Nike's yellow driver reaches the green
Nike's first hot-selling golf club, the distinctive yellow SasQuatch, has an important coming out party in Augusta this weekend.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - There will be a lot of yellow flashed on the tee of Augusta this weekend.
Nike (Research) has 17 golfers swinging its popular SasQuatch driver in this year's Masters. With its distinctive yellow coloring on the bottom of the club, it'll be tough for viewers to miss who is using the company's first big hit in the world of golf clubs.
Nike is already the second largest seller of golf balls and has also done very well in golf footwear and apparel, not surprisingly. But the company has been slow to win acceptance from either pros or weekend duffers for its clubs.
Tiger Woods won his first few Masters swinging non-Nike drivers, even as he pocketed Nike's millions to endorse its apparel. And while he used Nike's previous driver, the Ignite, for the past three years, the sales of the club never took off. SportsScan Info, which tracks sales of sporting goods at 13,000 retail outlets, estimates that Nike had only 1.4 percent of the driver market in the first quarter of 2005.
But this year, thanks to the SasQuatch, Nike now has 5.4 percent of the market. That's still behind market leaders such as adidas-Salomon (Research) unit Taylor Made and Callaway Golf (Research). But Nike's success has come at the expense of competitors' share.
The club has far exceeded even Nike's sales projections of just over 100,000 of the drivers from its introduction in October through the end of its fiscal year in May. Kel Devlin, global sports marketing director for Nike Golf, says the company will now double that target. He added that the company now expects to sell 300,000 SasQuatch drivers in its next fiscal year, up from its earlier target of just under 200,000.
And with the Masters considered to be the beginning of the biggest selling season for golf equipment, any positive attention that SasQuatch will get in Augusta will be important. SportsScan's sales data shows golf equipment sales generally pick up the week after the Masters, and continue to stay strong until the week before Father's Day.
"The Masters gets people excited about golf again," said Kerry Kabase, sales director of Edwin Watts Golf, one of the leading golf-only retailers. "Especially in the four-season parts of the country, it gets people thinking about what they want and need to get back out on the course."
SasQuatch is helped by a $299 price, about $100 less than some competitors. But a comparable price wasn't enough to help Nike's Ignite. The SasQuatch, on the other hand, has a reputation of being a more forgiving club than the company's previous offerings, and one that can add the extra yards every weekend golfer is looking for.
Still, wins by a major golfer are another key to the marketing efforts for golf equipment makers. And Woods' success and popularity almost single-handedly got Nike into the golf equipment game in the first place.
The other SasQuatch golfers at the Masters this year include successful players who are far less known than either Woods or some of the games' other top names -- Players Championship winner Stephen Ames, current tour money leader Rory Sabbatini and Chad Campbell, who was on top of the Masters' leader board during second round action on late Friday afternoon.
Both Kabase and Devlin admit that Nike probably stands to gain the most from a Woods win, since he's likely to bring so many additional viewers to golf's most-watched tournament. Ratings have plunged during the years Woods wasn't on the leader board. Even in 2004, when popular hard-luck golfer Phil Mickelson won his first victory at a major in a close match, ratings weren't as good as times when Tiger blew away the field.
"The ratings are going to be a lot higher if Tiger wins and we'll get a lot more exposure," said Devlin.
But Kabase said a win by one of the less famous players swinging SasQuatch could have some benefits for Nike as well.
"A golfer might assume that Woods can win with anything, but if he hears that a player he doesn't know like Stephen Ames has won using the club, he might think, 'It must have really helped his game,'" said Kabase.
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