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Nike (kind of) passes the torch with new McIlroy/Woods ad

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In January 1993, McDonald’s released an iconic advertisement for their Superbowl submission that featured two of basketball’s greatest athletes in a friendly game of horse, competing for a Big Mac.

It started out with Larry Bird in a gym shooting around. Then Michael Jordan came in to join him for a game of one-on-one, but before he did so he opened up a golden-arch lunch.

First, what the heck is Michael Jordan doing eating McDonald’s before playing basketball and second, what in the heck is he wearing? It looks like he bought a warm-up shirt from a Picasso Showcase of Art souvenir store, but I digress.

Anyways, the always competitive Bird (who is a horrible actor by the way) shows his hunger for food and winning, and challenges Jordan for his Big Mac.

“First one to miss watches the winner eat,” Bird says confidently.

What follows is a crescendo of shotmaking that starts at reasonable and ends up at ridiculous. Each legend says, “Nothing but net,” after describing how it would go through a window, bounce off this and carom off that, hit the floor and drop into the net. Each shot defied physics more than the next, yet it was unbelievably entertaining. Here were two legends hanging out like gym rats competing for a $2 sandwich that they could afford many times over had they sold a fingernail clipping. It was light, it was comical and it gave personality to the athletes and the brand.

Fast forward twenty years to January 14, 2013…the day that the world of golf marketing changed. In what people consider one of the worst kept secrets in sponsorship deals, Nike officially unveiled McIlroy and the swoosh together as one, effectively starting the marriage of one of the most recognizable brands in the world with one of the coveted athlete brands in the world. No one can deny the reach Nike has in the eyes of the consumer, and the expectation is that they can ride their new two-time major champion stallion to unprecedented heights only seen by one of their current and proven commodities, Tiger Woods.

To kick-off the campaign, we were treated to a 60-second glimpse of where Nike sees this brand today and where it will go. Nike has a knack for creating interest and buzz through their advertisement campaigns, and have had an amazing ability to position itself throughout history as a pop culture stalwart using words and pictures as their paintbrush. For a refresher, look back on past campaigns featuring Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Tiger Woods and absolutely anything with Michael Jordan. Done correctly and with the right personality, the effect could be in the billions of dollars and only stands to make the company and the athlete absurdly wealthy. This new advertisement successfully set the tone for the McIlroy brand while paying due reverence to the established (and extremely valuable) Woods brand.

It starts quietly on a driving range, where McIlroy and Woods are swinging away, both hitting the pin with a precision that is ridiculous, but actually believable. It only takes about 5 seconds to know where this is going. The playful teasing by McIlroy about Tiger being old and the return jab from Tiger about Rory’s hair is refreshing and is something we all know we do to even to the best of our friends. The two then triy to outdo each other, hitting shot after shot and plugging the ball into cups of various types that non-golfers would associate with: drinking cups, glass stemware at a wedding, soup bowls and even a putting mat cup in an office. Yes, it’s unbelievable, but it doesn’t matter. For the first time ever, we see McIlroy and Woods wearing the same brand, teasing the other while playing a game of H-O-R-S-E at the range. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

It ends with a dumbfounded McIlroy asking Woods, “How’d you do that?”(after a seemingly impossible golf shot that even David Copperfield wouldn’t figure out) and a wily Woods responds, “You’ll learn.” Finally the ever important and recognizable Nike swoosh completes the ad — the symbolic entity to which we must thank for this union of golf’s heavyweights.

[youtube id=”2NCDYjHtEcU” width=”620″ height=”360″]

There you go — brilliant marketing at its best and the stage is set for what could be Nike’s most successful marketing campaign ever. They managed to introduce Rory as the next one without giving up an ounce of honor to his predecessor. In what is likely a Mr. Miyagi-Danielsan intended thematic piece, Nike managed to stay true to both athletes and send the message that neither is better than the other, yet one definitely has an edge with experience and wisdom to which the other can learn a thing or two from. Nike also made clear that this necessity of passing of the torch is not going to be a sudden one, but rather an evolution that may take years to build.

