Tiger Woods is Killing Nike Golf
Written By: Tony Covey
In the history of Nike Golf there was Duval (and now Duval again), and Glover, and Cink, and now Rory, and Stanley, and Watney too, but before there were any of them, there was Tiger Woods.
Tiger Woods isn’t simply synonymous with Nike Golf, Tiger Woods is Nike Golf. He put them on the map, and while it has taken some time, Tiger is the reason why most view Nike as a legitimate player on the golf equipment scene.
2013 should be a banner year for Nike. Most of the world has moved on from the scandal, Josyln James, and whatever mostly nameless Perkins waitress you want to throw in the mix. The Sergio mess aside, Tiger is healthy, he seems happy (as happy as Tiger ever seems), and most importantly for Nike, he’s not only winning again, one could make a legitimate argument that he’s playing the best golf of his life.
In any other sport this kind of success would be a slam dunk for the company in Nike’s position, but this isn’t any other sport, it’s golf, and while I’m hard-pressed to explain exactly how it’s different, I’m certain that it is.
If Nike is serious about becoming the #1 Company in Golf, and they’ve told me as much on a few occasions now, they need to realize they’ve outgrown Tiger Woods. He’s not only taken them as far as any one man could have, the company’s apparent continued reliance on him to take them even further is killing Nike Golf.
I’m not suggesting they dump him. He’s absolutely a key piece to any future success, but you can’t build the #1 Company in Golf around a single athlete, not even when that athlete is Tiger Woods. To get to #1 Nike needs more than Tiger Woods. They need more than Rory McIlroy too. A whole lot more.
What they must do is fundamentally change their approach to the golf business.
Maybe I’m wrong, but as a guy on the outside with a little bit of inside knowledge, it sure looks like the engine powering Nike Golf’s breakout season has stalled.
To get things moving in the right direction again, I respectfully (as respectfully as I’m capable of anyway) submit this list of 5 Things Nike Golf needs to do if they’re serious about being #1:
1. Get the New Gear In Tiger’s Bag
I know…easier said than done. It’s Tiger, he’s the best in the world, and he’s not going to play anything he doesn’t want too, but Tiger’s gear is a big problem for Nike.
Tiger isn’t just good, Tiger is too good. Nike is always going to have to fight the perception that Tiger could win with absolutely anything in his bag.
Most knowledgeable consumers already believe that Tiger would still win if you forced him to play with 3 croquet mallets, a hockey stick, and a tennis ball (USGA Rules not withstanding), but it still doesn’t look good for Nike when Tiger is winning at a better than 50% clip with a 2 year old driver and a golf ball that’s been off the shelf for just as long.
Michael Jordan never wore last year’s shoes.
Every Tiger win is a missed opportunity to promote the new gear. Worse yet, it’s actually bad for business. If the new stuff isn’t good enough for Tiger, why the hell should the average golfer put it in his bag?
The Covert should have been the biggest driver story of the year, but it’s not. That’s in no small part due to Tiger’s continued use of what for the rest of us is supposed to be obsolete technology.
Like I said…I get it. Equipment changes for guys at Tiger’s level are kind of a big deal, and Tiger is notoriously precise. It takes time, effort, and a whole lot of trial and error (which is why the USGA’s Conforming Driver list is about 6 versions of the Covert deep at this point), but I gotta be honest with you, it doesn’t look good when red is on the shelves and black is in Tiger’s bag.
When Tiger wins the US Open, and I’m pretty sure he will, if he does it without the signature red club in the bag (sorry, a fairway wood barely counts), you can close the book on the Covert. Whatever story Nike had left to tell… forget about it. It’s over. The same is true for RZN 2.0. You might as well bring back the Tour D.
The smart play is to take a page out of TaylorMade’s book on this one. When they release a new driver, the biggest names on their staff play it. Immediately. The brand is bigger than the athlete, and it should be.
Who’s paying whom?
Granted, TaylorMade doesn’t have a Tiger Woods on the roster, but they do have a lot of other guys. And those others guys…within a month of release, they made the R1 the #1 Driver on Tour, which is a big part of the reason the R1, even with a $400 price tag, and a questionable paint job, is one of the best selling drivers on the market right now.
If you can’t get Tiger to make the switch, at least paint the damn thing red.
2. Get More Guys
Nike needs more tour spread. Yeah, it’s stupid how much value the average consumer places on what the tour guys have in their bags, but that’s how it goes. It’s Pyramid of Influence 101.
