Right player, right time, right brand, right sport - Rory ticks all right boxes
Nike have been looking for Tiger Woods’ heir apparent, someone who can carry the brand into the future, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
It feels so quaint to look back on it now. The date was September 18th, 2007, and Rory McIlroy had just announced that he was turning pro.
Breaching the chrysalis of the amateur game was always going to come with sweeteners attached and so one of the first tasks at hand for Chubby Chandler that day was to announce his sponsors. Jumeirah Hotels, Bennett Construction, Lough Erne and Titleist were the initial money men, the latter pulling the golden ticket as McIlroy’s chief supplier of stick and ball. Everything was accounted for right down to the soles of his feet, which would be housed, cushioned and bespiked by Footjoy.
Actually, not quite everything. It seems mad to think of it now but there was in fact one stone left unturned that day. Intentionally or not, ISM hadn’t yet signed McIlroy up to a clothing contract. It didn’t matter a whit, of course – the weight of the other deals came in at a nice round £1 million before he’d so much as teed up a ProV1 in professional anger.
It did, though, give rise to a line in the press release that looks impossibly sweet now, given the colour of the paper he’s about to ink. Clothing – Rory will wear his own for the present time.
Five years, three months, 27 days and somewhere in the region of $43 million in on- and off-course earnings later, Rory is long past wearing his own clothes. On Monday in the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr Hotel in Abu Dhabi, he will officially take his place on the Nike payroll. From here on out, he will be a walking swoosh, never knowingly to step in front of a camera without the world’s most famous fattened tick somewhere in the shot.
Bonuses for winning
The nuts and bolts of exactly what it’s worth won’t ever see the light of day, but the main body has been widely leaked and by now there can be few golf followers who haven’t heard that the deal will be worth $200 million over 10 years. On top of that will come bonuses for winning Majors, for staying world number one (or regaining the spot if he loses it), for topping money lists on either side of the Atlantic.
It will be the biggest contract Nike have with any golfer, worth double their deal with Tiger Woods. By teatime on Monday, McIlroy will skip dozens of places up the list of the world’s highest-earning sportspeople.
How high? Well, put it this way. Seven months ago, Forbes magazine pegged him at number 91 in the world. They were measuring money earned in the 12 months between June 2011 and June 2012, so between prize-money, appearance fees and endorsements, they estimated McIlroy to have earned $17.4 million. Without striking a ball, this Nike deal will be worth $20 million a year, so already he moves up to somewhere in the mid-60s on the next list through sponsorship alone.
Consider then that in the six months since that list came out, McIlroy has won the USPGA Championship, two Fed-Ex Cup tournaments and the DP World Tour Championship, totting up on-course earnings of just a shade over $6 million. Throw in another $1.5 million in appearance fees in China at the end of last year and already, before he’s stuck a tee in the ground in 2013, he has earned close to an amount that would have put him in the top 25.
It’s a reasonable expectation that he will win a couple or three tournaments between now and June, lifting him right up to the verge of the top 10. He turns 24 in May.
His youth is not insignificant here. He was the second youngest person on that Forbes list, two months older than a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders called Rolando McCain. The closest to him in age at the top of the scale is 25-year-old Leo Messi, an Adidas man who takes in $19 million a year in sponsorship on top of a $20 million-a-year salary from Barcelona.
Nike are signing up for McIlroy’s mid-to-late 20s, the time in his life when he can appeal to the broadest churches, the greatest cross-section of generations. A pitchman whose curls will still bounce well into the 2020s.
The numbers are eye-watering and yet Nike clearly believe it’s because he’s worth it. In the four years since Tiger won his 14th Major, 13 golfers have stepped into the breach to win their first. Just about every one of them had a shot at taking the next step and becoming the poster boy for the post-Woods generation – with the best will in the world, even Darren Clarke himself wouldn’t have harboured that type of ambition – yet only McIlroy has gone ahead and won a second one. In winning both of them by eight shots he didn’t just separate himself from the field in those particular weeks, he did so for good in the public consciousness. His easy just seems so much easier than everyone else’s.
Nike’s golf division brought in $726 million in 2012, up 11 per cent on the previous year. Still, $20 million a year for 10 years is more than just a cosy-up deal with a flavour of the month. It’s a hefty commitment – on both sides – to an intertwined future. Prof Simon Chadwick is the founder and director of the Centre for the International Business of Sport at the University of Coventry. A specialist in sports marketing and sponsorship, he sees the deal as a fairly logical step for Nike, even if it has come at a tasty premium.