Though Nike is officially out of the golf club business, company officials appear to be serious when they say they’re looking to increase their tour presence to promote their shoe and apparel business. The company's first target appears to be Jason Day. According to an ESPN.com report, it has a deal in the works with Nike.
Day would wear Nike's hat and shoes in the deal while continuing to play TaylorMade equipment, which he has played since joining on the PGA Tour. Day previously played Nike equipment and wore its shirt and hat prior to July 2006.
When contacted by Golf Digest, Nike spokeswoman Gretchen Wilhelm declined to comment on the ESPN story: "We don't comment on rumor or speculation. We're committed to being the undisputed leader in golf footwear and apparel." If that line sounds familiar, it's the same verbiage the company used when it announced it was leaving the golf equipment business yet remaining staunchly in the golf apparel and footwear business. Signing golf's current No. 1 player would mirror Nike's marketing tactics in other sports of signing the top players to endorse their apparel and footwear.
Several attempts to reach TaylorMade officials for comment went unreturned.
The apparent deal is mostly made possible due to the changing landscape of two major equipment companies. Adidas, parent company of TaylorMade, announced two months ago that is looking to sell the club-manufacturing business, opening Day up to wear another company's apparel.
ESPN's Darren Rovell reported the deal to be around $10 million, putting Day just below the endorsement money of other Nike staffers Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Exactly when the deal can begin, however, poses another issue. If Day has in fact signed a deal with Nike, that would presumably void his current arrangement with Adidas and TaylorMade. It's conceivable that Day would be wearing Nike apparel as early as next week when he contends for his first FedEx Cup title at the Tour Championship. But it would seem odd that TaylorMade and specifically Adidas, would want to give up the promotional value of Day potentially winning the FedEx Cup by voiding his current contract the week before the season-ending event.
But strange, sudden and sometimes contentious equipment contract situations aren't new to golf. In 2001, it was reported that Acushnet sued then-World No. 3 David Duval for breaking his endorsement contract two years early. And in 2010, Camilo Villegas ran into trouble after he signed an equipment deal with TaylorMade and was shown wearing TaylorMade logos while technically still under contract with Cobra. Cobra sued Villegas for violating the terms of his contract. Even McIlroy was caught in the middle of a lawsuit between his first apparel endorser Oakley and Nike before the two sides settled in 2013.
Of course, Day isn't the only hot commodity in TaylorMade's stable. The company is likely having to figure out how to pay both the current U.S. Open champion (and potential FedEx Cup champ) Dustin Johnson, as well as Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose. Perhaps a Day-Nike deal saves TaylorMade some marketing dollars while still keeping him part of the brand.
As PXG's Bob Parsons said just days after Nike's decision to exit the golf equipment business, the greatest effect will be on tour endorsement contracts. “It will be interesting to see who’s wearing what hats next season,” he told Golf Digest. We might not have to wait for next season after all.
additional reporting by E. Michael Johnson and Mike Stachura