Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Rory McIlroy set to replace Lance Armstrong as face of Nike

Rory McIlroy plays table tennis during the photocall and press conference prior to the start of the BMW Masters at the Lake Malaren Golf Club on October 23, 2012 in Shanghai, China
SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 23: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays table tennis during the photocall and press conference prior to the start of the BMW Masters at the Lake Malaren Golf Club on October 23, 2012 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Day three of the Irish Open, Royal Portrush Colf Club. Rory McIlroy on the 1st hole

For someone who isn’t driven by money, Rory McIlroy has accumulated quite a lot of it.

But his already gargantuan earnings to date will be dwarfed if sports clothing giant Nike have their way.

With disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong losing his reputation, his Tour de France titles — and his big bucks contract with Nike — the company needs a new hero.

And Ulsterman Rory, only 23 and with the proverbial world at his feet, fits the bill perfectly.

Nike cannot sign him up yet — he’s still contracted to Titleist until the New Year — but, when they do, Rory will be signing the most lucrative sponsorship deal in sports history.

According to industry insiders, he’ll pocket something like $25m (£15.6m) a year for the next 10 years.

Nike first started sounding McIlroy out when he won the US Open by an astonishing eight strokes last year.

But now, with 2012 having brought the Holywood man another major, even greater rewards and golf’s world No.1 ranking, they are ready to put their money where their mouth is.

Most of McIlroy’s main sponsorship deals, including the main equipment one with Titleist, were signed when he was merely a promising player, not the clean-cut, articulate, globally popular phenomenon he is now.

Indeed, according to SportPro Media, McIlroy is now the second most marketable athlete in the world, behind the promising Brazilian football star Neymar.

For many years Tiger Woods (pictured) has been “the face” of Nike but, clearly, the much younger and scandal-free Rory is being groomed as the fallen superstar’s eventual replacement.

And with Armstrong’s career imploding in disgrace, Nike need to make the right call.

The company have been described by Forbes magazine as the most valuable sports brand in the world, worth $15.9bn (£10bn). Sales of Nike-branded merchandise in 2012 amounted to $21.8bn (£13.6bn).

McIlroy’s agent, Conor Ridge of Horizon Sports Management, refused to confirm the Nike deal. Significantly, however, he didn’t deny it either.

All the Dublin-based agent would say was: “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’s current portfolio of sponsors include the Dubai-based Jumeirah Group, Oakley, luxury watchmaker Audemars Piguet and banking giants Santander, which help him pull in an eight-figure annual income already.

International marketing expert Allyson Stewart-Allen says Rory’s youth and potential have helped swing the eye-watering deal.

“It's pretty amazing for someone who's only 23-years-old, but you have to think Nike believe Rory’s worth every penny,” she said.

“He's a fantastic icon and wholesome face for the brand. From Nike's point of view, what they really value in Rory is that he's young and has a fantastic future ahead of him.”

She added: “This is going to be a long term relationship for the brand. Rory will be expected to raise Nike’s profile, and they will also be hoping that some of that golf genius will rub off on them and give them a huge benefit.” Ms Stewart-Allen said the company will have been smarting from the scandals engulfing Armstrong recently, and Woods before that, and will have thought long and hard before deciding that McIlroy would be their next sporting ambassador.

“They will be wanting someone who won’t do anything to upset the followers of the sport, or to Nike themselves,” she said.

“They certainly will have done their homework about Rory, and made sure there are no skeletons in his past that would come back to haunt them further down the road.”

When Nike terminated its endorsement contract with Armstrong, last week, they cited “the seemingly insurmountable evidence” that the Texan “participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade”.

Nike stood by Woods, however, despite the instant destruction of his carefully crafted “loving family man” image when a series of affairs was uncovered three years ago.

Tiger was forgiven but not forgotten.

There’s a new kid on the block now, and his name is McIlroy.

Top five sponsorships

Derrick Rose: The charismatic point guard for the Chicago Bulls basketball team in the NBA signed a deal with adidas that will guarantee him $184 m (£115m) over the next 13 years — and keep the 24-year-old out of big rival Nike’s clutches.

Tiger Woods: Lost some major endorsements after his 2009 affair scandal, but he has still managed to bank a lot of money from major television advertisements. One of his most notable endorsements is from Nike, which guarantees him $20m (£12.5m) a year on a five-year rolling contract.

David Beckham: Goldenballs has gained major endorsement deals over the years, which helped him become one of the richest-ever sportsmen. The former Manchester United and England star struck a deal with adidas in 2003, which earned him $160.8m (£100m) — and a lifetime contract.

Lebron James: American basketball star James signed a seven-year deal with Nike, which paid him $90m (£56. 3m). James had not even played in his first professional basketball game when the deal was signed, which was huge risk for Nike to take at the time. The endorsement deal also gave James his own shoe and apparel line.

Phil Mickelson: In 2010, the popular American golfer banked $57m (£35.6m) through various endorsements such as Callaway, Rolex and ExxonMobil, among many others. Phil was second on the Sports Illustrated Fortunate 50 list in 2011, right behind fellow golfer Tiger Woods.

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