The news Wednesday that Nike would be ceasing its production of golf equipment threw the sports world for a loop.
“We would be some of those people,” admitted Bobby Kreusler, CEO of Blue Giraffe Sports. “It was shocking and extremely disappointing.”
Blue Giraffe represents Jhonattan Vegas, a two-time PGA Tour winner and Nike-sponsored athlete. Or at least he was until this week.
Now, Kreusler, Vegas, and all Nike golf athletes—including (and especially) Tiger Woods—search for answers. How will their relationship with Nike look in the future?
“Tiger and I have had multiple conversations about what we'd do, and we have an organized plan in place," Woods’s agent Mark Steinberg told GOLF.com the day news broke. “The plan is continued rest and rehabilitation and we'll sort out the equipment thing in due course. I'll be in the process of doing that, effective immediately.”
Kreusler says his plan, for now, is to move forward with Nike as the apparel sponsor for Vegas, though finding a club sponsor could prove challenging. Nike, like many equipment manufacturers, preferred full coverage deals -- meaning its athletes wore Nike clothes, played Nike balls, and swung Nike clubs.
If other equipment companies insist on similar agreements that could leave clients like Vegas in a difficult position.
“With TaylorMade moving away from Adidas it may not be as much of an issue, but it will be a challenge. There’s no way around that,” Kreusler said. “I don’t think anyone can tell you how it’s going to work. “
Big-name Nike players like Woods, Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie may have less of an issue. Plenty of companies would be happy to do piecemeal deals just to get a part of such expansive athlete brands.
Woods tweeted a reciprocation of that sentiment Thursday afternoon, nearly a day after the initial announcement.
“I’m disappointed to hear the news,” Wie told GOLF.com. “Nike equipment has been in the bag for some of my greatest moments in golf … More than anything, I appreciate the incredible people on the equipment side who have always helped me in every way possible.”
Rory McIlroy offered a similar statement on his Twitter account, and mentioned employees who will now be without jobs.
His last tweet before that: a retweet of a Nike ad with footage of a young McIlroy growing up playing golf, with the hashtag #Justdoit.
That McIlroy ad was just a week old. Jhonattan Vegas had just re-worked his contract, according to his agent.
This announcement wasn’t just surprising in its content, but also in its suddenness.
One Nike golf athlete told GOLF.com, “I still need to digest what's happened. No one knew. Nike couldn't inform anyone, as they're a publicly traded company, so this was a complete surprise to all including myself. Feel for all my friends at the Oven and at WHQ who are about to lose their jobs. Sad day."
Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau said this week they planned to continue playing their Nike equipment. “There’s no point in switching if it’s working,” Koepka told reporters Thursday at the Travelers Championship.
Finau likewise doesn’t plan to make any immediate switch, but understands change is inevitable.
“I love the equipment I’m playing now,” he said. “It’s a real process to get through to make a change like that. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to mean for contracts, but it’s pretty likely that this time next year I won’t be playing Nike clubs.”
Let’s say Finau, or any of the current Nike golfers, stay with the company as an apparel sponsor. Will Nike allow players to choose their clubs or is a corporate partnership in the offing? Kreusler says Nike hasn’t made an announcement -- yet.
Bob Parsons, billionaire and founder of PXG golf, told GOLF.com he fielded 30 calls within an hour of the Nike announcement. Parsons is already chumming the waters with speculation that his company could be up for just such a partnership.
“I do look at it as an opportunity to possibly do business with them as a partner in the future since they're an awfully good company and a big player in the apparel and shoe markets.”
Just as club manufacturers will likely be lining up to sign Woods, McIlroy et al, you can expect they’ll also be lining up to work with a company like Nike in a symbiotic relationship.
Nike ignited an industry arms war when it got into the golf business. Getting out has once again fanned the flames.