Nike exit from golf market is a sign of the times for many

Joe Gill charts the declining popularity of golf and contrasts it to the burgeoning cycling industry and explains that such gradual shifts happen all the time

Nike exit from golf market is a sign of the times for many

BUSINESS, like life, is unpredictable. Changing consumer habits and behaviour can profoundly affect industries and undermine conventional wisdom.

I was reminded of that last week when the global consumer brand, Nike, announced its withdrawal from key sections of the golf market.

Anyone with a passing interest in golf will remember a Sunday in April 2005 as the date when Nike’s brand in golf reached its zenith. That afternoon, Tiger Woods, Nike’s core golf client, was playing in the Augusta Masters.

At the 16th green, Woods made an immaculate chip that took the ball up the slope, before it rolled back and slowly approached the hole.

At the edge of the cup, it paused, and, just before rolling in, revealed the trademark Nike swoosh. Amid wild scenes around that green, Nike had hit the ultimate shot in brand recognition.

Neither I, nor millions of others, would have believed it if you had predicted that within just 11 years Nike would no longer be able to justify its investment in the golf industry.

This is connected to a broader range in lifestyle and culture.

As recently as the 1990s, it was not unusual for a spouse, usually the man, to allot a six-hour stretch each weekend to playing golf with his mates.

At that time, many business people, especially in financial services, also used golf as a networking opportunity with customers.

Both bankers and their clients would spend half-days playing golf during the working week.

Those practices have sharply declined. It is no longer normal, or acceptable, in many households, for husbands to carve out large sections of the weekend for golf.

Equally, many companies now frown on employees either entertaining, or being entertained, on the golf course.

As a result, golf has significantly declined in popularity worldwide.

Golf courses have failed and equipment suppliers, including Nike, have struggled to avoid year-on-year falling revenues.

The lesson from golf is that markets twist and turn as time unfolds, and with consequences for businesses engaged in them. Cassettes were once a mainstay of the music industry. They no longer exist. Long-playing records once provided enormous profits for music companies and artists. Now, music online has destroyed many record companies and reduced many bands to bit players, next to technology companies that dominate that market.

For entrepeneurs of all sizes, these big shifts in market trends are worth reflecting upon.

If huge international companies struggle to anticipate, and adopt to, changes in their key markets, then it is highly likely that change will confront small companies, too.

Being alive to the challenges and opportunities that exist, amid that ever-adjusting environment, is an important skillset, when owning or running any business.

The flip side of changing consumer habits and trends is that new market opportunities unfold.

A simple example exists in sport. I was having lunch in Gougane Barra last Sunday, and saw about 100 amateur cyclists, appropriately festooned in garish lycra, setting out for a ride towards Bantry. I’m guessing, but maybe half of those primarily male cyclists would have been on a golf course 20 years ago.

Now, they choose biking because it is affordable, flexible time-wise, and better for fitness.

Those business people who supply bicycles, and the associated equipment, have probably increased their revenues at a pace that exceeds the rate at which golf sales have declined in recent times.

On a much larger canvas, the mushrooming growth of online markets in products and services is the equivalent of Henry Ford’s Model T replacing the horse.

That shift created a huge industry in automobiles and eliminated horse-drawn transport worldwide.

For Ireland, online markets are the new frontier that can be serviced by clever entrepreneurs using world-class technologies located at low-cost bases around the country.

The recently opened Ludgate centre, in Skibbereen, with its focus on high-speed internet connectivity, is one platform that can exploit these changes, but others should take notice, too.

As George Bernard Shaw said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Joe Gill is director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers

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