By Jamie Diaz
For more than 30 years, starting with the 1985 FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis, FedEx has been a sponsor for the PGA Tour. As it did through its positive exposure in the 2000 movie “Cast Away,” the shipping company has benefited from its expanded association with golf. And now FedEx has delivered for the tour again.
The two entities on Tuesday announced a new 10-year contract that extends the FedEx Cup and the FedEx Cup Playoffs through 2027. The new sponsorship agreement reprises the length of the contract begun by the inaugural FedEx Cup in 2007.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, who succeeded Tim Finchem at the start of this year, said the extension with the largest sponsor in the sport is an important marker of the positive image that professional golfers project to the corporate world.
“To know that you’re in business with one of the greatest companies on the planet on a long-term basis is something that I think is a great testament to our players,” Monahan said. “I think that’s what gives us the greatest sense of pride is knowing that the way our players comport themselves, knowing they’re relatable, they’re purposeful, they’re global and represent the game so well, I think lends itself extremely well to this announcement.”
Added Patrick Fitzgerald, senior vice president for FedEx: “[Golf] seems to attract some of the best athletes and people and citizens in the community that we could expect, so we’re very proud of that.”
The FedEx Cup is a season-long points competition over the span of 46 events on the PGA Tour. It culminates with the tour’s playoff system, established for the first time a decade ago, in which the 125 top-qualifying players attempt to advance through the elimination rounds of three tournaments, the last seeding a field of the top-30 point getters in to the four playoff event, the Tour Championship, where the FedEx Cup champion is crowned and awarded $10 million bonus. Past winners have included Tiger Woods (twice), Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Jordan Spieth and, in 2016, Rory McIlroy.
Overall, the FedEx competitions currently offer $35 million in bonus money. No new numbers were disclosed in the extended deal, although Monahan said, “we expect the Cup and the payout to increase significantly.”
The announcement comes at a moment in which major changes in the tour’s schedule are being contemplated. Chief among them would be the possible movement of the Players from May back to the March date it held prior to 2007, with a corresponding move by the PGA Championship from August to May. Such a change—perhaps assisted by reducing the FedEx Playoffs from four to three—would achieve Monahan’s stated goal of having the golf season culminate with the Tour Championship by Labor Day, thereby avoiding the competition with pro and college football it currently deals with through September.
Both Monahan and Fitzgerald, who jointly made the announcement in Ponte Vedra, declined to speculate on that score. But their words did not preclude future upheaval.
“Right now the schedule we play is the schedule we are going, and will be going, with for the foreseeable future,” Monahan said. “I’m not saying we’re making schedule changes. I am saying that we’ve got a commitment through this agreement to significantly raise the consequences of the Cup.”
“I want the FedEx Cup to end at a point of maximum excitement for the PGA Tour, and it feels like it does now, but I will tell you that every year the FedEx Cup has gotten stronger,” Fitzgerald said. “There is some exciting potential when you look at the schedule and other things, but I don’t know what the best answer will be yet.”
Monahan added there are no plans to change the site of the Tour Championship, which is contracted through 2020 to be played at East Lake in Atlanta. “To suggest that we’re making any changes there I think would be premature because it’s not something we’ve talked a lot about,” he said.
The 10-year sponsorship commitment is one that is becoming more common on the PGA Tour, with eight current tournaments having extended for 10-plus years. The longer commitments offer tour more stability and flexibility, and have come about, Monahan said, “because the product and the system is working.”
When the FedEx Cup was announced in 2005, it was met with derision and skepticism. It was called artificial and a money grab, and its format and points system criticized for being convoluted.
Through the years, there have been plenty of adjustments in the interests of making the competitive format more equitable. How points are reset from the regular season to the playoffs, and finding the correct amount of “volatility,” were important issues that received needed attention. Today, every player at the Tour Championship has at least a mathematical chance to win the Cup.
Moreover, beginning in 2013, FedEx Cup points rather than the money list determines which 125 players earn their playing cards for the following season.
Asked which has been more fruitful for his company, its association with the tour or being featured in “Cast Away”, in which Tom Hanks plays a FedEx employee who after surviving for four years on a deserted island in the Pacific delivers an unopened FedEx package he had preserved during his ordeal to its intended recipient, Fitzgerald responded, “If I had to rank them, I would say the FedEx Cup.”