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Woods’ Timing Is Ideal for Nike

Times Staff Writer

Golden shoes, a sports bra and a golf ball.

Now, in your best Johnny Carson/Carnac-the-Magnificent manner, tear open the envelope and reveal the question to the above answers: What three items are most responsible for propelling Nike and its swoosh logo to the top echelon of the sports-merchandizing field?

The golden spiked running shoes were worn by sprinter Michael Johnson in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The bra was revealed by a shirt-shedding Brandi Chastain after her winning penalty kick in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.

And the ball?

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The Nike One Platinum, custom-made for the company’s No. 1 swoosher, Tiger Woods, who used a miraculous chip shot on Augusta National’s 16th hole Sunday to win his fourth Masters championship -- ending his drought of 10 major tournaments without a victory.

That ball, and that logo, have had more TV time in the last 36 hours than Nike could have imagined in its most aggressive marketing dreams. And the company didn’t pay a single advertising dollar for this publicity bonanza.

By now, millions of viewers around the world have seen replays of Woods’ circuitous chip from just off the par-three 16th green, the ball landing high above the hole and trickling toward its destination. The ball hung briefly on the lip, long enough to burn the Nike logo indelibly into the memories of captive viewers.

Then, as if on cue, it fell into the cup -- the key moment in Woods’ eventual sudden-death victory and his return to the top of the golf world.

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But equally important to Nike was the vindication of the company’s golf equipment, which had come under fire by -- among others -- last year’s Masters champion, Phil Mickelson.

“Nike should thank the sports gods for what happened,” said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Limited, a Chicago sports-industry consulting firm. “This was the biggest boost that Nike could possibly have scripted for the advanced sale of its golf ball.”

The One Platinum, which Woods helped design and began using in January, is scheduled for public availability next month, Nike spokeswoman Joani Komlos said. The company will probably stick with that timetable, she said, although in light of Woods’ heroics, “our marketing teams are locking away, working on the next step.... It’s an understatement to say we’re excited.”

By some estimates, Nike has already earned about $1 million in equivalent advertising time for its ball. That figure could get considerably higher, considering ratings figures released Monday. The final Masters round on CBS earned a 10.3 overnight rating with a 21% share of the audience -- up 41% from last year’s Masters victory by Mickelson.

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“These are moments that every company dreams of, where both hard-core and non-core sports fans witness it over and over again,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. “The company’s mark is indelibly linked to that moment.”

Swangard said he expected Nike to let the event “speak for itself,” much as it did with Johnson’s golden shoes and Chastain’s sports bra.

“These moments have always made the difference for Nike,” he said. “The beauty of [Woods’ performance] was how pure it really was. It would not be like Nike to jump on that” with an immediate ad campaign.

Nevertheless, he and others note that Nike’s relatively new golf division -- the company has been making golf clubs for only three years -- needs a boost more than its more established shoe and apparel lines.

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“Nike is still trying to create credibility in the golf [market],” Swangard said. “This kind of moment has more bearing in their [golf] market than when Tiger first started [with Nike].”

Ganis said he foresaw Nike cranking up its golf marketing.

“Nike is not known for its subtlety,” he said.

The company probably would try to get the rights to the footage of Woods’ 16th-hole chip-in, he said, and “put that in a commercial that they repeat over and over again, with the message that ‘This ain’t your grandfather’s Titleist.’ ”

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If Nike can’t get the rights to the real thing, it may choose to re-create the shot for a commercial, he added.

“There is tremendous brand awareness in an exceptional performance like this,” he said. “Add to that the number of times the shot will be shown, and the extraordinary close up ... it was as if the swoosh was [intentionally] framed that way.”

Andrew Shevin of the Ballpark Advertising Agency in Santa Monica, said the Masters “was like a six-hour commercial for Nike. And to me as a big golf fan, [Woods’ chip-in] was Kirk Gibson hitting a home run in the World Series. I jumped out of my chair.

“From head to toe, Tiger is a walking billboard for Nike, and this was a defining moment for the sport, and the end of a long drought for Tiger.”

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Swangard envisions a direct effect at the counter for Nike, which has about a $20-million annual contract with Woods.

“We have seen direct correlations between performances on Sundays and sales on Mondays,” he said. “There are country clubs that have changed their dress codes to allow mock turtlenecks” like those Woods has worn.

Some see the 2005 Masters as vindication for Nike and Woods, who had insisted for the last year or so that his revamped swing was “getting close” to where he wanted it to be.

Nike’s Komlos reacted similarly to Mickelson’s criticism of Woods’ equipment last year.

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“I can’t comment on what other people are thinking,” she said. “Nike has felt confident all along about our equipment.”

Woods’ latest performance, says Swangard, “puts criticisms [of Nike equipment] in the bottom of the cup, along with the ball.”


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