It’s been called the worst-kept secret in golf (at least, until the next one comes along), but upon reflection, the wait worked wonders for the Swoosh, which made it official on Monday that Rory McIlroy is coming on board as a staff player.
GNN first reported this deal in late October and we’re not the only media to keep the buzz going in the nearly three months since then.
About the only story that has gained as much autumn attention in golf was the USGA/R&A’s ban on the anchored putting stroke, but that’s been a done deal for awhile, leaving the McIlroy/Nike deal on its own as an ongoing marquee story so early in the year.
So, Nike picked up a lot of attention, even receiving a pleasant surprise when rookie Russell Henley won in his PGA Tour debut at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Not only did Henley project success, but also provided another young, fresh face that Nike likes to project for its brand.
Just a few hours later came the big one, well let’s call it the one everybody had been waiting for these past few months, but it was still a grabber.
“Rory is an extraordinary athlete who creates enormous excitement with his on-course performance while, at the same time, connecting with fans everywhere,” said Nike Golf president Cindy Davis, who is supposed to lay down the flowery adjectives on such occasions.
In the case of McIlroy, it’s difficult to argue with her, but after a few days of post-announcement commentary, we’ll settle into life with Rory wearing the Swoosh. He’ll go one way and the Nike executives and marketing types will go another. They will meet again, but in most cases, away from the public.
At age 23, McIlroy has already won two majors, won the money list on the PGA and European Tours. He is also coming off a season in which he was named PGA Tour player of the year, but you already know that stuff.
He is also engaging and has earned the admiration of fans. Even the odd bit of petulance here and there has been quickly forgotten, so Davis’ assessment of McIlroy fitting into the Nike image is bang on. Any more questions?
Moving forward, Nike is hoping for a one-on-one, mano a mano joust between McIlroy and the Swoosh’s other poster boy, Tiger Woods. coming down the stretch of a major or two or three and it isn’t inconceivable that could happen, assuming Woods takes the next step in his comeback.
McIlroy and Woods teamed up for a pretty funny commercial that will start airing soon. You can see that by clicking here.
So, all the ingredients of a fine endorsement deal have nicely mixed in — talent, personality and a legitimate rivalry with the biggest draw in golf history — but this is a 10-year deal and there are some interesting questions yet to be answered.
Will McIlroy change with the type of money being handed to him? The deal is reported to be worth $200-million over 10 years and who knows how a 23-year-old will react? I don’t know how I would react with that kind of money and I’m a year or two older than McIlroy.
It’s a different world in that stratosphere, but the guessing here is that McIlroy has been living in a world that few of us can relate to at such a young age anyway and he’s handled it well thus far.
Will there be more pressure on him to win consistently? The answer is yes and there will be times when he falters as he did last summer before turning it around and winning the PGA Championship, Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship.
It’s during those rough patches that his critics will have a sharper edge and how McIlroy reacts to that criticism will be the key to success.
Again, he proved last year and after his meltdown at the 2011 Masters that he can shake off the effects of perceived poor play that will glare out even more with the high standards placed on him.
When and if he hits those rough patches in 2013, he will surely have questions fired at him about his equipment change from Titleist to Nike, questions that have already been asked by the likes of Nick Faldo here. Should it be a prolonged slump, McIlroy will tire of answering these questions.
Other controversies are ahead for McIlroy, as well. For example, will he play for Great Britain or Ireland at the 2016 Olympics or not at all. It would seem at this point there is no way out of this one that will keep everybody happy. You can read more about that here.
It’s undoubtedly a new world that McIlroy is stepping into with the Nike deal, but if the past is any indication, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a solid foundation, but have no doubt about it, he will be tested in the immediate future and in the longer term. How he reacts will not be judged more sternly than it has been in the past.
McIlroy is not leading the life of a typical 23-year-old and now more than ever, he’ll be in a fishbowl whenever he’s out in public, but the key question comes from the other side of the deal and this is what will ultimately decide the success of this deal.
Nike sees the signing of McIlroy as the next step in its development as a golf company. While it has already made big gains on the soft goods side, its next major step is in hard goods, so the obvious question, and the biggest one, is will this deal help sell enough clubs and golf balls to justify it?
The answer at this point depends on how much stock you put into big name signings that Nike is renowned for, not only with Woods and McIlroy in golf, but in other sports in which it circulates. One wonders how long it’s feasible for Nike to have Tiger and Rory in the same stable.
Golf is an industry with numerous established brands, but Nike is obviously looking to appeal to newcomers to the game who have yet to become brand loyal to more established companies, but even there, the market will be crowded.
When the dust clears after all the buzz that has gone on these past few months before the announcement, return on investment, particularly on the hard goods side, will be the key to the success of this deal. With the spotlight comes heat and it’s now even more intense with this deal.
Nike is hoping it can take this one to the bank, but a lot can change in 10 years. Right now, the Rory/Nike deal is fun and it’s eye-catching, but when the dust clears, the bottom line has a lot to support with this latest move.