Paul McGinley can breathe easily for now. According to impeccable sources with an intimate knowledge of the company, Graeme McDowell is not a co-owner or shareholder in Horizon Sports Management and therefore not being sued by his Ryder Cup partner Rory McIlroy.
The European skipper, who admits that McIlroy’s enthusiastic support was crucial in the race for the captaincy, has been highly supportive of the 24-year old Co Down man during his annus horribilis.
McGinley is wisely staying out of the impending legal battle between “Rory McIlroy Incorporated” and the Dublin-based management company, telling reporters at last week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship that “a guy’s personal dealings is their own official business.”
However, he will certainly be keeping a close on developments in the countdown to Gleneagles 2014 given the apparent cooling in relations between the Northern Irish duo over the past few months and will get a chance to see speak to both of them at the BMW Masters in Shanghai in three weeks’ time.
McIlroy was conspicuous by his absence from McDowell’s wedding in the Bahamas last weekend - he described the Portrush golfer as “a real big brother to me” when news of the split initially caused some tension between them on the eve of the BMW Championship in May - and it remains to be seen how much their relationship has been affected going forward.
Since playing together that week at Wentworth, the “stablemates” do not appear to have played any practice rounds together and will not be renewing their partnership in the World Cup of Golf in November, though there are other reasons behind McIlroy’s decision to skip it. As for his absence from the wedding, a photo shoot with Nike in the UK last Sunday is being pointed to as the reason for his non-appearance at Baker’s Bay in the Bahamas.
Whether or not McIlroy was in fact invited to McDowell’s wedding - neither has responded to request for comment - speculation was been rife that one of the reasons for McIlroy’s decision to seek a termination of his contract with Horizon was that he somehow learned (late in the day) that McDowell was reaping a share of the company’s profits.
Sources close to Horizon insist that McDowell owns no part of the company.
In taking deciding to take legal action against Horizon, McIlroy has clearly taken an aggressive tack that belies McDowell’s claim in Bulgaria last May that the impending management split was “fairly amicable.”
Rather than quietly negotiating his way out of his deal with Horizon, the Holywood star and his new management set up have clearly decided to go on the offensive by lodging papers in the High Court in Dublin against Horizon and two other named companies, Gurteen and Canavan Management.
Looking at his actions so far, it would be no surprise if an aggressive attack on Horizon’s service record will now follow should the case eventually go to the Commercial Court - a division of the High Court established provide dispute resolution in commercial cases.
Since “Rory McIlroy Incorporated” announced the appointment of PR “guru” Terry Prone as its media relations consultant last week, reports have emerged suggesting that Horizon charged him fees of $7.5m over an 18 month period with suggestions that while he willingly agreed to the terms of the contract, the expenditure does not make “business sense” for him going forward.
What Horizon would gain from charging its biggest client fees and honorariums out of step with industry standards remains to be seen but the two-time major winner and his advisors are plainly unwilling to continue paying further millions to the middle man.
It’s clear that business life has changed utterly for McIlroy since he left his first agent, Chubby Chandler - famous for his handshake deals with Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke - and moved to Horizon in October 2011.
Not only has the former world number one signed some of the most lucrative sponsorship deals in sport [Nike, Bose, Omega] on Horizon’s watch, but the sums involved have ballooned beyond his wildest dreams and made him one of the world’s highest paid sportsmen. As a result, his inner circle is nervous about the size of the management bill and Rory McIlroy Inc. has been set up to cut Horizon out of the picture and keep more of the cash in the family.
It’s a high stakes game and while it would appear logical that Horizon will receive substantial compensation for loss of earnings on a contract that has several years to run (2017 according to media reports), the aggressive strategy of “Rory McIlroy Inc” may just the first salvo in what could be come a dirty war, albeit a one-sided one.
Horizon have remained diplomatically silent on the entire affair since it first came to light in tour circles in early May before issuing a statement last week confirming that “Rory’s decision to seek a termination of the management contract with Horizon is now regrettably in the hands of legal advisors.”
They have also been scrupulous is making sure that as the agency of record, they have been physically on the spot for all McIlroy’s public dealings. In what has been an awkward situation for all concerned, an employee from Horizon as well as McIlroy’s new press officer (a former Horizon employee) were on the spot for all official engagements with media and sponsors throughout the summer.
Given the millions of dollars at stake, every move will now come under the microscope and mistakes will be magnified.