SBD/January 15, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Nike Set Sights On Rory McIlroy Long Before Announcing Multiyear Sponsorship Deal

McIlroy said Tiger Woods didn't recruit him to join the Nike Golf team
Nike Golf had Rory McIlroy "in its sights” long before he signed a multiyear sponsorship deal with the company yesterday, according to Allan Brettman of the Portland OREGONIAN. Nike Golf President Cindy Davis said, "We've known Rory for many, many years. We have a staff of people that travel around on all the key tours. We've been mutual fans." Nike Golf recorded $726M in revenue "in the last fiscal year, 10 percent higher than the previous year,” but Davis declined to comment on what McIlroy's “addition might mean to future revenue.” She also “chuckled at golf analysts' suggestions McIlroy's game might suffer by switching from one brand of equipment -- Titleist -- to another.” Davis said that the move “won't be a problem,” and noted that McIlroy “was asked about the switch Monday.” Davis: "He called it a seamless transition" (Portland OREGONIAN, 1/15). The FINANCIAL TIMES’ Blitz & Smyth noted McIlroy’s “clean-cut image and youth will help Nike sell golf apparel, and is a welcome addition for the company that ended its sponsorship of Lance Armstrong last year following doping allegations.” brandRapport Sports Marketing Dir Nigel Currie said that McIlroy’s “prime asset was his ability.” Currie said, “It is not that he is ‘safe,’ but that he is likely to be the best golfer in the world for the next few years. The key thing is he is recognised around the world.” Currie said McIlroy “has the same potential to achieve” what fellow Nike endorser Tiger Woods has done (FT.com, 1/14). ESPN’s Darren Rovell said Davis called McIlroy's signing an "aggressive move” by the company. However, Rovell said, “It also could be looked at as a defensive move, because with Tiger not winning the majors, they needed to make a move in order to stay relevant in golf.” Rovell said McIlroy is “genuine” and being “young is very important.” But something to not “forget is how popular he is overseas” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN, 1/14).

BRAND RORY
: ESPN’s Bob Ley said to McIlroy on "OTL" yesterday, “You’re not just a golfer, certainly, with your accomplishments. You ascend from golfer to brand. How would you describe the Rory McIlroy brand?” McIlroy said his brand is “very authentic, what you see is what you get, down to earth, young, energetic.” McIlroy added, “I can relate to a lot of people, especially the younger generation” ("OTL," ESPN, 1/14). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Lorne Rubenstein wrote Nike has signed the “most popular golfer in the world to a gigantic contract, and obviously has big hopes for what McIlroy can do for its golf division.” The focus on McIlroy “will be intense.” He has been under the spotlight “for some time now, but he has ensured the glare will only get more intense from the first swing he makes this week in Abu Dhabi with Nike clubs” (GOLFCANADA.ca, 1/14).

DYNAMIC DUO: CNBC’s Brian Shactman said McIlroy and Woods are now “the faces of Nike Golf,” though McIlroy “represents a new generation.” Shactman: “It’s not like Tiger Woods is old … but Nike is hedging its bets if he doesn’t make it all the way back to No. 1, so they signed Rory” (“Power Lunch,” CNBC, 1/14). In London, Kevin Garside wrote the McIlroy-Woods dynamic is "golf's dream ticket" in '13, a "nascent rivalry that is essentially waiting for Woods to catch up with the Ulsterman" (INDEPENDENT.co.uk, 1/14). GOLFCHANNEL.com’s Rex Hoggard wrote it is “clear Nike, as it does in other sports, plans to capitalize on having the game’s alpha and omega under a single roof.” Hoggard: “Seamlessly weaving two divergent personalities, and not roughing up any egos in the process, will be Nike’s biggest challenge, but there is an army of marketing types to climb that mountain” (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 1/14). Meanwhile, YAHOO SPORTS’ Shane Bacon wrote the new 60-second ad Nike released yesterday featuring McIlroy and Woods trying to one-up each other is “exactly what you'd expect from Nike, who continually puts out the best commercials in the game and now has a brand new star to play with” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/14).

NO RECRUITING PITCH: ESPN.com’s Bob Harig noted Woods and McIlroy “got to be friendly over the past year.” But McIlroy said that Woods “never tried to recruit him to the company, nor did McIlroy reach out for any advice.” McIlroy said, "I didn't speak about it to Tiger. I didn't say anything, and I don't think he wanted to influence me, either. We didn't talk about it at all -- not until after it was all done” (ESPN.com, 1/14). But Golf Channel’s Charlie Rymer said, “I just can’t imagine that Nike Golf would go out and sign Rory McIlroy without having a conversation with Tiger Woods” ("Golf Central," Golf Channel, 1/14).

THE YEAR OF THE SWOOSH
: YAHOO SPORTS' Bacon in a separate piece wrote if ’11 was “the year of TaylorMade, and last season was a pretty darn good one for Ping, it seemed that '13 would be that one for Nike.” Woods is “obviously the biggest name on any staff, but the additions of Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley helped.” Nike then “quietly added Seung Yul Noh, one of the sneaky best pick-ups from any company in the offseason, and on Monday announced the ‘breaking’ news” that McIlroy would be “covered head to toe, putter to driver in Nike.” This announcement “happened to come the day after Russell Henley won the Sony Open as a rookie and a Nike ambassador, and if you're talking about having a pretty solid start to the 2013 season, I'd say this is about as good as it gets” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/14).
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