Nike knows this. It’s why they pay Tiger, Rory, and Schwartzel, Watney, and those other guys (and women) stupid amounts of money to wear the swoosh. To be a serious player at retail, you gotta have guys on tour.
The problem for Nike is that their top guy only plays 1/3 of the time and the #2 guy plays only slightly more often. If you can force Tiger and Rory to play twice as often – and even if you can – you’re going to need a lot more guys. A lot more than the handful you added this season.
Golf isn’t like the other sports where having the most popular guy in the game all but guarantees you’ll outsell the competition.
Case in point: Nike has Tiger Woods, TaylorMade has Sergio Garcia.
We all know who the more successful (and the more popular) golfer is, but who’s #1 in drivers? Who’s #1 in irons. Who’s the #1 company in golf right now?
TaylorMade is #1, not because they have the best player…or the two best players. They don’t win the most majors. They’re #1 because they have more guys playing their gear. More guys means more sales. It’s a numbers game, and a pretty easy one at that.
Let me drop some circular logic on you. You know why Titleist is the #1 Ball in Golf? It’s not because any single golfer plays the Pro V1, it’s because just about everyone who isn’t (and some who are) on staff with TaylorMade, Nike, Callaway or Cleveland has the Pro V1 in their bag. Titleist has the #1 Ball in Golf because Titleist has the #1 Ball in Golf. The numbers are self-perpetuating.
To get to #1, you’re going to need more guys.
3. Put the Social Back in Your Social Media
Nike sucks at social media. Sorry, there’s no point in tap dancing around it. It’s easy to look at the raw numbers (Nike has the largest social media following in all of golf) and interpret the count as a measure of success. It’s not. It speaks to the popularity of the Nike brand, and the popularity of Tiger Woods, but please believe me when I tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Social Media presents the most direct opportunity for a company to have a real conversation with potential customers and fans, and given their reach, Nike Golf has the biggest opportunity in all of golf. And thus far, Nike Golf has completely squandered it.
Tiger Woods…he has 3.3 million followers and he’s equally as awful.
In Tiger’s defense, he’s got better things to do than tweet, and so from what I can tell, he doesn’t.
Tiger’s every tweeted word…hell every syllable is clearly scripted, scrutinized, and sanitized. There’s barely an ounce of actual genuine humanity in the entire feed. It’s not @TigerWoods it’s @TigerWoodsPRMachine. It’s disingenuous and it’s painfully obvious. That’s fine…for Tiger.
Unfortunately, where Social Media is concerned Nike Golf appears to be to following Tiger’s lead.
While I am unbiased in my assessment of the industry, on a human level, I’m anything but. The people I know at Nike from President Cindy Davis to the R&D guys to the PR team are some of my favorites. They’re brilliant, they’re insightful. They’re good people, and most importantly, they’re genuine. They have personality, and that’s where the tremendous disconnect is.
Nike’s Tweets and Facebook posts are a formulaic mix of What Would You Do photos, tour news, product shots, mad libs (Nike Golf _____ at Social Media), and what can best be described as motivational posters (Just Do It). Actual interaction is tossed aside in favor of a steady stream of one-way conversations. We talk, then you talk, but we don’t converse. There’s no back-and-forth. It’s not compelling, it’s not fun, and there’s no real engagement. At least the pictures are cool.
The Nike is Social Media experience is 180 degrees away from my experience with the actual people at Nike Golf.
Just Interact, dammit.
Trust your people to kill it, and they will. I’m sure of it.
Contrast Nike’s approach with that of Callaway.
This time last year, Callaway was pretty horrible at Social Media too (they sucked), but they’ve transformed themselves – almost overnight. The new Callaway has been aggressive, but very genuine in its approach to Social media. They’ve got people at all levels of the company actively involved and interacting with the consumer. Most importantly they’ve embraced their humanity. You know there’s a real person on the other end of the wire.
Callaway’s Social Media success is a large part of the reason why thee company turnaround is happening faster than anyone could have imagined.
Nike’s Social Media approach isn’t simply bland, it’s robotic. It’s the voice that asks you to speak or input your credit card account number using your touch-tone phone.
4. Never Mind the Athlete, Believe in the 40 Year Old Fat Guy
It’s great that you believe in the athlete, and it does make for one hell of a tagline. It looks great in those motivational-style graphics that keep popping up on Twitter and Facebook.
That kind of approach has clearly worked well in football, and metric football (soccer), basketball and running. I’m fairly certain it’d be a hit in hockey too, but this is golf, and like I said at the beginning, golf is different.