Tiger is a beast from a promotional standpoint and before this year, I didn’t think anyone could hold a candle to him off the golf course. Golf’s next brightest star needed the horsepower of a brand like Nike if he could compete for the top spot as the sport’s most bankable athlete. Tiger, in spite of his inability to reach the success from his past, still yields large crowds and the hope is that McIlroy will too. But that takes time and smart marketing to create a personality that fans can attach themselves to, believe in and ride the victories and defeats with “their guy.”

Fortunately, Rory has already seen success and has built a strong following of fans, but the push of a major brand can only help his visibility and marketability to bring in an even greater fan base and generate even more interest for the athlete and his major sponsor. In the meantime, and until Rory reaches the seemingly unachievable commercial stature set by Tiger, the sponsorship deal with Nike will inevitably pit the two superstars together (albeit for promotional purposes) to satiate the desire of fans to see a head to head showdown between the current world No. 1 and arguably the greatest of all time.

“The Showdown” with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan has stood the test of time and remains to be one of my favorite advertisements ever. It featured two accomplished and popular athletes doing the thing they do best (I’m not referring to acting) and selling a product that is accessible to almost anyone. In doing so, the casual fan has the opportunity to enjoy the athlete’s personality that much more. In turn, they might want the product more as well.

There is no mistake that Rory and Tiger’s ad pays homage to Larry and MJ’s, and hopes to accomplish the same success on the business end of things. Nike was clever enough to recognize that this unique opportunity needed a strategy that can be built upon and added to it by using the teacher/pupil theme to carry the brand to the next decade. The hope is that Rory will take over the reigns as golf’s most valuable property and by making sure that Tiger is there along with him, Nike is banking that this transition will be as smooth as Rory’s swing.

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Dennis lives in Calgary, Canada where golf is available (at best) six months of the year. The other six months are spent understanding the nuances of the game that make it so addicting and wonderfully frustrating. In a perfect world, Dennis would take his set of G10s and his D300S to travel the world playing and photographing the beautiful, unique landcapes of the golf world. For now, he sits at a desk and is developing an eight-layer golf ball simply called "The Tour Ocho."

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. qpzrnkereowr

    Mar 28, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    cgegaegmiftw

  2. prkhsyqdibhm

    Mar 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    effduunlbzuk

  3. Troy Vayanos

    Jan 18, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    I love the commercial as I think it shows a great side to their friendship. The playful teasing and rivalry is great for the game and Nike did a really clever job of this.

    Whether it reaches the heights of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, only time will tell!

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Ping Engineer Paul Wood explains how the G400 Max driver is so forgiving

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Paul Wood, VP of Engineering at Ping, joins our 19th Hole to discuss the new G400 Max driver, which the company calls the “straightest driver ever.” Also, listen for a special discount code on a new laser rangefinder.

Listen to this episode on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes.

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WATCH: How to Pull a Shaft from a Composite Club Head

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Composite club heads are increasing in popularity with golfers thanks to their technological and material advantages. For that reason, it’s important to know how to pull shafts from composite club heads without damaging them. This video is a quick step-by-step guide that explains how to safely pull a shaft from a composite club head.

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10 Years Later: Why the assistant coach has made college golf better

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It’s been 10 years since the NCCA Legislation began allowing assistant golf coaches to perform on-course coaching in college events. Today, 94 percent of the top-100 men’s golf teams have assistant coaches, and the coaching pool is stronger than ever, with individuals such as Jean Paul Hebert (Texas), Jake Amos (South Carolina), John Handrigan (Florida), Robert Duck (Florida State), Donnie Darr (Oklahoma State), John Mills (Kent State), Garrett Runion (LSU), Zach Barlow (Illinois), Bob Heinz (Duke), and 2017 Assistant Coach of the Year from Baylor, Ryan Blagg. The list includes a guy with 20+ PGA Tour experience (Bob Heinz), several former college standouts and some National Championship wins (Jean Paul Hebert – 1, Runion – 2, Amos – 2).

