McIlroy wants challenge to commission rates heard in autumn

Golfer ‘inexperienced’ when he agreed to pay 20% of off-course earning to management firms

Golfer Rory McIlroy wants an autumn trial date for his legal challenge to the validity and enforceability of representation agreements involving allegedly “unreasonable” fee rates and commissions, the Commercial Court has been told.

Rossa Fanning, for Mr McIlroy, said his side is anxious for a trial date in October because the golfer, due to his commitmments, has “limited windows”.

Paul Sreenan SC, for the three defendant companies, said he was not sure if that trial date could be achieved. His clients would do their best to discover all the documents sought for the hearing by June 12th next but could not guarantee that deadline would be met, counsel added.

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said the matter would be listed on June 16th for further directions when it would be up to the judge dealing with it to decide if a trial date could be fixed.


Mr McIlroy's case is against Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management Ltd; Gurteen Limited, with a registered address in Malta, and Dublin-based Canovan Management Services.

He argues a representation agreement signed by him in December 2011 is not valid and unforceable on grounds including undue influence. That agreement was signed when he was aged just 22, inexperienced and without the benfit of independent legal advice, he claims.

The agreement, he also alleges, resulted in his paying more than US $6.8m based on “unreasonable” fee rates “many times greater” than the standard in the golf industry, including 20 per cent comission on his off-course earnings and 5 per cent on his on course earings

He also alleges the defendants are not entitled to be paid certain fees into the future related to his US$20m a year sponsorship deal with sportswear giant Nike.

The defendants deny the claims and have counter-claimed for some US $3m dollars allegedly outstanding for off-course gross revenues and other sums allegedly outstanding under the December 2011 and a March 2013 agreement, plus damages for alleged past and continuing breaches of the agreements.

They claim they have been denied the opportunity to sell the branding rights to Mr McIlroy’s golf bag and to continue building his global commercial model under an alleged agreed long term brand strategy.

Earlier, when ruling on a small number of outstanding discovery issues between the sides, the judge said Mr McIlroy was entitled to get all documents dated between October 18th 2011 and September 27th 2013 concerning the legal and beneficial ownership of all three companies, their shareholdings and their legal relationship. Those documents include material concerning the ultimate beneficial ownership of any companies holding shares in any of the defendant companies.

The motivation behind the incorporation of Gurteen and Canovan was arguably relevant to the issue whether Mr McIlroy still had a relationship with Horizon when the representation agreement was executed, the judge said. In that context, she also directed discovery of documents concerning financial, tax and other advices given concerning the incorporation and use of those two companies regarding management of Mr McIlroy.

While the defendants had argued Mr McIlroy was not entitled to documents concerning Horizon, the judge ruled he was because there was an issue in the case as to whether Horizon controlled Gurteen and Canovan.

Agreement was earlier reached concerning discovery by both sides of various other categories of documents sought for the action, including docuemnts relating to fees and commissions for agents of professional golfers

The sides have also agreed evidence may be taken on commission from Owen O'Connell, a solicitor and partner in William Fry Solicitors, who is unwell.

He was previously described by the defendants as “an indispensable witness” because he was present for the execution of the December 2011 agreement in the offices of William Fry.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times