2005: Finchem makes schedule pitch
By Rex Hoggard and Jeff Rude
With negotiations set to begin on a new TV contract sometime this month, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem made a final push last week to sell his membership on a drastically revamped schedule.
Finchem was expected to outline his plans for 2007 and beyond in even more detail at this week’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. Afterward, he’ll take the proposed schedule to the TV networks for negotiations that usually last two to three weeks. The Tour’s current four-year deal for rights fees, which runs through next season, is for $850 million.
“There has always been this challenge, having as long a season as we have, trying to define it for the fan,” Finchem told The Associated Press. “The reason the other sports find it easy is because their season is always about the end. We need a culminating event that’s special, and that you have to play hard to get into.”
Following months of speculation, a majority of players seemed to give at least qualified support for a new schedule that will include a seasonlong points race similar to NASCAR’s Nextel Cup that ends with three marquee events leading into the Tour Championship in mid-September (Golfweek, Oct. 15).
“I don’t know of a guy who understands it that doesn’t like it,” said Joe Ogilvie, who is set to become one of four players on the Tour’s nine-member Policy Board in January. “They sold it to us poorly at first, but now I think they have hit the ball out of the park.”
Finchem met with players Oct. 25 at the Chrysler Championship near Tampa, the last of a string of Tuesday meetings to outline his plans to his membership. Not everyone, however, was sold on the Tour’s new direction.
“I assume (Finchem) is doing what’s best for the Tour,” Michael Allen said. “Is it best for everybody? Who knows? I wish we had more say in it, but . . .”
Added Robert Gamez recently: “I don’t think we need to go and do this point system and change the schedule for 1 percent out of our Tour, and I think that’s kind of where we’re heading.”
The highlight of the new schedule is what some insiders call “The Chase for the Cup.” The seasonlong race would culminate with a four-event swing through major markets – Barclays Classic (New York), Deutsche Bank Championship (Boston) and probably the Western Open (Chicago), followed by the Tour Championship (Atlanta). The “playoff” events are expected to offer purses around $8 million to $9 million. One tournament director said the winner of the yearlong points competition could win a bonus in the neighborhood of $10 million.
“Golf is the ultimate reality show, and right now you don’t have a lot of reality at the end of the year,” Ogilvie said. “I may be the dumbest human on the earth, but I think it will work.”
Other key components of the 2007-2010 schedule Finchem is expected to take to the networks is a repositioned Players Championship in early May and a six- to seven-event stretch after the Tour Championship in which players will continue to vie for spots in the top 125 and begin to position themselves for the following year’s points race. The events after the Tour Championship – which may include a new tournament in California, according to Policy Board member Davis Love III – will be carried on a cable outlet, probably The Golf Channel or OLN.
“There will be just as many rounds of golf in ’07 than there are in ’06; I think that’s one of the big misconceptions that a lot of players think,” said Love. “We have just as many tournaments, just a different order.”
Tour sources told Golfweek there is a “90 percent chance” the Western Open would move from its July 4 week date to after Labor Day as a part of the year-end buildup. It just needs to find a sponsor. Current title sponsor Cialis is not interested in sponsoring the Western in that spot at a suggested price tag of $12 million per year – about $5 million more than the current deal.
What’s more, there’s talk that the Western, at the insistence of the Tour, might venture away from Chicago and its current home, Cog Hill, every other year, a curious move considering Chicago is the nation’s third-largest market. The tournament would rotate between Chicago and cities such as St. Louis, Minneapolis and Indianapolis – Midwestern cities that have major championship golf courses but do not have regular Tour events.
The Western, which began in 1899, used to move around the Midwest but has been anchored in Chicago since 1962. Cog Hill is on the verge of signing architect Rees Jones to do major revisions.
Why the need for such dramatic schedule changes on Tour? Love said other sports made significant changes before returning to new TV negotiations, and golf needs to change, too. Baseball added wild-card teams and another round of playoffs; the NFL added more games; and NASCAR came up with a new season-ending points race.
“As Tim (Finchem) says, it’s not broken – we’re just trying to make it better,” Love said. “Every time we go to TV we want something better.
“Every sport has gone backwards (with new TV contracts), basically. We’re trying to go forward in this period. It’s a big goal.”
– Jeff Babineau contributed to this report