of fact, I recommended that we go down this direction. But the reason I recommended that, even though we had been working hard on what a rule could be, is that we got on the question of whether players would react positively; and in concert with a rule that says, we want you to either add an event to your schedule and/or play an event that you haven't historically played.
As we went from -- when we start our scheduling process for the following year and talking to our players about the schedule, it really starts at THE TOUR Championship and works its way into November and into December. In those conversations, the staff has come in telling me that we are getting a very positive reaction to the idea of doing this. Some players are concerned about changing our culture of writing rules directing players to play anywhere.
So it was the players who killed this. At least we have that clarified.
Now this was an interesting development.
As a consequence of that, we just felt, let's just try this on a volunteer basis for a year, and see if we get virtually everything we were going to get out of it anyway without some of the downsides. And if that's the case, fine, we'll go with it. If not, we have the opportunity to come back and ask the board to pass the rue. So it's trying to maintain the culture we had, have our cake and eat it, too. We'll see if it works.
Rex Hoggard has been asking players if they plan to add an event and the consensus so far is that they are more likely to drop an event they normally and add one they haven't played in a while. Hoggard notes:
Seems “designated tournaments” gave way to the “burrowing form Peter to pay Paul” proposal.
And on his contract that expires in 2012.
I'm pretty much where I've always been on this, which is as long as the players are happy with the direction we are going and the job I'm doing; as long as my energy level is sufficient to handle what's involved; as long as our team here is comfortable with my leadership, then I will most likely be open to staying, but those are the three big ifs.
Ah the humility!