“Just Do It.” That has been Nike’s motto for 25 years. This week it is was more of a plea to Tiger Woods.
Nike announced this week that Tiger Woods has (finally!) added the red-headed Nike VRS Covert Tour driver to his bag (seen below). The aggressively designed driver was launched back in February, but Tiger hadn’t been impressed opting to keep his Nike VR Tour driver he has used since 2009.
Having a driver with a bright coloured clubhead draws a lot of attention (just ask TaylorMade!). So when your number 1 player, and probably the best player to play the sport isn’t using your latest and greatest driver, it can raise some questions. No doubt behind closed doors, Nike were working hard to tweak the driver to please their chief money-maker. But Woods, until now, stuck to what he knew.
Perhaps he was put off watching the downfall of his fellow Nike player, Rory McIlroy. Rory’s use of the new Covert driver has been questioned also. Whilst he picked up the driver immediately after signed with Nike earlier this year, his dip in form has been credited, by many, to his new equipment. He refutes those claims. But to be honest so would I if the company in question had just paid me £150,000,000.
Anyway, back to Tiger. He showed off his new driver in practice rounds, and photos, and even put on a display of his length on the range Thursday:
The truth is the driver is not even the Nike VRS Covert Tour driver available to the public. It is reportedly a 3rd, 4th, perhaps even a 5th generation of the Covert driver. Tiger’s version is not adjustable and has some minor tweaks designed to specifically help him.
Great right? Tiger’s got a new driver in play. His only weakness over his career has been his wild tee shots. Surely now, he’s cured and he’ll put on a driving clinic at Muirfield.
Whilst that might be true, Nike’s fancy new driver is essentially a thin, 4ft long, hidden billboard for Nike this week. Through 2 rounds at this year’s Open, Woods hasn’t removed his Tiger headcover once, hitting precisely zero shots with his new driver during play. He doesn’t appear to be suffering for it either. He enters the weekend at 2-under par, inside the top 10, and a 6/1 favourite to win his 15th major (started the week 10/1).
So why the big news of the new driver if he isn’t going to use it? I have a theory.
Firstly, it is great marketing fodder for Nike.
Photos of Tiger using the new, red-headed driver will help sales without doubt. As they chase TaylorMade in the driver market, they need the help of the game’s most influential man. It is also relatively risk-free for both parties. Tiger doesn’t mind adding a new driver, as he may not use it at all. Nike don’t mind as it is officially in his bag and if it’s not used, at least it won’t be photographed being thrown around as Tiger flares another wild tee shot into the rough.
The second, and relatively secret, part of this story also happened Wednesday (same day Tiger added the driver to his bag). Media sources reported that Nike and Tiger had finally come to an agreement on a new endorsement deal.
Tiger originally signed with Nike in 1996 in a 5-year deal worth $40m.
He did well, they sold lots and thus he re-signed with them in 2001, in a new 5-year deal this time worth $100m. His most recent deal, signed in 2006, was set to expire this year. It is thought that deal netted Tiger in excess of $20m per year.
Numbers from the new deal have been kept quiet. Whilst he is likely making a good chunk of change, I suspect with Rory now on the books (as well as Watney, Stanley, Noh, Olesen etc), Nike perhaps asked Tiger to take a pay cut. Having not won a major in over 5 years, and with Nike standing by him during his infamous 2009 scandal, it is understandable that Nike renegotiate his terms.
Nike Golf’s president, Cindy Davis, briefly commented on the deal:
“We are thrilled to continue our partnership with Tiger. He is one of Nike’s most iconic athletes and has played an integral part in Nike Golf’s growth since the very beginning”
All very PC, as expected.
I suspect that during his recent negotiations Nike executes, exhausted by the media blaming Nike equipment for Rory’s downfall, pleaded with Woods to scratch their back if they scratch his. Put the new driver in your bag, even if you don’t use it, and we’ll get this deal wrapped up.
Thus, Tiger has a new contract, a new driver and could be on his way to a new Claret Jug on his mantle.
I have a feeling that if he does win The Open Sunday, Nike will work out a way to have his new driver in his hand when he lifts the trophy…. probably with Alex Salmond there for a photobomb also.