Archive for Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Finchem may tinker with schedule

Playoff race could be considered as PGA prepares to negotiate new television contract

August 24, 2005


— Tim Finchem is tempted to leave the PGA Tour schedule the way it is.

The season starts in Hawaii, then follows the sun (except for the occasional rain delays) through the four major championships until it stops at the Tour Championship and everyone counts their money. The model has worked well in the 11 years Finchem has been commissioner.

Total prize money, $56 million in 1994, will surpass $250 million this year. Fifteen players already have won $2 million this year, and three of those guys haven't even won. Ratings continue to spike when Tiger Woods is contention, and his winning two majors this year certainly helped.

But the closer the tour gets to negotiating a new television contract, the more change looks inevitable.

"You want to grow," Finchem said in an interview at Firestone, his first public comments about a new schedule since March. "To compete effectively - even if you weren't going to grow, just to maintain your position - you look at who you're competing with. And everyone you're competing with is changing to get better, sometimes dramatically."

The prize in this competition is a stronger audience, specifically the number of fans watching on TV.

The PGA Tour saw the NFL negotiate a new television deal in which "Monday Night Football" is leaving network TV for ESPN. Prime-time football on the network is moving to Sunday night, and the NFL will allow important games to be shifted from afternoon to evening so NBC isn't stuck with any duds.

Next to the negotiating table is NASCAR.

Its popularity already was motoring along without restrictor plates when NASCAR revamped its schedule last year to create "The Chase," which features the top 10 teams competing over the final 10 races of the year.

This is where golf likely is headed.

Finchem says there are still "a number of options," but two sources who are privy to the discussions said last week that the tour was focused on a playoff race that would begin shortly after the PGA Championship and include four tournaments that lead to the Tour Championship.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of their relationship with the tour, said two of four tournaments already have bought into the plan, one of those the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Finchem declined to discuss details of any models the tour has considered.

"To say any one option is the lead option ... there are issues with all of them," Finchem said.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson took the lead earlier this year in saying the schedule was too long, stretching from the first week in January to the first week in November. In television terms, that would be from the start of the NFL playoffs to when the next season's NFL playoff race is taking shape.


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