When Nike Golf got into the equipment business some two decades ago, it was seen as the 800-pound heavyweight that could stand toe-to-toe with companies such as Acushnet (Titleist), Callaway, Ping and TaylorMade. Turns out the gorilla was a lightweight
Nike Inc. today announced it would “accelerate innovation in its Golf footwear and apparel business’’ and “transition out of equipment,’’ including clubs, balls and bags. Just what that transition means to the multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts of Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods – Nike Golf’s most visible staff players, remains to be seen. But the transition does mark the beginning of the end of Nike’s failed experience in the golf equipment industry.
To be blunt, Nike Golf was a disaster in the equipment industry. Anyone who has been watching Nike Golf the past few years shouldn’t be surprised by the corporate decision. Despite being played by top players such as McIlroy and Woods, Nike Golf never created equipment (clubs or balls) that were better – or at least even – with its major competitors. Nike Golf could sell plenty of shirts and caps – in its own line and the Tiger Woods Collection – but simply couldn’t sell equipment. It never seemed to be able to get out of its own way, whether on the creative or marketing sides.
Nike Golf’s sales fell to $706 million in fiscal year 2016, down from $769 million in FY 2015 fiscal year and a high of $792 million in 2013. It’s doubtful Nike Golf’s equipment sales were responsible for half of any of those figures any given year.
Nike decision to cut bait on the equipment side comes at an interesting time in the golf industry. adidas Group has been trying for the better part of the past year to sell TaylorMade; and the Acushnet Company, parent of the Titleist and FootJoy brands, is in the midst of preparing for an Initial Public Offering. Nike’s exit from the equipment business likely won’t have any impact on either of those deals, but it likely will be seen as another black eye for a struggling industry.