Nike unveils Rory McIlroy: Tiger’s heir apparent

Story highlights

Nike announces multi-year sponsorship deal with golf's world No. 1 Rory McIlroy

Sports firm see McIlroy as heir apparent to Tiger Woods according to experts

Nike to reap the rewards of two of golf's top names competing against each other

Bumper deal catapults McIlroy into one of sports' biggest earners

He is the heir apparent to Tiger Woods, on the course and off it. By the end of Monday, Rory McIlroy’s bank balance will take a step closer to matching that of the most marketable star the sport has ever seen.

A bumper multi-year deal with Nike, reported by various media outlets to be worth over $200 million, will propel the Northern Irishman into a stratosphere inhabited only by the richest men and women in sport.

Though McIlroy may only have two major championships to his name compared to Woods’ 14, at 23 he has time on his side as he strives to eclipse the achievements of his new stable mate.

And while Woods hasn’t been able to recapture the form he showed prior to news of his extra-marital affairs breaking, Nike’s courting of McIlroy is an attempt to pin down a star of the present and future who comes with less baggage, according to a sports business expert.

Read: McIlroy teams up with Tiger at Nike

“Nike is in a difficult position,” Simon Chadwick, professor of Sport Business Strategy and Marketing at Coventry University told CNN, “because their number one golf property historically has fallen on hard times, relatively speaking.

“When Tiger Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant in 2009, Phil Knight of Nike described it as a minor blip. Commercially that’s quite interesting because I think they genuinely believed there was still some sustainability and financial value in the Woods brand heading into the future. But that just hasn’t transpired.

“Tiger hasn’t won a major since then and his public reputation hasn’t recovered to where it was. That’s a problem for Nike because what you’ve got to keep in mind is that Nike essentially built their whole golf business on the back of Woods and for a long time the vast majority of their commercial activity and their marketing was based around him. And it was very successful.

“They used not to have a significant golf business but now they do. The problem is that to a large extent, they’ve been left high and dry. They now have a global golf business without a credible brand spokesperson.

“So essentially what they’ve been looking for is an heir apparent, somebody with the same competitive characteristics as Woods but without the baggage, as well as somebody who can conceivably carry the brand into the future. That’s why I think the length of the deal is absolutely crucial.

“It seems to me that what they’re attempting to do is to build a sustainable business on the back of McIlroy over the next 10 years, just as they did with Woods over the first 13 years of their time together.”

At a stroke, the deal transforms McIlroy into one of the hottest commercial properties in sport.

According to the Forbes list of 2012, McIlroy’s deal with Nike will make him highest paid young sports star in the world, taking him well above the $17.4 million he earned in the year up to July 2012.

But he still has some way to go to catch Woods, who raked in total earnings of $59.4 million in the same time period. Both trail behind the world’s top two highest grossing sports stars, boxers Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, who earned $85 million and $62 million respectively.

While Nike’s outlay on Woods and McIlroy is significant, it will seem like money well spent should their twin titans end up battling it out going down the stretch at many a major tournament in the years to come.

But with both of golf’s biggest stars now operating under the same umbrella, even if they don’t end up slugging it out for honors on the course, the prospect of both players being available for marketing opportunities is a big draw for Nike, according to Tony Martin, a sport, event and project management consultant at Qatar Atlantic College in Doha.

Boulden: Which Nike star will Rory mirror?

“In many respects this is a coup for Nike as they now have some leverage on the two of the most marketable figures in the world of sport,” he told CNN. “Golf fans everywhere are longing for the head to head battles between these two, given their considerable differences in age, style and personalities.

“Nike will certainly use their leverage to nurture such competition by ensuring their schedules are aligned to foster maximum exposure to such opportunities. When this begins to happen consistently, and I believe it will soon, Nike reaps the unbelievable rewards.

“This deal is not taken lightly and I am sure all of Nike’s significant market research is verifying a likeability scale for this young man (McIlroy) that is off the charts.”

Just as Nike will hope McIlroy can match Woods’ prowess when it comes to bagging majors and green jackets, they could be forgiven for hoping the 23-year-old won’t attract any salacious headlines away from the greens.

The sports giant recently dropped disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong after he was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping offenses, and withstood a barrage of bad press for their client when news of Woods’ extra marital affairs broke.

McIlroy’s only negative press to date has come via the odd misjudged quote – which can be explained as a byproduct of his youthful exuberance and refreshing honesty in interviews – and though he has earned plaudits for keeping his feet on the ground, Martin says there is no guarantee how he’ll react if he reaches the level of fame Woods currently orbits.

“Rory represents a much different personality than Tiger and on the surface, epitomizes a safe investment for Nike,” he said.

“However like Tiger, he appears to be a marketer’s dream. The problem is, no one truly knows how any individual is going to react to all this money, fame and adoration until they have lived with it.

“These superstar athletes live in a fish bowl where their every comment, action and especially reactions are fodder for the media outlets around the world. Already, controversy is circling with regard to Rory’s Olympic participation decision and legal issues with previous sponsors.”

The first time the world will see Nike’s new double act in action will be on Thursday when McIlroy and Woods line up for the HSBC Championship in Abu Dhabi.