Rory McIlroy has the potential to become Ireland’s first sporting billionaire after signing a deal with Nike that makes him better paid than his boyhood idol Tiger Woods.
The Holywood superstar, 23, is reported to have already filmed his first Nike TV commercial with Woods as his sidekick.
And while it will not be confirmed by the world’s biggest sports brand - worth $15.9 billion according to the leading business resource Forbes - McIlroy will pocket up to $250m over 10 years by becoming the new face of famous swoosh.
The two-time major winner will trouser at least $20m per year with related bonuses for major wins and remaining as world No 1 set to send his pay package closer to $25m.
He has earned $13m on the course alone this year without taking into account endorsements from a string of high profile sponsors as well as juicy appearance fees. And if he continues to perform at the level he has shown so far for the next 10 to 15 years, he could conceivably match Woods and earn hundreds of millions.
News of the impending deal reached up two weeks ago and just this week, McIlroy and his former equipment sponsor Acushnet announced that they would not continue their partnership in 2013.
The Korean owned company have provided him with Titleist clubs and Footjoy golf shows since he turned professional in 2007 but their biggest product is golf balls and it traditionally refused to shell out big money to retain golfers to promote its equipment.
Foxsports.com confirmed through its sources that Woods and McIlroy have filmed a TV ad touting the new Nike Red driver which will be released tomorrow. McIlroy is also believed to have visited Nike Golf’s research and development centre, The Oven.
The ad will not hit the airways until January when McIlroy’s mega deal with Nike becomes official.
But sources consulted by Foxsports.com insist that McIlroy and Woods are filmed joking about how far they now blast the ball with the new club.
The ad also features new signings Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley, two young Americans who are also defecting from Titleist as brand ambassadors after winning on the PGA Tour this year.
Nike has been desperate to boost its share of the golf market and improve its image since Woods confessed to multiple affairs that ended his marriage at the end of 2009.
A host of Nike’s top stars have become embroiled in a series of damaging controversies in recent years and McIlroy, the undisputed world No 1, is seen as the man to form the core of a new wave of marketing initiatives.
Woods replaced basketball legend Michael Jordan as the visible face of the brand and was once paid as much as $35m a year. But it is believed he has been forced to take a huge paycut since sleazy revelations about his private life ended his marriage to Swedish model Elin Nordegren.
The Oregon based sports giant, which sponsors football giants such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Juventus and tennis aces Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, had a history of standing by its fallen stars until recently.
Gridiron quarterback Michael Vick was dumped when he served 21 months in federal prison on dog fighting charges before being taken back on a massive new contract.
The company also stood by LA Lakers star Kobe Bryant despite his involvement in a sexual assault csae that saw him acquitted whenhis accuser refused to testify. He later settled a civil case with the woman out of court and apologised to her without admitting any guilt.
Woods was also forgiven but Nike drew the line recently when it dumped 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.”
Nike has been chasing McIlroy since he won the US Open by an astonishing eight strokes in 2011.
And they became utterly determined to get their man when he became world No 1 for the first time in March and then went on to win his second major at the US PGA in August, once again leaving the opposition eating dust, eight shots behind
The Co Down man has long been considered a sponsor’s dream - clean cut, articulate and immensely popular worldwide given his global schedule.
According to London-based publication SportPro Media, he is the second most marketable athlete in the world behind Brazilian soccer star Neymar.
Nike and McIlroy’s agent at Horizon Sports Management, have consistently refused to comment in the deal.
His agent Conor Ridge said recently: “It is our policy not to pass comment regarding any industry speculation related to any of our players.”
According to Forbes, Woods cracked $1 billion in career earnings in September 2009, shortly before revelations of his extramarital affairs cost him many of his biggest sponsors.
The Sunday Times Rich List estimated McIlroy’s wealth at $18-$20 million, up from $11 million last year, though that figure is conservative.
Deals with Santander bank and Dubai-based hotel chain Jumeriah have boosted McIlroy’s earning power though it remains to be seen how his management company ties up the other contracts with the likes of Oakley that were negotiated before he left Andrew “Chubby” Chandler’s International Sports Management Group in October last year.
Six time major winner Nick Faldo has called any equipment change “dangerous” and fears McIlroy could be putting his career at risk.
It appears certain that McIlroy would be required to change every club to Nike and drop the Titleist ball for the Nike ball.
It’s a calculated risk but as his putting coach Dave Stockton said this week: “Rory could play with anything, he’s that good. The sky’s the limit for this kid.”