Athletes don’t play golf…well some do, but the point is golf is not the exclusive domain of athletes. Golf is one of the few sports that allows non-athletes to play…and even play competitively at some level into our 80s. Hell, I’ve got a 90 something year-old at my club who still manages to hit balls on the range. They don’t go very far, but the old man is swinging.
He’s awesome, but he’s not an athlete, and majority of us who play golf, we’re not athletes either…at least not anymore.
You want to kill it in golf? You really want to be #1? To hell with the athlete, believe in the 40 year old fat guy. Believe in him, and all the other non-athletes and former athletes who live and breathe the game of golf every day.
Recreational golfers are only partly delusional. We’re willing to believe that your driver will give us 10 more yards, and your irons will make us better ballstrikers. We’re all but certain that new gear and new gear alone will absolutely lower our scores, but when pressed, most of us aren’t deluded enough that we actually think of ourselves as athletes.
The problem with believing in the athlete is that it conveys the message that Nike Golf’s gear has nothing to do with success on the golf course. It’s the athlete not the equipment.
And you’re right, it is the athlete…or at the very least, it’s the golfer, but that doesn’t mean you print it. To get to the top, you absolutely need us to believe it’s the gear.
You can still believe in the athlete, but if the 40 year old fat guy doesn’t believe your gear will make him better, 100 red clubs (or just 14) in Tiger’s bag won’t get him to buy a single one of them.
5. Take Some of Your Balls Out of Tiger’s Bucket
That’s right…diversify. Everything I’ve said so far has led to this. Rely less on Tiger Woods. Keep him in the family, but pick your spots. As absurd as it might sound, let him be just another guy on the Nike roster.
Wait for him to give you something brilliant on the golf course to use. And I think everyone reading this is certain he will. Celebrate his every accomplishment, but stop forcing it. Nike Golf is bigger than Tiger Woods…at least it should be.
We loved the initial Tiger and Rory spot. It was brilliant. It was funny, and it presented one of those rare moments when Tiger came across as genuine and likable. That matters.
The other Tiger stuff you’ve done…the “Winning Takes Care of Everything”, the Earl Woods spot after the scandal; one is smug, the other is distasteful, and neither did anything to bring people to the Nike Golf Brand. Both made me think less of Nike Golf, and I’m certain I’m not alone.
Nike is bigger and better than that. I’m certain of that too.
Oh sure…predictably some people ate it up, because they love Tiger, they loved you for it, but that’s what politicians call playing to your base. It gets your crowd fired up, but when the dust settles you’re nowhere, but where you started.
Let’s be honest, even Tiger’s biggest fans would likely concede that he’s not the most charismatic athlete Nike has ever had on the roster. He’s not Michael Jordan. He’s not Bo Jackson. He’s probably not Lance Armstrong either, and even if he was, when applied to golf, the model is flawed.
Finding the guy – or even the guys (if you want to throw Rory in there too) – and building your brand around him, is never going to work in golf. You’ll sell a lot of shirts, and some shoes too, but filling a golf bag with 2 grand worth of gear, it’s never going to happen. It takes more than one guy…more than two guys to do that. It takes a smart company and a diversified marketing strategy.
Michael Jordan won 72 games over the 1995-1996 season. 1 season, 72 wins. It has taken Tiger 17 years to win 78 times on the PGA Tour. I know…that’s a stupid comparison. Basketball isn’t golf. It’s apples and oranges.
It’s not the same, and that’s exactly my point.
If Nike is going to be the #1 Company in golf, they’re going to have do a lot of things differently.
None of this is on Tiger
This isn’t a statement on who Tiger Woods is as a golfer, a person, or a pitchman. I’m not drinking any hater-aid. Nobody is arguing that Tiger isn’t the greatest golfer on the planet right now. Any brand in golf should be a stronger retail force with Tiger on the roster.
I’ll say it again, Nike Golf is what it is today because of Tiger Woods. He put them on the map.
Rhode Island is on the map too, and it’s not getting any bigger.
As a company, and a brand, Nike Golf has simply become too dependent on Tiger Woods.
He’s not the face of the brand, he’s the shoulders of the brand. He and he alone carries them – and that’s no model for long-term success in the golf industry, especially for a company that aspires to be #1.
Until Nike Golf figures out how to climb off of Tiger’s shoulders and adopts a strategy that focuses on the equipment and not the athlete, and does so in a way that’s genuine-enough to resonate with the consumer, they’ll only go as far as Tiger can carry them…and he’s already carried them about as far as any one man can.
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