In the 10 years since the expanded role of the assistant golf coach, the National Championship has still been dominated by major conference schools, with only three non-major conference schools earning a spot in match play (Kent State 2012, and Augusta State in 2010, 2011). Of course, Augusta State went on to win both of its appearances in match play, earning back-to-back national championships under Coach Josh Gregory.

One of best examples of the success of assistant golf coaches is Chris Malloy at Ole Miss. Malloy, a graduate of Ole Miss, began his coaching career as the women’s assistant golf coach at Florida State. Shortly after, he was working with both programs and had an immediate impact, which included helping the men win their first ever ACC championship. Shortly after, Chris took over as the men’s golf coach at University of South Florida, transforming the team into a National Contender and a top-30 ranking. Today, at Ole Miss, Chris has done the same thing, transforming a team and a culture in three years, earning a spot in the 2017 NCAA National Championship at Rich Harvest Farms.

Although to date, mid-major teams have not fared consistently on the national level. The system of assistant coaches has proven to be an excellent tool in broadening the pool of candidates. Last year’s National Championship featured six mid-major schools with half being wily veterans, and half being a product of the assistant coach route; Michael Beard of Pepperdine served as the assistant at Arizona State; Bryce Waller of University of Central Florida served as the assistant at the University of Tennessee; Bryant Odem of Kennesaw State served as the assistant at the University of Wisconsin. It will also feature teams like Oklahoma State, Baylor, Virginia, Oklahoma, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Purdue, which have coaches who have benefited from their experience as assistant coaches in their roles with these programs.

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

Practice Facility at the University of Central Florida

The pool of candidates for coaching positions today is deeper than ever. Athletic Directors are blessed to be able to interview several good candidates for almost each job. The result for the players are fully engaged coaches who bring passion and desire to improve each of their programs.

Bowen Sargent, the current head coach at University of Virginia and former assistant coach at the University of Tennessee under Jim Kelson, started coaching when the rules only allowed one coach. In the 10 years since the rule change, Bowen believes “it’s a positive change for sure. Having two coaches allows for a better student-athlete experience and for them to have more access to their coaches.”

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the US Open

Coach Bowen Sargent of UVA, along with former players Denny McCarthy and Derek Bard at the U.S. Open

The diversity among coaches is also greater. Today’s juniors have the option to play for a skillful player such as a Mike Small at Illinois or Casey Martin at Oregon, or Doug Martin at Cincinnati, or even a world class instructor like Bryce Waller at UCF, Ben Pellicani at Limpscomb or Casey Van Dame at South Dakota State. Waller, an excellent instructor himself, has lead UCF to three National Championship appearance in 7 years. Likewise, Ben, a Golf Digest top-40 under-40 instructor who spent several years learning from Mike Bender has been instrumental in transforming Limpscomb into a national contender, participating in their first ever National Championship in 2017. Lastly, Casey who spent several years under Jim Mclean, then as the assistant at University of Tennessee, has transformed North Dakota State Men’s and Women’s Golf, with both teams currently ranked in the top-100 in the country.

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Ben Pellicanni of Limpscomb University helping to read a putt

Athletic Directors are also starting to put more funding towards golf resources. The result has been an explosion of golf-specific training facilities across the scope of college golf. Many mid-major schools have top-notch practice facilities, including places such as University of North Texas, University of Richmond, University of Central Arkansas and Illinois State to name a few.

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

Golf facility at the University of Central Arkansas

The tremendous pool of coaching candidates has also benefited other levels of golf. For example, 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year Chris Hill is now the head men’s and women’s golf coach at Concordia University, a Division 3 School near Austin, Texas. In his two years as coach, he has already lead the program to seven tournament titles.

As time passed, I believe that we will see a change at the NCAA Championship and it will include a growing trend towards mid-major universities not only earning spots at the National Championships, but having success like Augusta State. The person at the head of one of those programs is likely to have come from the assistant coach ranks and should be thankful for the rule change, which lead to these opportunities.

Please note: As of writing this article, only 6 men’s teams in D1 do not have assistant coaches. They are UTEP (51), McNeese (84), Nevada (88), Richmond (89), Cincinnati (92) and Tennessee at Chattanooga (96).

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