Posted : 2013-01-20 16:21
Updated : 2013-01-20 16:21

Will Nike take bigger bite of Korean golf market?

Nike Golf recently signed Noh Seung-yul to a sponsorship deal as part of the sporting goods company's plan to boost its marketing value in the Korean market. / Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

By Kang Seung-woo

Noh Seung-yul, a 21-year-old golfer entering his sophomore year on the PGA Tour, has taken the baton from Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie to try and turn Nike Golf's fortunes in Korea around.

The emerging star, who became the youngest Asian Tour money leader in 2010, agreed a sponsorship deal with the sporting goods company two weeks ago speculated to be for at least three years.

However, it remains to be seen if Nike, a late-comer to the golf business, will see the same success it is enjoying in other sports here, like basketball and football, and appeal to those who have the perception that its golf equipment is not of the same quality as that of more established rivals such as Titleist or Taylormade.

"Nike put a lot of effort into finding a Korean golfer who can fit the Nike image. The Noh contract is a kind of marketing tool that Nike Golf will use in order to strengthen its presence in Korea," said Nike Golf Korea general manager Kim Dong-ook.

The company has been picky so far in adding Korean golfers to its stable, previously opting for only Grace Park in 2003, Choi Kyoung-ju in 2005.

Kim added that Nike's head office is keeping tabs on the golf market in Korea.

An official of Nike Golf Korea's public relations team said that the brand will be able to get closer to consumers behind the Noh deal.

"Nike Golf's commercial activity and marketing was based around foreign athletes, so there may have been a sense of distance between Korean consumers and Nike," she said.

"On the back of a local player, we hope to attract consumers in Korea to our gear and brand image."

According to the December issue of Golf Magazine Korea published by the Seoul Economic Daily, a sister paper of The Korea Times, Nike Golf failed to make the top 10 in the 2012 brand marketing rankings, which Taylormade topped for the third-straight year.

In addition, in terms of preference for each club, it missed out on the top five in every category.

"Consumers scarcely have any interest in Nike gear," said a clerk at a golf shop in Seoul.

"Even when I recommend it, they prefer other brands."

Cho Kyu-sung, a "Nike maniac" because of his fondness of its products, has recently started playing golf, but he decide against clubs featuring the Swoosh.

"When I was trying Nike gear, people around me advised me to go with other brands, and I eventually purchased another firm's clubs," he said.

The head of the Korean branch of the Oregon-based company said that its low recognition is due to the unique characteristics of the sport in Korea rather than just its short history.

"Golf in Korea is business oriented, so the old generation make up the main clients and they are still sticking with expensive clubs including those made in Japan," Kim said.

However, he expects to see Nike's brand value grow in Korea with the sport becoming more popular.

"With younger people starting to play golf, the perception toward Nike Golf is gradually changing,"he said.

The public relations official also said Nike will reach consumers with innovative and authentic products such as the 20XI ball, the first on the pro tours to use the resin (RZN) core technology and the VR_S Covert, the first cavity back driver.

If Noh performs well on the U.S. Tour this season, it is expected to boost the presence of Nike Golf gear in Korea.

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