SBJ/August 6 - 12, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Victorious Duval's thank-you to Nike was admirable, not cheesy

The July 22 British Open was David Duval's first major championship victory. It put an exclamation point on the career to date of the No. 3 golfer in the world. A huge relief for Duval, right? An astounding personal and professional accomplishment, right?

What should have been reported as Duval's pinnacle achievement actually generated a fair amount of negative media and sports-industry commentary. Unfortunately, Duval is paying the price for being himself.

As Duval's last putt dropped at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club, ABC's Roger Twibell stepped up to do a live interview with Duval that was broadcast to the U.S. television audience of 4.6 million households.

In the interview, Duval acknowledged the technical support of Nike, his ball, shoe and equipment sponsor.

"I've been through some travails with some equipment changes," said Duval, "but I feel like I'm at home with Nike, where I should be. One of the exciting things for me was that they were really going to fine-tune a golf ball for me, and I debuted that golf ball at the U.S. Open, and it's dead-on."

David Climer of The (Nashville) Tennessean reacted: "I was watching a golf tournament and a NASCAR race broke out. ... Here was the British Open winner, David Duval, swooshed from head to toe, shamelessly praising Nike for 'working with me on a golf ball that fits my game' and leaving us with the impression that it was as much the equipment as the player that produced this victory."

True, Duval's comments were striking because golfers rarely mention their equipment companies in interviews. And ironically, golf is one of the few games in which the equipment actually has an effect on the contest. But Duval thanking Nike is a lot more genuine than NASCAR drivers thanking Goodyear, considering that they have no choice but to use Goodyear tires.

Duval's comments played out against the context of his messy divorce from longtime sponsor Acushnet Titleist/FootJoy last year, the terms of which are still in mediation. At the time, Titleist knew Nike was courting Duval. While under contract to Titleist last year, Duval was wearing Nike golf shoes because he wasn't happy with the shoes FootJoy was providing. And it was reported that Duval insisted that Titleist make him its No. 1 golfer, which the company reportedly refused to do.

Reading between the lines of what Duval said at the British Open, one could infer that he believed Titleist was not as willing as Nike to develop equipment specifically for him.

So Duval made the leap to Nike. He played in the U.S. Open in June with a prototype golf ball that brought him victory at Royal Lytham, where Duval also used Nike prototype irons. Neither the ball nor irons are yet available to the public. Public variations of the clubs are expected to make their debut at the January PGA Show in Orlando, where Nike has reportedly reserved double the gargantuan booth space it normally has for the world's biggest golf equipment show. (Golf companies don't sell exact replicas of the pros' clubs to the public but rather clubs that share the look and certain characteristics of those the players hit.)

Nike develops equipment for Duval that he believes helps his game. And he said so on television. His comments were meaningful and in context. He was truthful. It's too bad that more pro golfers aren't wired to recognize meaningful sponsorships. Too many of them believe the logo on the shirt or the golf bag does the talking for them. And golf sponsors let them get away with it.

Mel Poole ( is president of Sponsor Logic, a consulting management and events agency.

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