Finchem's TV Deal Ensures Tour's Future -- And Likely His As Well
One of the key selling points of the PGA Tour is stability. To sponsors and TV partners, the tour can rightly say it is the pro sport with no strikes or lockouts, the game in which stars do not abandon fans through free agency and, with a few notable exceptions, the sport where athletes are virtually never in the headlines for the wrong reasons. The tour has been as close to a risk-free investment as there is in sports, consistently delivering an entertaining product to fans and a desirable audience to advertisers.
The new TV contracts with CBS and NBC, which expire after the 2021 season along with the Golf Channel deal, enhance that message of stability. The length of those deals brings several advantages to the tour.
-- They demonstrate a belief by the networks in the next generation of players and reaffirm that the tour is bigger than any one person. When the deals expire, Tiger Woods will be 46. Rory, Rickie, Bubba, Dustin, Keegan et al. have resonated with the fans, perhaps not with Tiger-like ratings, but in continuing to deliver a loyal and lucrative demographic to advertisers. The tour will sell that.
-- The tour has 10 years to see how delivery technology changes. A decade from now, the PGA Tour could create its own version of the NFL, MLB or NBA networks. The tour considered this in 2006 and determined production was not the problem -- distribution was. With Golf Channel and NBC now both owned by Comcast -- whose expertise is distribution -- problem solved. Besides, people may be watching TV on their tablets or other unimagined digital devices by 2021.
-- The tour has time to transition gracefully to its next commissioner, which will be an important change. Tim Finchem, whose contract expires at the end of 2012, has been a success by every measuring stick. If he remains through 2017, when he turns 70, his successor would have four years to prepare for the next TV negotiations.
"If I am feeling good, if the players are comfortable with the idea and if the board is willing, I will stay on," Finchem told Golf World. "I don't have any particular time frame in which to see what I want to happen," he said, but a good guess would be that by the middle of next year a decision will be made on his future.
When Finchem took over in 1994 from Deane Beman, who held the post for 20 years, the PGA Tour's total purse was $56.4 million. Prize money has since increased five-fold, and that does not include the FedEx Cup bonus money with its $10 million payout to the winner. In that same period Major League Baseball, the only team sport without a salary cap, had its average salary triple.
Certainly, part of the rapid growth in prize money was because of the rich TV deal negotiated one month after Woods pulled a record 14.1 rating in the 1997 Masters. But Finchem also never lost sight of two important marketing messages: To the sponsors he preached the demographic of the PGA Tour fan; and to TV he preached the fact the majority of ad time is sold for the networks by the tour.
"The important thing to remember is that no matter what happens with me, the team that did such a great job in extending our title sponsorships and making this TV contract happen will still be in place," Finchem said. "They are a wonderfully talented group."
Who from that team emerges as commissioner -- if anyone -- is as unclear as what TV viewing habits will look like in 2021. That speaks to the ultimate strength of the TV deal. As the Rolling Stones, Finchem's favorite band, sang: "Time is on My Side." And so it is for the PGA Tour.