Picture Nike's Phil Knight at one end of the rope and Titleist President Wally Uihlein at the other. In the middle as the proverbial mark, Rory McIlroy.
Has it come down to this?
Before Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan, there was a small company that spawned out of a basement where they made waffle running shoes in Oregon. Yes, they would put rubber into a waffle maker and then adhere the outsole to a sneaker and voila. The name of the company was Blue Ribbon Sports, and it decided that it could make people like the late Steve Prefontaine—run faster.
And, since the dawn of the company we now know as Nike, there has been a polarizing effect between sports equipment designed to make athletes jump farther and higher and run faster.
Step two is having these athletes empower the brand to sell product.
A kind of selling the sole, to sell their soul.
It is a magnetic attachment of getting the athlete to banner the equipment to sell more. And, as reported by the The Guardian, it is believed Rory McIlroy will be receiving in the neighborhood of $250 million for 10 years. That is a lot of golf balls with black swooshes being sent into the air by young and aspiring junior golfers worldwide.
Back to the basics.
In the early 1990s, Nike had very little to do with the sport of golf. Let's just say it was in its infant stages. Before long, they found a way to make clubs, apparel and even shoes that enhance performance. Eventually, they made golf balls and clubs too. The Pied Piper for this division was Tiger Woods. As the chicken hatched by the Nike egg, it was a person driving the market for a company that started out by making waffle runners.
The other company, Titleist, has been making golf equipment since we all found that rusted iron in our grandfather's garage.
Uihlein and the company trademark are entrenched in junior golf. Titleist has been the national sponsor of the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) since 1988. It has a grass roots approach that is bent on promoting the game. Not to be confused with a non-profit group, Uihlein and Titleist are capitalists and have kept the course by keeping on the course—the golf course.
Titleist came to McIlroy the same way it comes to a lot of its endorsed athletes. They sat down and saw if their aspirations were similar.
The current Titleist stable includes Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Jason Dufner, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Adam Scott. But, their prize stallion is McIlroy. To be sure, many of these players play a mosaic of equipment in which they have cut mosaic marketing deals.
And now he is going to fly the stable to the other stable in the Pacific Northwest. I somehow don't think for that kind of money Mr. Knight will allow him to play Titleist irons.
And so, he is going to have to make an adjustment.
Will he sell his wedge for $250 million?
Yes, is the answer.
And, when he makes this adjustment to play a different brand of equipment, will he he continue to win majors?
It is not so much a matter of who will win the financial tug-of-war. It's a matter of what will happen next.