2003: Business - Nike strives to reach broader audience with CPR

Contrary to Phil Mickelson’s opinion that Nike Golf equipment is “inferior,” company officials defiantly say they make some of the game’s finest tools – thank you very much.

And with an assortment of forged blades and wedges, drivers and Pro Combo irons being used by a growing tour staff that includes Nick Faldo and Trevor Immelman, they offer substantial evidence to back their case.

Satisfied that they’ve satiated – at least for now – the appetites of the world’s most demanding players, Nike Golf’s club team is broadening its product menu with clubs for the less talented: The CPR line, otherwise known as Clubs for Prevention and Recovery.

More significant, the rollout of the fire-engine red clubs – which includes two types of utility clubs and a line of wedges – marks only phase three of Nike Golf’s foray into the club market. By fall of 2004, company officials say they will have launched new equipment from seven, different product silos – or categories.

They’ve already unleashed an array of “performance edge” goods and kids

equipment, and the CPR clubs represent the inaugural line from the “simplay” silo, which is Nike-speak for simple to play. Mike Kelly, director of Nike Golf’s club business, declined to identify the remaining four silos, but hinted women’s and broader game-improvement products are areas the company plans to target soon.

“When we came out of the blocks with forged blades, many retailers asked us what we were doing,” Kelly said. “They didn’t understand why we were entering the smallest market. We needed to do that to authenticate our brand with the highly skilled player. We’re not finished by any means, but we’re ready to stretch the brand.”

Asked if they might tarnish their still-fledgling golf reputation with better players by appealing so quickly to the masses, Kelly said: “We’re definitely going against the grain. Most golf companies focus on one thing. If they’re a serious player’s brand, they don’t want to stray from that, or they create another brand (to pursue different audiences). But we think we’re different.”

That confidence comes from Nike’s experience in other sports where it has been able to appeal equally to Olympic-caliber athletes and weekend warriors. The company hopes to begin duplicating such success in golf with the CPR clubs, which are designed to be user-friendly, but aren’t limited to high-handicappers.

“Let’s say you’re a very good player, but you have a particular weakness, like you struggle out of fairway bunkers or you struggle with long irons,” Kelly said. “These are meant to address individual situations at a price point which will prompt you to pull the trigger.”

Nike officials said they opted to proceed with the “simplay” silo now because they offer niche products at affordable prices, which they hope will boost sales at a time when the economy is weak and higher-profile equipment categories – such as drivers - are flooded with too many choices and plagued by price compression. The CPR utility clubs are expected to sell at retail for $129 each; wedges, $89.

The line features:

-Iron-wood: Designed as long-iron alternatives. Replaces 2 thru 5 irons and available in lofts of 18, 21 and 24 degrees.

-Hybrid wood: A trouble club for high handicappers. “They’re shorter and heavier, and they promote a body swing not an armsy swing,” said Tom Stites, Nike Golf’s chief designer. Replaces 3 thru 6 irons; lofts of 22, 26 and 30 degrees.

-Wedge: Features two sole levels, which when laid back, increase the effective bounce of the club to avoid digging in bunkers. Available in lofts of 52, 56 and 60 degrees.

In addition, Nike has introduced its Blue Chip line of putters, including the BC OZ mallet. It places 66 percent of the clubhead weight in a rearward stainless steel ring, which is designed to promote a true roll.

Some retailers are optimistic that the unconventional design of Nike’s new equipment will generate sales.

“It’s eye catching, and (Nike’s) shown a lot of sensitivity to retail prices,” said Pete Line, vice president of Carl’s Golfland in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He is carrying all models of the CPR and Blue Chip lines at his stores.

“Appealing to the average golfer, that’s right in Nike’s wheelhouse,” Line said. “I’m just surprised they haven’t done this sooner.”

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