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SBJ/January 24 - 30, 2005/Labor Agents
Long follow-through: Process of Leonard’s switch to Nike takes a year
Published January 24, 2005
Golfer Justin Leonard’s agent devoted months and spent more than a hundred hours working on a deal that resulted in Leonard switching from Ben Hogan clubs to Nike clubs.
Agent David Winkle, of Dallas-based Hambric Sports Management, wouldn’t reveal the value of the deal, which will include television and print commercials as well as appearances for Nike, but he acknowledged it was a long-term, multimillion-dollar contract.
“What I can say is it is a very lucrative agreement that Justin is very pleased with,” Winkle said.
Club deals for professional golfers are probably one of the most sensitive endorsement deals in sports, Winkle said. “If a player ends up taking his chances with his career by making a poor, hasty decision or a decision for the wrong reasons, he can damage his career, and I have seen it happen on numerous occasions,” Winkle said.
Winkle said Leonard was prepared when his long-term
New Nike endorser Justin Leonard
In late 2003, Winkle started getting inquiries from clubmakers interested in his client. By the summer of 2004, Leonard was trying out clubs made for him by four companies, including Nike.
In the summer, too, officials of Callaway Golf, which owns the Ben Hogan brand, gave Winkle the sense that they did not want to renew the deal, he said.
Winkle said that when Callaway announced in August it was signing Phil Mickelson to a club deal, he knew the chances of the company re-signing Leonard were slim. “When a company spends that kind of money on a player, you know that is going to impact … what they have to spend on other players,” he said.
Mike Galeski, senior vice president of sports marketing for Callaway, which bought the Ben Hogan and Top-Flite brands in September 2003, said the company wanted to “go in a different direction” when it came time to re-sign Leonard.
When Winkle started talking to other companies, he discussed a range of deal values to make sure companies were comfortable with the type of compensation Leonard wanted. “As Justin is testing the equipment, we are simultaneously having discussions about possible compensation scenarios,” Winkle said.
Figuring out whether a new set of clubs will work takes longer for some professional golfers than others.
“I have had a player hit 20 balls with a set of clubs and say, ‘I could play with them, no problem. Get the deal done,’” Winkle said, adding that others take months to make a decision.
It took just days for Leonard to decide he would be comfortable with Nike clubs.
Winkle and Kel Devlin, Nike Golf global sports marketing director, said the proximity of Nike’s Fort Worth club research and development facility to Leonard’s Dallas home helped seal the deal.
Leonard, 32, is the 1997 British Open champion and the 1992 U.S. Amateur champion. He is 10th on the PGA all-time money list.
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Liz Mullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.