By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
December 10, 2010: Even though the most visible golfer in the world, Tiger Woods, struggled in 2010 and did not win a tournament for the first time in his career, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem not only said that he was happy with the overall performance of players and marketing support but that there were numerous dynamics in place that would make 2011 a strong year.
Although the challenges of the current economy are still a major concern, Finchem said during a media conference on Dec. 9 that six new sponsors have been added on the PGA Tour level with "seven or eight renewals and several more on the horizon. We now have over 30% of PGA Tour title sponsorships extended beyond 2012. And so we made solid progress." (Full list of corporate partners here.)
Going into 2011 the commissioner said that just two of 45 tournaments for next season lacked a corporate sponsor — the Bob Hope and The Heritage — but that all of the tournaments are "fully funded."
Among recent marketing activity, the PGA Tour signed a deal under which United Airlines would replace long-time partner Delta as the official company in the category and another signaling General Motors' return after two years off the circuit due to financial problems. Among other sponsorship activation, GM's Cadillac will be back to sponsor the World Golf Championship this March in Miami via a six-year deal under which the event is being renamed the Cadillac Championship. GM dropped its alliance not only with the event but with Woods, the Academy Awards and the Super Bowl in 2008 and 2009.
A sign of the improving times is that GM was part of World Series marketing when it unveiled a Chevrolet campaign during the Fox telecasts featuring the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, and also will be part of Super Bowl XVL in February, also on Fox.
“We are partnering with a company that has demonstrated, over a long, long period of time, a tremendous knowledge for marketing,” Finchem said at the end of November regarding the automaker, which had previously been aligned with the PGA Tour for 50 years. “The problems that befell this company were not about selling cars. Cadillac is a brand that has always been strong. It is getting stronger now and to be a part of that upswing is a great opportunity for us.”
Regarding Woods' situation, Finchem spun some positive aspects out of the fact that the man who lost his world No. 1 ranking had not been playing up to par.
"We like the way virtually all of our partners are trying to get the story lines out about players," said Finchem during the media conference on Dec. 9. "[That's] tougher to do when Tiger is playing really well, because he does eat up a lot of the interest and time. But in this last year when he didn't play early in the year and then in '08, it opened up the opportunity to get some of these other stories told, which is important to our future."
Finchem said he foresees a stronger Woods playing in 2011 but could not predict where and how often he would compete. "I'd ask you to ask Tiger that. I do have a feeling that in a sense from talking to a wide range of players that there's going to be . . . an extensive effort by players to shake up their schedule a little bit. I don't want to characterize any one particular player, but I think you're going to see that pretty much across the board.
"With Tiger, you know, Tiger has not had a lot of movement in his schedule for about ten years. But his overall presence as a player who is chasing big records and a perennial No. 1 player, now No. 2, is that he increases interest across the board in the sport, whether he's playing or not, actually. And that's a positive thing."
Finchem addressed the ratings of PGA Tour events on TV in 2010 and how other sports contributed to soft ratings. "I think that it is appealing on television. I think that the challenges we have are promoting what we have effectively. And we have had more challenges this past year on what's up against us than we have had in a while: The Winter Olympics performed significantly higher than anybody would have anticipated, and that hurt us three weeks early in the year, three weekends . . . In the first quarter, the NFL ratings were at an all-time high. That hurt us. And we have had four or five other instances later in the season where there were just uniquely popular programming up against us."
Looking forward, Finchem said "that would not necessarily play out again this year. I don't think it's at all a function of the quality of the telecast.All three of our partners have done a much better job as the years have gone by, and I think they have got it down. I think if you want to watch golf, they do a great job. We particularly like the technological aspect, the high-tech aspects that have been added the last three or four years.
"So we like the way that our television partners focused on that," Finchem continued. "I think we have to do a better job of bringing it home to our overall fan base, which is over 100 million people [who] pay attention to golf on television on a regular basis. We have got to reach them with some compelling stories, and that's what we are really focused on."
"[Tiger Woods] increases interest across the board in the sport, whether he's playing or not, actually. And that's a positive thing."
According to Finchem, the performances of rookies and younger players "has led us to conclude that we really need to focus on that dynamic as we go into 2011. It will be our primary promotional focus to get people to pay attention to how well the veterans continue to play, and the young stars, the competition between the newer generation and the more experienced and older players. We think [this made] for good theater this year, and we are excited about that development."
Finchem specifically singled out such young players as PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson, as well as FedExCup winner Jim Furyk, Bernhard Langer (Charles Schwab Cup champion) and Jamie Lovemark (Nationwide Tour Player of the Year) as proof that it was not only Woods and Phil Mickelson who garnered the fan, media and marketing attention. "I've never in my tenure seen so much buzz and interest about rookies and young players creating exciting performances," Finchem said.