Sports Illustrated is reporting that the PGA Tour will make major changes to its schedule for the 2007 season. The changes, mirroring the rumors the mills have cranked out over the past few months, include a playoff system and four late-season events, according to USA Today. Tim Finchem, the paper said, will present the changes on this Wednesday at the Tour Championship, but must wait until the policy board meets at PGA Tour headquarters on November 7th for final approval.
PGA Tour veteran Davis Love III along with other players on the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council have not publicly discussed the changes that will soon be announced but Davis did have this to say, "We're looking to create a better product." Davis also says there will be the same amount of tournaments in '07 as '06, if not more.
Some players (including winner of this year's Masters, British Open, and PGA Championships) on the PGA Tour have complained that the season is incredibly long, with a tournament almost every weekend between January and November. Tiger Woods has also pointed out that, in the fall, golf goes head to head with the NFL and college football. The downside to shortening the season? Those not as financially secure as Woods or Mickelson like having a long season to earn as much income as possible.
How do you keep the top- and lower-tier players, courses, and sponsors all happy?
- A points-chase and playoff system. Players will accumulate points during the season and earn their way into an August-September series of four tournaments with significantly higher purses.
- The series will culminate with the Tour Championship, which will move from November to September. Participation in those four events will be based on yearlong performance.
- The Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, the Barclays Classic near New York and the Cialis Western Open outside Chicago have been lined up as the three events leading up to the Tour Championship.
- Six or seven tournaments will follow the Tour Championship. Although those events won't be part of the "Chase," they will count toward official money rankings. Thus, players will still have opportunity to improve their money status and earn spots in majors and top invitationals.
The PGA Tour is taking a similar approach as NASCAR's (some would disagree) successful "Chase to the Championship" to keep viewers entertained all year and sponsor investments secure. The proposed schedule could see the first two-thirds of the season used by players to earn enough points to qualify them for those final events at the end of the year. The "championship events" should draw Tiger, Vijay, Phil, and other top draws.
Vijay Singh says, "It's going to reward guys that are playing well." Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and others have long said that the current schedule is too long but these guys don't play that many tournaments and still lead the money list. It's players like Robert Gamez and many others worrying, "I don't think we need to go and do this point system and change the schedule for 1% out of our Tour," Gamez said, "I think that's kind of where we're heading. You've got 1% of the Tour that wants to play fewer events, and they don't care about the Disneys and the tournaments at the end of the year that made the Tour what it is."
When the PGA Tour negotiated their 2003-2006 contract back in 2001, Tiger-mania was full steam ahead and the ratings were soaring. The networks and cable channels forked over $850 million in rights fees which was an amazing 50% increase over the preceding contract. Now we're in 2005 and in the next few weeks the PGA Tour is looking to sign the next version of their television contract, which could have come at a better time. Tiger went through his "slump" in 2003 and 2004, Nielson ratings have dropped from 3.6 in 2001 to 2.9 this year so far and now ABC, NBC, and CBS are expecting to take a $50 million hit this year. They overpaid, and now they're looking to get even.
Less television revenue could mean less prize money in some tournaments and it could worry some sponsors about their investment in existing tournaments. Ed Moorhouse, Co-Chief Operating Officer of the PGA Tour, assures us that the PGA Tour has secured sponsors for more than 20 of the 42 tournaments through 2010. Of that money approximately half of the sponsor's fees will help purchase ads on golf broadcasts. Tour officials say that they've already sold a large portion of commercial spots and Moorhouse claims, "I think the state of pro golf is fine, we still have the best business model of any sport."
Only time will tell if they got it right.