Tim Finchem: A View From The Fairway

Tim Finchem
For many fans the golf season ended with a thud -- the U.S. team's lopsided loss to the Europeans in the Ryder Cup on Sept. 19. Still, it has been another good year for PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem. In his 10th year at the helm, the 57-year-old Finchem presides over a tour that's richer than ever. Prize money for 48 tournaments climbed to a record of nearly $240 million this year. And this season 64 PGA Tour players, close to a record, have earned $1 million or more knocking the ball in the hole.

But days of escalating prize money may be ending. The tour's four-year, nearly $900 million network TV contact expires in 2006. With the frenzy around Tiger Woods cooling off, Finchem acknowledges that the next TV deal won't come close to matching increases of previous contracts. Network talks are expected to begin in late summer or early fall next year.

On Sept. 21, Finchem spoke about the upcoming negotiations and the state of the PGA Tour with Mark Hyman, BusinessWeek's contributing editor for sports. Following are edited excerpts of their conversation. This is an extended version of the interview that was featured in BusinessWeek's Oct. 4 edition.

Q: You've said the tour is in a good position to negotiate the next network TV deal. Yet over the past two years ratings for the four major championships have dropped significantly. Fourth-round ratings for the U.S. Open are off 38%. How's that a good position?

A:

The majors don't have specific relevance to our television package. Because [as non PGA Tour events] we don't negotiate them.

Q: But they're a barometer.

A:

But not a barometer of how our television package is performing. We had had one stretch this year of nine straight weeks when [viewership] was up from last year. Our ratings have been nicely consistent the last three years.

Q: Tiger Woods isn't the dominant player he was the last time the Tour negotiated a TV deal. Is the tour suffering financially from the decline of Tiger mania?

A:

For the past three years I've been asked the question: What happens when Tiger doesn't play a tournament? Not much. We have good tournaments and get reasonably good [TV] ratings. Now I'm getting the question: What happens when Tiger isn't winning? Tiger still is the biggest thing in golf. When he comes to a tournament he sells a lot of tickets. If he's not in the hunt, you don't get that spike [in TV ratings] that historically he has produced.

Q: The tour's network deal has soared in the past decade, and so has prize money, increasing five-fold since 1994. Do you expect growth near that?

A:

No. If you just look at the dollars, it will be much flatter. I'd like to think there will be some growth. But it will be much flatter than it has been the last 10 years.

Q: Jack Nicklaus has blamed the U.S. drubbing in the Ryder Cup, in part, on increased prize money on the PGA Tour. Is it possible that more financial security has led to a declining work ethic among today's players?

A:

I'm not getting into a public debate with Jack Nicklaus. But the work ethic at the very top of our sport is significant. If you go down to Vijay Singh's house on the ocean [in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.], Vijay lives quite well. Yet Vijay works his behind off. I would argue Vijay works as hard as any player who has played the game, maybe other than [Ben] Hogan.

Q: Do you see any connection between the affluence of today's top players and the recent downturn for the U.S. Team -- four losses in the last five matches -- in the Ryder Cup?

A:

Not at all. It's the typical American response. If you have an Enron, there must be something wrong with the system, so let's pass Sarbanes-Oxley and change the system. We overreact. We lose the Ryder Cup, and we're not supposed to lose the Ryder Cup. So there must be something wrong.

Q: You've been PGA Tour commissioner for 10 years. Do you see yourself in the job 10 years from now?

A:

Not 10. I'd like to stay as long as my energy level is good and the players like what I'm doing. There are another couple of notches for us to go, as far as positioning our sport. I'd like to see us through that. It'll take another five years or so. Then we'll see.

Q: An election-year question: Former baseball and basketball players have served in the U.S. Senate. Several retired football players and coaches have been elected to the House of Representatives. Why are there no pro golfers in Congress?

A:

To be a former PGA Tour player typically means you're about 75 years old. They just don't stop. The ones who do gravitate into golf-course design or TV. A politician's lifestyle can't compete with that.

By Mark Hyman

Edited by Ira Sager

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