Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Rory McIlroy worth Nike sponsorship cash, says expert

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 25: Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland with the DP World Tour Championship and The Race to Dubai trophy on the 18th green during the final roung of the DP World Tour Championship on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates on November 25, 2012 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

"I'm Rory McIlroy, I'm Rory McIlroy, I'm Rory McIlroy... I am Rory McIlroy."

It does not quite have the same ring as Nike's original "I'm Tiger Woods" advertisement, but the announcement of the sports giant's new personal sponsorship deal with the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland clearly identifies him as the coming man.

Industry experts believe the Nike deal will be worth around 20million US dollars (£12.5million) a year to world number one McIlroy, about half the sum Woods commanded at his peak and about the same level as he is on now.

Nike looks to be hedging its bets to an extent. The company now has the most recognisable face in golf in Woods, and the young pretender to his throne in McIlroy.

But are two personal endorsements to the tune of £25million a year really good value to Nike?

Tim Crow, chief executive of the London-based sponsorship agency Synergy, believes the answer is yes, and then some.

"Before Tiger Woods first signed, Nike were banking around one per cent of the golf equipment market worldwide, five years later it was 15 per cent," Crow said. "Tiger did that for them.

"Signing McIlroy may well signal the changing of the guard, but Nike will now have the most high-profile guy in golf and the coming man. It's a win-win situation."

Woods of course has hardly been the advertiser's dream since his fall from grace after a much-publicised marriage break-up, and Crow said any sponsor will factor in such a risk and should plan for the sort of worst-case scenario that Lance Armstrong's backers are facing now.

"Any savvy sponsor knows there is an element of risk and this is one of the key things we do with our clients," Crow added.

"It's very important to ensure you have the right clauses in your contract and the right of recourse.

"I imagine a lot of guys involved with Lance Armstrong are looking to see what recourse they have got."

The Nike deal should propel McIlroy into Europe's top five sports stars in terms of sponsorship income, behind a couple of Formula One drivers, plus footballers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

He is still some way behind the biggest in America though; Michael Jordan is still reputed to earn double his deal from Nike even though 10 years have passed since he played professional basketball.

Crow believes it is McIlroy's youth and refreshing approach to golf which make him such an attractive proposition.

"It's not just the fact that he has won majors, but that he did it by eight shots (in both the 2011 US Open and 2012 US PGA Championship)," Crow added.

"Youth is important but it's the whole package. He has a kind of old-fashioned naivety, a sheer joy in the game that contrasts with the manufactured personalities that you can sometimes appear to get with sports people."

The only possible cloud on the horizon is in relation to the Olympics in 2016, as McIlroy has said he may not play in order to avoid the tricky decision about whether to play for the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain.

However, Crow believes that issue will not be keeping anyone at Nike awake at nights, and that the company's bosses will just be happy to have got their man - and he is Rory McIlroy.