Rory to Nike? - "I hadn't even heard that"

Rory to Nike? - "I hadn't even heard that"

Rory McIlroy and his manager at the White House.Nike might have dropped Lance Armstrong but if most world’s most valuable sports brand has sealed a 10-year deal for the services of world No 1 Rory McIlroy, you won’t get any confirmation from the player’s manager. Naturally.

Rumours of a McIlroy move from Titleist to Nike, which have been brewing for several years, gathered considerabe momentum during the summer given the friendly rivalry that has emerged between Nike Golf’s number one player, Tiger Woods, and the 23-year old from Holywood.

It’s no secret that McIlroy’s deal with Titleist expires at the end of this year. And while we’ve been assured by our sources that he’s going to Nike to the tune of $250 million over 10 years, we’re going to have to wait until he turns up in Abu Dhabi in January for confirmation that he will wear the famous swoosh from head to toe.

Horizon Sports Management’s Conor Ridge successfully negotiated a move from Titleist to Nike for McIlroy’s stablemate Ross Fisher this year. But he is duty bound to deny all knowledge of plans to make McIlroy a Nike player in 2013.

“I hadn’t even heard it, to be honest,” Ridge said this week when asked about the strong rumours linking his client to Nike. “Look, he’s a Titleist player and there is no way I am going to make any comment on anything like that.”

Industry experts agree that only Taylor-Made Adidas has the financial clout to rival Nike for McIlroy’s signature.

“The Koreans [Titleist] are not going to spend that kind of money,” said one long-time observer. “Titleist is not a player in the equipment market. They make the best golf ball in the world and having McIlroy is not not going to sell more balls.”

TaylorMade’s massive growth in recent years makes them a viable alternative to Nike, which Forbes magazine says…

…is the most valuable sports brand in the world, worth $15.9 billion (excluding its autonomous brands like Cole Haan, Converse, Umbro, and Hurley)…. Sales of Nike-branded merchandise in fiscal 2012 were $21.8 billion).

Despite his fall from grace, Forbes says that Woods is still the world’s most marketable athlete.

Yet given McIlroy’s back to back major winning seasons, his likely Player of the Year win in the US and his cleancut image, he’s a sponsor’s dream.

When it comes to succession planning, one wonders if he will ever come close to replacing Woods as the face of Nike, given the iconic status the 14-time major winner has achieved.

Yet according to London-based publication SportPro Media, McIlroy is the second most marketable athlete in the world behind Brazilian soccer star Neymar, who appears likely to move to Barcelona by 2014:

  1. Neymar
  2. Rory McIlroy
  3. Lionel Messi
  4. Usain Bolt
  5. Cristiano Ronaldo
  6. Blake Griffin
  7. Novak Djokovic
  8. Sebastian Vettel
  9. Tim Tebow
  10. Yani Tseng

Having watched Tebow and McIlroy walk through the lobby of a Florida hotel on the same day during this year’s Honda Classic, I can confirm that the American football star is worshipped like a god.

Yet the scramble to catch a glimpse of McIlroy after he held off a charging Woods to win the tournament a few days later and become world No 1 was telling.