Nearly two dozen TV cameras and some 200 invited guests and media waited at the Fairmont Hotel for confirmation of golf’s worst kept secret.
With Abu Dhabi’s 80-dome Grand Mosque lit up in the distance, McIlroy finally stepped onto a platform leading from the edge of one of the many Arabian Gulf fed waterways in the UAE capital to a stage where he was introduced by Cindy Davis, president of Nike Golf.
“Today marks a significant moment for our brand and our golf business, and for the career of an extraordinary young athlete,” said Davis.
“We could not be more thrilled with tonight’s announcement. The beginning of 2013 for us is one of the most exciting times since Tiger Woods joined the ‘Swoosh’.”
“It’s a monumental deal, for several reasons,” explained Bob Dorfman, an athlete compensation expert and executive creative director at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. “It may very well be the largest endorsement deal in history for an active athlete.” Derrick Rose’s current pact with Adidas is believed to be $183 million over 13 years, while LeBron James’s Nike contract weighs in at an estimated $120 million for 10 years.
According to Dorfman, Woods signed a five-year, $200 million extension with Nike in 2005, but those figures might have changed. “I have heard that that may have been negotiated down by as much as 50% in the last couple years, due to the scandal and poor sales. I expect he’s currently making between $10m to $20m annually with them.”
When Woods signed on as Nike’s first-ever staff golfer in late 1996 he signed a deal reported to be worth $43m while McIlroy’s sign-on deal appears to be in the region of $200m.
It is one of the biggest-ever in sport but with Nike and McIlroy declining to comment on terms and with the 23-year old, who grew up in humble surrounds in suburban Belfast, bluntly declaring it wasn’t about the money.”
“I don’t play golf for the money as I am well past that,” he said. “I am a Major champion and I am World No. 1, as I have always dreamed of being, and really Nike is a company that can help me sustain that.
“So I play for Major titles, not the money.”
However, while former sponsor, Oakley is reported to be suing for breach of contract, McIlroy has kept one former sponsor on his golf bag in Santander and the Spanish bank he signed a deal with just prior to joining Horizon Sports.
Also on his bag is the logo of the first of six charities McIlroy will carry on his bag, up to and including the Masters in a move to help under-privileged children.
To officially welcome him into the Nike family guests were shown a video clip from fellow ‘Swoosh’ stars Wayne Rooney, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods.
Federer commented: “Hey Rory. How you doing? I am very excited that you are joining Nike. I talked to you in Sao Paulo and we know you can do great things. You are a wonderful golfer and maybe if you can teach me some golf tricks I can give you some tennis lessons and advice on the men’s tour. Do you know what I mean?”
Woods and McIlroy also will feature in a new Nike ad screening worldwide from Wednesday that has the duo trying to outdo each other with trick shots. But at the end of the ad it’s the 14-time Major winning Woods who still comes up trumps.
McIlroy has been testing his next clubs since late last year when he ‘secretly’ visited ‘The Oven’ as Nike affectionately refer to their test and equipment headquarters in Forth Worth, Texas.
Included in his bag is the new Nike Crimson ‘Covert’ driver that Scotland’s Scott Jamieson has used to finish third, first and second in his first three events of the 2013 Race to Dubai.
“I went down to ‘The Oven’ just before Christmas and I was just blown away by research and the development that goes into the clubs,” he said.
“I knew also that as soon as I hit the new Covert driver that it would be going straight into my bag for this week. It’s just an awesome driver and I couldn’t be more happy about what’s in the bag.
“The driver just blew me away as my ball speed was up and my spin rate was better and I am hitting the ball further and well over 300 yards. This new driver has taken my game to a new level, so that’s great.
McIlroy confirmed also he will use the Nike ‘Method’ putter and declined to entertain comment when he asked if the putter didn’t work to his favour would he return to his double Major winning Scotty Cameron putter.
However there’s one item remaining in McIlroy’s bag that was a permanent feature since he turned pro with Titleist clubs and bag and that is his now ragged looking old dog head-cover.
And long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald was in the audience wearing Nike attire.
McIlroy will take his news clubs into battle for a first time this year facing Woods in this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.
Do not be surprised by the appearance of a pre-Nike sponsor on the new bag Rory McIlroy was sporting at the announcement of his multi-million dollar endorsement deal with the American sports giant.
While the reported €150 million, 10-year agreement for the Irishman to wear the swoosh and swing the US company’s clubs has been sports marketing’s worst kept secret for many months, it had been widely assumed Nike would want a totally exclusive deal, with all previous sponsors cut out.
Such an agreement never existed with Nike’s 16-year relationship with Tiger Woods, with the 14-time Major winner endorsing a variety of products, at least until revelations about his private life hit the headlines in 2009.
Nike stood by their man then and the American still has the logo of a sports nutrition company emblazoned on his tour bag.
Likewise, the exclusivity in the deal with Nike’s newest recruit extends to McIlroy using their full range of clubs, balls, clothing and footwear, but the Ulster man remains free to display other sponsorships on his bag.
Hence the switch of Spanish bank Santander’s logo from the world No 1’s left shirt sleeve to his bag in Abu Dhabi yesterday.
McIlroy's Rory Foundation, launched last week, will see a different charity for each of his first six tournaments of the year appear on his bag. When McIlroy tees off for the first time this season on Thursday in Abu Dhabi, the bag will feature the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund For Children.