It was only a matter of time.
Nike hitched their wagons to Tiger Woods at an early age and turned the Nike Golf brand from a novelty to major competitor. The traditional golf manufacturers – Titleist, Ping, Taylor Made, Callaway, et. al – struggled to slow down Nike Golf’s meteoric rise since the late 90s. In fact, Nike equipment was considered a joke, even after Woods began using the clubs. But the brand’s explosion is all thanks to Tiger Woods.
And then Thanksgiving of 2009 happened.
Since the story broke of Woods’s extra-marital affairs, both the Tiger Woods brand and Nike Golf brand have taken a hit. Sure, Tiger won a few tournaments last year and his game looked solid. But Woods hasn’t won a major since 2008 and his popularity has decreased since 2009. What was Nike to do?
Nike did the smart thing, sticking by one of their most successful, famous, and marketable athletes. But they knew the Tiger magic couldn’t last forever. Could Tiger go on to win several majors over the next decade? Absolutely. But with a brand literally built by one star, Nike Golf needed the next step in its brand evolution.
Enter Rory McIlroy. Young. Multiple major victories. Incredibly likable. Sounds a lot like Tiger Woods.
And with Nike’s latest commercial featuring both golfers, the message is clear: Tiger is still a big part of Nike Golf, but Rory is THE part of Nike Golf in the not-so-distant future. The commercial literally shows them as equals, matching shot for shot, until the end… where Tiger says, “you’ll learn.”
Here, “you’ll learn” means much more than hitting a golf ball into a small plastic cup. It means that the brand rollout for McIlroy will learn a lot from the brand rollout of Woods. Within the next couple of years, Nike Golf will develop a McIlroy logo, apparel, and McIlroy-only commercials. As Tiger’s career winds down, McIlroy’s will be doing the opposite. And the Nike Golf brand continues.
Nike’s stance on McIlroy sets them up for the next couple of decades in continuing the Nike Golf brand story. All McIlroy has to do is keep winning… and stay away from the ladies.