Belfast Telegraph

Rory legal battle: The post-split recriminations are wounding to both sides


By Dearbhail McDonald

When he suffered an on-course meltdown in Florida last March, Rory McIlroy's under-par performance was variously blamed on a sore wisdom tooth and apparent difficulties with his new Nike clubs.

But new court papers filed by the former world number one golfer, who is suing his former agent in a bruising lawsuit, suggests that McIlroy had much more on his mind when he quit the Honda Classic.

Amid all the public frenzy over his now defunct relationship with Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniaki, McIlroy was privately engaged last spring in a battle with Horizon, the Dublin-based sports agency.

The exact details of when and how the relationship unravelled – McIlroy parted company with Horizon last month – may not be fully aired until October 2014.

McIlroy entered into a formal three-year deal with Horizon in December 2011 as Horizon's lawyers, William Fry, threw a party for their office staff.

McIlroy has now claimed that he signed the initial deal without receiving adequate independent legal advice and in circumstances of "great informality" as a 22-year-old business novice.

Under the deal, Horizon would take a 5% cut of McIlroy's on-course earnings and 20% of his off-course income, including sponsorship. Crucially, Horizon would earn 20% of McIlroy's eye-watering $100m ($20m a year) five-year deal with Nike, which runs out in December 2017.

In early 2013, a revision to the McIlroy/Horizon deal was mooted to extend the relationship until the end of 2017.

Under the revised agreement, concluded in late March, Horizon's on-course fees were slashed to zero per cent, and its off-course fees reduced to 15%.

Horizon managed to retain its 20% cut of the Nike deal, with 15% payable on a renewal of the Nike agreement during the term of the new representation agreement. Then last April, after the revised representation agreement was concluded, McIlroy announced to Horizon that he intended to set up his own management agency.

The writs inevitably followed when McIlroy split from Horizon late last month, installing Horizon's ex-head of strategy Donal Casey – a key figure in the Nike deal – as his new CEO.

McIlroy is not just seeking to terminate his contract with Horizon: he wants the courts to rule that it never existed and void it from the very beginning.

The golfer, who has spent $1.5m (£940,000) defending a legal action by former sponsor Oakley, claims that the initial Horizon deal was "unconscionable" and wants a full indemnity from the firm if he loses the Oakley lawsuit.

Horizon has defended the "exceptional job" it says it has done representing McIlroy and says it is the star who is in breach of a contract he "willingly entered into".

Like many relationship breakdowns, the post-split recriminations are wounding to both sides, including Horizon MD Conor Ridge, who enjoyed a strong friendship with his protege.

Much private dealings will be exposed in the cold, clinical confines of the Commercial Court if the case goes to full hearing.

Perhaps the saddest part of this off-course battle is that McIlroy, whose world ranking has tumbled, is facing an uphill fight to restore his former glory.

Belfast Telegraph


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