Just when you think there are no major technological breakthroughs to be made in the world of golf, Nike (NKE) proves there was at least one leap left to make.
And this leap is no natural, obvious progression of the game either. This milestone is more like something you’d expect to see on an episode of The Jetsons than you would on the golf course. Yet, there it is … something unique and almost bizarre that could be commonplace a couple of years from now: a new golf training shirt.
Of course, the key question investors — and Nike shareholders in particular — are asking is if there’s actually any money in something this unusual.
Don’t Fire Your Golf Instructor Just Yet
Just so there’s no confusion, Nike doesn’t have a new golf product on the market just yet. It simply won a handful of key patents that could be used to prevent copycatting of a potential new product. Still, why bother securing a patent if plans for a related product weren’t on the way?
In simplest terms, those patents cover a shirt that fits in such a way that it can correct a golfer’s swing to the point of perfection … a task previously reserved for golf pros.
You didn’t read that wrong. The patent explicitly describes a “thin elastic material embedded into the part of the garment that covers the lower back to heighten sensation.” Most industry experts and golf pros concede that the rotation of the lower back is the key to a great golf swing.
But even a teaching pro can only judge from observation how the back is coiling and uncoiling during a swing. The shirt, if effective, will turn that art into a science.
That’s not to say the idea hasn’t scored a few points on the silliness scale. Even the best-fitting shirt in the world isn’t going to fit everyone the same, and friction (or lack thereof) could vary depending on things such as skin texture, tone and the inevitable perspiration that all golfers will eventually produce.
Then there’s the question of whether or not a golfer would actually know how much tension the shirt should apply when the swing is ideal. Never even mind the fact that a mental focus on feeling the shirt’s squeeze while swinging a golf club takes the focus away from hitting the ball well; learning just to use the shirt could mean a few errant shanks and slices.
In other words, to some golfing veterans, Nike’s idea is more than a little gimmicky. On the other hand …
Golfers Are Anything But Stingy
As ridiculous and ineffective as the idea of a swing-coaching shirt must sound to most people, if there’s any target market to approach with something like this, it’s golfers.
Though the details of the statistics vary from one source to another, broadly, they all jive. And they’re stunning.
- There are about 26 million active golfers in the U.S.
- The average golfer spends more than $2,700 per year on the sport.
- Golf equipment sales totals around $3.7 billion every year in the United States.
- 2% of golfers spend $15,000 or more per year on the sport.
- In the U.S., we spend $1.5 billion annually on golf apparel.
- Driving ranges and golf books/magazines each generate nearly $1 billion per year.
- The golf industry is worth $78 billion per year in the United States alone.
Point being, the money is there, and there’s even more of it outside the U.S. Nike wouldn’t even have to capture a great deal of the market to make the new training shirt a viable franchise. After all, when it’s said and done, the shirt would simply be made of fabric, which only costs to a few bucks in materials and labor on a per-piece basis. The value of the swing-training shirt will be in the know-how … what it can potentially do to help a golfer hit the ball better/straighter/farther.
Most players would pay a small fortune to do or wear most anything if they thought it might help; they’re generally not shy about spending.
Better still for the company is that the training shirt could bring another player into the Nike fold, within which they’re easier to sell things like shoes, balls, and clubs to.
Even if it’s a smash hit though, Nike’s already generating $25 billion in annual sales. A large sliver of the golf equipment/apparel pie — say 5% of it — would still only be worth maybe a $100 million or so to Nike’s top line, and that assumes the training shirt doesn’t cannibalize sales other products.
Still, it’s going to be interesting to see how or if the company expands the idea of functional training apparel.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.