Speculation that McIlroy will just do it

Speculation that McIlroy will just do it
 Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. Both will be back again in 2013. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ie

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. Both will be back again in 2013. Photo Eoin Clarke/www.golffile.ie

Speculation has grown in recent days that Rory McIlroy could be in line to sign a massive deal with Nike when his current contract with Titleist/Footjoy expires at the end of the year. Such a deal could be worth up to $250 million (€192m) over 10 years, which is similar to Tiger Woods’ current deal with Nike.

When Rory McIlroy won the US Open by an astonishing eight strokes last year there was speculation from sports marketing experts that he could rival Tiger Woods as a money-making machine on and off the course and earn $1 billion from the sport.

Those predictions haven’t gone away in the light of his stellar 2012 season and last August’s eight-stroke victory in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, which consolidated his position as the game’s undisputed number one.

The 23-year old from County Down has long been considered a sponsor’s dream - clean cut, articulate and immensely popular worldwide - and according to London-based publication SportPro Media, he is the second most marketable athlete in the world behind Brazilian soccer star Neymar.

But while there has been industry chatter for the best part of the last three years that he is set to join sports equipment giants Nike, the noise has reached deafening levels over the past few months.

Sources consulted by The Irish Times insist that the move to Nike will become a reality when McIlroy’s current contract with Titleist/Footjoy expires at the end of this year.

Given that Tiger Woods is the undisputed face Nike, it remains to be seen what will happen next and whether or not McIlroy is being groomed to take over from Woods as the face of what the prestigious business magazine Forbes named recently as “the most valuable sports brand in the world, worth $15.9 billion.”

They are certainly not short of cash with Forbes reporting that sales of Nike-branded merchandise in 2012 amounted to $21.8 billion.

Money is one thing but image is paramount to a sports giant that hit the headlines this week when it terminated its endorsement contract with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, citing “the seemingly insurmountable evidence” that the Texan “participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade.”

With McIlroy becoming the first multiple major winner in the game since Padraig Harrington in 2008 and with Woods winless in the majors since the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, an agreement with the Ulsterman could only be good for the Nike brand. Even 14-time major winner Woods has conceded that the Holywood star is the future of the game.

When asked for comment earlier this week, McIlroy’s agent, Conor Ridge of Horizon Sports Management, did not immediately move to quench speculation that his top client was about to leave Titleist for Nike.

Contacted again yesterday, Mr Ridge said in statement: “As you are aware, Rory is under contract with Titleist. It is our policy not to pass comment regarding any industry speculation related to any of our players.”

McIlroy is not averse to taking bold decisions, as he showed when he left Andrew Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management stable for Horizon on 21 October last year - exactly 12 months ago.

The Dublin-based agency inherited almost all of McIlroy’s current contracts which include the Dubai based Jumeirah Group, Oakley, luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet and banking behemoth Santander.

Nike have traditionally insisted on head-to-toe endorsement deals with no other sponsor’s logos taking away from the famous swoosh. It remains to be seen how this will work out in the event that the move eventually comes to pass.

Horizon has a reputation for hard-nosed negotiating with Graeme McDowell cashing in on his US Open win at the end of 2010 when he left Callaway for Srixon-Cleveland. Ross Fisher, another Horizon client, left Titleist and signed a multi-year, head-to-toe deal with Nike Golf this year.

If McIlroy’s does move to Nike, the first swoosh sighting is likely to come when joins Woods in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship from January 17-20.