The Club Company Battle Over Villegas Continues
By Stephanie Wei under Equipment

On Wednesday TaylorMade-adidas Golf officially declared it was signing Camilo Villegas to a club, ball, headwear, footwear, glove and bag deal. Villegas is under contract with Cobra and Titleist through 2010. It appears that reps across the board are rather confused by the timing of TMaG’s announcement.

No one seems to recall any brand issuing a press release about a player signing the following year while the current season is still in progress. Does TMaG perceive the much smaller Cobra, which merged with apparel company PUMA earlier this year, as a threat?

The sentiment I’ve gathered from those inside Cobra is that they’re really angry, especially since their sales team is making account calls this week. Well, Acushnet, parent company to Titleist and FootJoy, is so upset that they’ve filed a lawsuit against TMaG and Camilo Villegas.

Here’s the press release via Hacker’s Paradise, which originally broke the news several weeks ago.

Acushnet Company, the golf business of Fortune Brands, Inc. (NYSE: FO), and manufacturer of Titleist, the #1 ball in golf, and FootJoy, the #1 shoe and glove in golf, filed suit today in Superior Court in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts against TaylorMade-adidas Golf (TMaG) and professional golfer Camilo Villegas. Acushnet Company is seeking a preliminary injunction against TMaG and Villegas regarding any future comments pertaining to a potential future relationship between them. Villegas, ranked No. 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking, is exclusively under contract with Acushnet to play the company’s Titleist Pro V1 golf ball, and wear FootJoy golf shoes and gloves, and is prominently featured in the advertising and promotion of those products. The suit claims TMaG intentionally interfered with Villegas’ current contract nearly five months before the end of its term. Acushnet will seek damages in addition to injunctive relief.

In a press release distributed on August 3rd, TaylorMade’s president and CEO announced that Villegas will join the TMaG tour staff beginning in 2011, and stated that more information will be revealed on September 9, 2010. It further noted that Villegas will join “other members of the renowned TaylorMade Tour Staff,” including Kenny Perry and Mike Weir, both of whom are under contract with Acushnet Company to play Titleist golf balls and wear Titleist or FootJoy golf gloves.

“It is unconscionable that this competitor would interfere with a player’s contract by publicly announcing its intentions with that player during his contract term with another company,” said Joe Nauman, Executive Vice President, Corporate and Legal, Acushnet Company. “The timing of TMaG’s press release was obviously calculated to harm Acushnet Company and diminish the value of Camilo’s endorsements. The behavior of TMaG and Camilo’s agent is reprehensible, causing Acushnet Company irreparable and significant damage. Camilo is under contract with Acushnet Company through the end of the year and we expect the agreement to be honored throughout the term. We fully expect the Court to act quickly in granting the preliminary injunction and providing the other relief being sought.”

Does this mean Perry and Weir have switched to TaylorMade, too?

My guess is Cobra-Puma will file something similar since TMaG’s early announcement greatly damaged the promotional value of Villegas’s current contracts. So, Cobra reps were going to attend their sales calls and go along with the farce that they still had Villegas as a staffer? Perhaps. But they technically can prop him up for almost five more months.

In TMaG’s original presser it noted, “More details on the relationship between Villegas and TMaG will be revealed on September 9.” Apparently this is a day after TMaG launches new products to the sales team. Coincidence? Probably not. But with the injunction filed, there might not be much publicized until it’s settled.

No one is officially commenting at the moment. I’m interested to hear the chatter next week at the PGA Championship…