The PGA Tour is weighing dramatic changes to its schedule
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ATLANTA -- PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem held what was termed as his final formal press conference Tuesday at East Lake Golf Club, site of this week’s season-ending Tour Championship. Deputy commissioner Jay Monahan is expected to take over in 2017.
New leadership might not be the only change coming to the tour, however. The schedule and season could look drastically different in the near future.
Among the distinct possibilities is moving the end of the season up to Labor Day, which would help the tour achieve one of its goals when it created the FedEx Cup Playoffs a decade ago of avoiding conflicts with college and pro football. Another possibility still at the conceptual stage is moving the Players Championship back to March and the PGA Championship to May.
On moving the end of the season, Saturday’s third round of the Tour Championship has traditionally teed off early in recent years, and will again this week, because Notre Dame, which also plays on NBC, has a game Saturday afternoon. This year, the nearby University of Georgia also has a game at Ole Miss that is scheduled to kick off at Noon ET -- something that will likely affect attendance at East Lake.
“How many viewers do you think will be watching us this weekend?” William McGirt said. “We’re never going to compete with college football. Ending the season on Labor Day is perfect. It’s the start of football and the unofficial end of summer."
To that point, a 1.2 rating for the final round of the BMW Championship two weeks ago tied for second-lowest for final round coverage of the tournament since the FedEx Cup began.
“What do you think the ratings are going to be this fall?" McGirt continued. "Nobody is watching these events. Eventually you water down your product.”
Much of these changes are contingent on the tour’s TV rights moving forward. Its current contract with networks CBS and NBC runs through 2021, although the tour can opt out in 2018. Also, the tour’s deal with FedEx, title sponsor of the season-long $10 million race, is up at the end of 2017. The tour says it is currently in negotiations with the company.
“If something's really working well, we really kick the tires pretty hard for a while before we mess around with it, and it's working pretty well,” Finchem said. “But on the other hand, we're also always asking, how can we do this better?
“I think we're focused increasingly on our television rights discussions laid out over the next few years. We'll probably get further into that before we'll start tinkering much with the schedule. But I wouldn't rule out changes, but at this point in time, I wouldn't assume changes either.”
Moving the Players back to March and the PGA Championship from August to May would be the most significant of them, but there are a lot of moving parts to such change. For starters, the PGA of America, which runs the PGA Championship, would have to agree to moving its event. But moving the Players would achieve possibly another goal for the tour.
“One of the main reasons for the idea of the Players moving back to March would be the ability to get the course in the condition that they want; getting it ready in May was tougher than imagined and having it in March would make that easier,” one source said. “And now that the event has grown in prestige it would be the first really big event of the year, ahead of when the Masters is played.”
One thing that does seem almost certain, however, is an earlier end to the season, possibly as early as 2019-20.
“It’s something that’s going to happen sooner than later,” said Brandt Snedeker. “This is one of our biggest events of the year and it’s weird for us to do our schedule differently because Notre Dame is playing. It would be great if there’s a way to do it where this tournament isn’t up against [football] and can be a showcase event.”