Into the stratosphere
For a golfer who conducted his first media interview at the age of nine, Rory McIlroy was never going to be fazed by this week’s glitzy launch as the new face of Nike. It may have been a metamorphosis in the eyes of his new corporate masters, but the player himself was at pains to point out that it was going to be business as usual irrespective of how many millions the new deal adds to his bank balance.
Aside from his remarkable ability on the golf course, the most compelling reason Nike agreed to spend €150 million on a gifted golfer is his attraction to a global audience as a relatively normal and stable individual, who manages to retain a natural charm and modesty despite living the life of a superstar.
Nobody knows better than the player himself that allowing any part of the McIlroy image to be hijacked by a global brand carries risks. His popularity could diminish very quickly if he is seen to grow aloof from his fan base and to march more in tune with the demands of his paymasters. In his career to date, McIlroy has been as sure-footed as the most seasoned professional. As a 21-year-old he handled a golfing meltdown on the final nine holes of the 2011 US Masters at Augusta with a brutal honesty that endeared him to millions. He followed with a golfing resurrection three months later at the US Open that won him even more admirers.
Those victories, along with a host of other titles, elevated him to the world number one position. His status as the game’s pre-eminent player was underlined this week when his support for Paul McGinley was seen as crucial to his success in being selected as the captain of the 2014 European Ryder Cup team. Gaining that stature in golf at such a young age was always going to make McIlroy one of the most sought-after stars in world sport. The Nike deal gives him financial security for life and elevates him to the stratosphere in the commercial world. But the hoopla surrounding big endorsements always dies away and the McIlroy deal will be no different. Then it will be a case of “majors on the mind” – the golf titles that really matter.