Nike (NKE) Vapor Irons Take Dead Aim at Next-Gen Golfers: Is Rory McIlroy Tiger 2.0 to Boost Sport's Flagging Popularity?
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Nike (NKE) revealed the additions to its Vapor Iron club series last night at the Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, N.J. with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Late Night host Jimmy Fallon enlisted in the promotional effort to inject new blood into a sport that's seeing its popularity fade. The unveiled Vapor Pro Irons, Vapor Pro Combo Irons and Vapor Speed Irons were created at Nike's Fort Worth, Texas research and development center dubbed "the Oven," with input from Woods, McIlroy and other Nike Golf athletes to emphasize the equipment's technological advancements and reinvigorate interest in the game.
Fountain of Youth Amid Hazards
McIlroy, along with a new crop of Gen Y golfers, may be the secret swing Nike and golf in general have been searching for to rejuvenate the sport since the ailing Tiger Woods's recent slump. More than 4 million players quit the game and more than 150 courses shut down last year, according to the National Golf Foundation.
The sport has suffered lower participation and lower television ratings since not long after Tiger hit the top of his game in 2005. With this month's victory in the PGA championship, McIlroy has placed himself even more squarely in the conversation as being among golf's next generation of greats. It was McIlroy's third-straight Tour victory and his fourth major at age 25. That puts him in the clubhouse with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as one of the youngest golfers to win four major championships. His attachment to a line of clubs dovetails with efforts to generate increased attention and hipness to the sport.
"We're very fortunate that we've got, first, a broad stable of athletes and then, two, the most compelling athletes," said Cindy Davis, president of Nike Golf. The objective, she says, is how to tap that energy the athletes bring to the sport and "and how we can amplify that and bring that out in the market place."
Welding the youthful personalities of the sport to the innovative gear is all part of the business strategy.
"The magic of [the Vapor Iron club series] is this modern muscle...we worked quite a while on getting the weighting right, and that weighting allowed more power, more precision and more purity of strength." said Davis.
Rickie Fowler is another one of the PGA pros putting a new face on the game. At the age of 25, he's already ranked among the top 20 golfers in the world (13th), and stroked earnings of nearly $4 million so far this year with seven top-ten tournament finishes.
"With playing 18 holes and the amount of time a round of golf takes, I feel it scares them [potential players] off a bit, without giving it a chance," Fowler said in an interview with TheStreetTV.