Golf is dying. Millennials don’t play. Ratings are on the wane. Several stars skipped the Olympics. The Tiger era is over, and Nike just exited the golf equipment business.
So why did the Swoosh from Beaverton, Ore., just pay a reported $10 million to the top-ranked golfer in the world, Australian Jason Day?
“We don’t comment on rumor or speculation,” Greg Rossiter, Nike’s head of global communications, said of the ESPN report. “We’re committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel.”
Nike has gone 0-for-8 in the last eight majors, and isn’t accustomed to, or excited about watching its competitors’ endorsers ... hoisting trophies – regardless of the sport.
Jim Tanner, president of Tandem Sports & Entertainment in Arlington, Va.
There’s a little more to it than that. One reason for the Day signing, according to Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst with the NPD Group, is that Nike wants to preserve its $500 million stake in the “soft goods” side of the golf market — think golf shoes and shirts. The company recently exited the golf equipment business, which is mostly golf balls and golf clubs.
Secondly, with Tiger Woods, who has been the face of Nike golf, no longer the story every week, Nike’s golf business lost its biggest star and a lot of luster. The point is to get the inimitable Swoosh as much television time on Sunday afternoons, when television ratings tend to spike because that’s when tournaments play their final round. Day offers insurance that Nike will be front and center on Sundays.
“Nike has gone 0-for-8 in the last eight majors, and isn’t accustomed to, or excited about watching its competitors’ endorsers, particularly Under Armour’s athletes, hoisting trophies – regardless of the sport,” Jim Tanner, president of Tandem Sports & Entertainment in Arlington, Va., said in an e-mail.
Tanner said Woods and other elites like Rory McIlroy (Nike) and Jordan Spieth (Under Armour) are all believed to have shoe-and-shirt endorsement deals “in excess of $20 million” per year.
Sounds like a lot, but when you consider Nike sells $30 billion worth of sports apparel and equipment and has a marketing budget estimated to be more than $2 billion, the $10 million it just paid Day is a rounding error.
Besides, Day has been more consistent than McIlroy and Woods, finishing in the top 10 of six of the past eight major tournaments. He also won last year’s PGA Championship.
10Amount, in millions, that Nike reportedly is paying the top-ranked golfer in the world, Australian Jason Day
30Amount, in billions, of sports apparel and equipment that Nike sells each year
“Getting the world’s number one golfer for half that may prove to be a great deal for both Nike and Day,” Tanner said.
There’s also the fact that selling golf clubs isn’t a great business any more. Nike’s total golf revenue from sales of equipment, shoes and shirts peaked at $792 million in 2013 and has been falling ever since.
John Horan of Sports Marketing Intelligence said rules changes by golf authorities like the U.S. Golf Association limiting golf club design, particularly for drivers — “which gives the ball its boing” — cramped innovation, and, in turn, stifled sales.
“Once you sort of limit the amount of innovation you can do, your market is limited to a replacement market,” Horan said. “It used to be pretty easy for [golf club maker] Calloway to go down to the metallurgists and the engineers and say, ‘We need more boing.’ ”
Horan said the money is now in the soft goods side.
“That’s where the battle is going to be,” he said.