Surprising Nike hardware exit leaves unanswered questions

Surprising Nike hardware exit leaves unanswered questions

When a company announces on January 4 that it has signed 14 new golfers, then abruptly pulls out of the equipment market just seven months later, it’s clearly a drastic decision that’s come down from on high.

While there has been much comment by industry observers to the effect that “we could see this coming”, it was clearly news to Nike Golf staff and players, especially the 14 newcomers it announced in January, including Americans Tony Finau and Brooks Koepka.

“Nike is an iconic brand,” Koepka says. “All these great, legendary athletes, such as Kobe Bryant, seem to be with Nike. I’m lucky enough to represent the best company in the world. I’m excited with what Nike will do in the future for the game of golf [and] I know that this partnership will help me achieve my personal goals.”

Maybe it will help him achieve his goals, but it won’t be by using their clubs for much longer.

“The best athletes in the world play for Nike and I'm glad to add my name to that list,” Finau affirms. “I look forward to striving for greatness as a lot of Nike athletes have. I know innovation is a big part of Nike and changing the mold, changing the game — that’s what drew me to the Swoosh.” 

The innovation for Tony will all be in the shoe and clothing departments and those flat billed hats, presumably. And marketing.

How much forewarning Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy got about yesterday’s news remains to be seen but given that McIlroy’s team has been working on the renewal of his $100m, five-year contract, due to expire on 31 December 2017, it’s possible they did not get much warning at all from the head of corporate, never mind Nike Golf.

What happens now to the new signings? As yet, the state of the post-Nike Golf equipment landscape is unclear and agents are screaming for information.

Nike's new boys were;

  1. Brooks Koepka (USA)
  2. Toni Finau (USA)
  3. Lucas Bjerregaard (Denmark)
  4. Pan Cheng-tsung (Taiwan)
  5. Ashley Chesters (England)
  6. Trevor Cone (US)
  7. Tim Crouch (US)
  8. Marcus Kinhult (Sweden)
  9. Tom Lewis (England)
  10. Denny McCarthy (US)
  11. So Hye Park (Korea)
  12. Hunter Stewart (US)
  13. Joshua White (US)
  14. Rumi Yoshiba (Japan)

With Nike also pulling out of golf bag and golf ball manufacture, McIlroy’s bag may finally get the commercial sponsor that was the cause of so much angst four years ago, when he was negotiating his five-year deal with the sportswear giant.

Initially to be a Nike-free zone with the bag space reserved for a big corporate sponsor, nothing but a swoosh ever made it onto the bag for any considerable length of time (bar charity appearances or the occasional nod to his partners), which means that lucrative piece of real estate may finally be exploited.

As for McIlroy’s options, it seems unlikely that he would be delighted to see the back of Nike when he was trying to renew his contract. 

After all, how many companies are willing to pay you $20m a year and market you all over the world?

Then there’s the golf ball.

Busy times ahead if you are in the business of managing golfers. High pressure times.