New Nike Golf signings
Before the start of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf championship, Nike Golf announced arguably the most significant, and certainly the most lucrative, signing in the history of golf: Rory McIlroy. His new sponsorship deal will see him earn a reported £150 million over a ten year period, making him one of the highest paid sports stars in the world. The estimated figure not only dwarfs the sponsorship earnings of fellow brand ambassador Tiger Woods, but also global sporting superstars like David Beckham. Many gasped when the financial details were revealed, but, in truth, it is easy to see why Nike have paid so much money to secure McIlroy’s services, and why such clamour and commotion accompanied one of the worst kept secrets in golf.
At 23-years-old, McIlroy is one of the world’s most marketable sportsmen. Not only is he the best golfer in the world game by a distance, he is polite, articulate well mannered, media savvy and, perhaps most significantly, young. The Ulsterman has the potential to be at the summit of the world game for the next twenty years and, what’s more, he is seen as a safe bet. Over the past few years, Nike has been hampered by a series of scandals affecting some of its most prized assets: Woods’ extra-marital affairs and Lance Armstrong’s spectacular fall from grace to name but two. Granted, there is an element of risk attached to forking out such a large sum of money over such a long period of time, but, understandably, McIlroy’s allure was more than enough to offset that.
Now, Nike Golf possesses the best two players in the world, and two players that have already made indelible stamp on the game’s past, present and future. Understandably, the subject on every golf fans’ lips is what the future holds for these two great players, and how their relationship might change going forward. As it stands, the pair have a good rapport and a blossoming friendship, but I wonder how long that’ll last. If McIlroy continues winning majors and Woods fails to add to his tally, the feeling of joviality between the two could well start to subside. But we can’t predict the future, and with so many exciting prospects in the world game, attempting to do so is a touch futile.
Yes, Woods and McIlroy are, by a considerable distance, the two most high profile golfers in the Nike Golf stable, but we mustn’t overlook the significance of its other recent signings. Before McIlroy was officially revealed as Nike athlete, the brand had secured the services of three players that are all capable of enjoying extended periods inside the world’s top 10: Nick Watney, Thorbjorn Olesen and Seung-Yul Noh plus Kyle Stanley.
Watney has already spent many weeks inside the top ten, and looks a better and more rounded golfer every season. He won the Nationwide Tour Championship in 2004 to earn his card for the main tour and, after a relatively lacklustre first two years on the top-tier circuit, he won his first title at the 2007 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Since then, he has won four more times, contested in majors and a Presidents Cup and established himself as one of America’s best young players. In the latter half of last season he won the Barclays and the CIMB Classic, and he seems to have carried that form into 2013. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won a major in the near future and I see him as a legitimate contender for this season’s FedEx Cup.
Noh, his Korean peer, is also someone I expect to excel this season. He is a superstar in the making and possesses one of the most aesthetically pleasing golf swings in the world game. Noh became the youngest ever winner of the Asian Tour Money List in 2010 (at 18 years, 282 days) and the second-youngest victor of a European Tour event in the same season. He cruised through PGA Tour Q-School in 2011, recorded 13 top 25s and three top 10s last season and looks poised to improve again this year. Noh is a wonderful prospect and someone I fully expect to be contending for majors in the not too distant future.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Dane Olesen has quickly earned a reputation as the European Tour’s best young player. He won his first European Tour title at the 2012 Sicilian Open and is growing in stature and prowess every month. He already has experience of playing alongside Woods in a major and he competed admirably with world number four Justin Rose at the Abu Dhabi Championship, where he finished second. He is a fabulous ball striker and has all the tools required to progress serenely up the Official World Golf Ranking.
Nike hasn’t only been shrewd in terms of player acquisition, but also nationality. Having a global portfolio of talented players can only be beneficial to their brand image around the world. Noh will fly the flag for Nike Golf in Asia, where golf is becoming more and more popular, Olesen will provide brand exposure throughout Scandinavia and McIlroy, Watney and Woods will take charge of the world stage.
Nike’s off-season signings and new strategy of global repositioning will bring unquantifiable benefits going forward. Eyebrows may have been raised with the amount of money that has been dished out, but every piece of new business looks like a very smart investment. Nike not only possesses the powerful duo of Woods and McIlroy, but also a team of staff players that all look poised to enjoy extremely bright futures. We must now wait to see how the season pans out, but if a Nike staff member doesn’t win at least one major in 2013 it’d be considered a huge surprise.
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