Top-ranked Rory McIlroy signed an agreement to use Nike Inc. (NKE:US) golf equipment after ending his five- year relationship with Titleist, the company announced.
McIlroy, a 23-year-old from Northern Ireland, will use Nike-branded clubs and balls and wear the company’s apparel during his season debut this week at the European PGA Tour’s World Golf Championship HSBC Champions event in Abu Dhabi, Nike disclosed in a press conference.
The two-time major tournament winner joins Tiger Woods, No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, as the most high-profile players using the Beaverton, Oregon-based company’s equipment. Nike also signed U.S. PGA Tour players Kyle Stanley and Nick Watney and Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen to endorsement deals this month.
“It’s a company and a brand that really resonates with me,” said McIlroy, who emerged onto a smoke-filled stage lit by circling spotlights for the announcement. “It’s young. It’s athletic. It’s innovative. They are committed to being the best, as am I.”
McIlroy and Woods, 37, were shown together in a television commercial during the announcement.
Terms of the contract weren’t disclosed by Nike or McIlroy. McIlroy’s agent Conor Ridge didn’t immediately return phone messages and e-mails seeking comment on the contract.
The Irish Times reported on Oct. 20 that McIlroy, who captured his second major title with an eight-stroke win at the PGA Championship in August, signed a 10-year pact worth as much as $250 million. The report didn’t cite a source for its information.
“He is the epitome of a Nike athlete,” Cindy Davis, president of Nike Golf, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to partnering with him to take his remarkable career to the next level.”
Jumeirah Group LLC ended its five-year partnership with McIlroy on Jan. 8. McIlroy had worn a hat featuring the logo of the closely held luxury hotel and resort operator since age 18. Nike-sponsored athletes rarely endorse other companies on the course.
McIlroy, who also won the 2011 U.S. Open and defeated Woods in a head-to-head exhibition match in China on Oct. 28, had been sponsored by Fila Korea Ltd. (081660)’s Titleist and FootJoy brands since turning professional in 2007. Under the agreement, McIlroy said, he’ll use only Nike clubs, even replacing his Titleist-branded putter, typically the last club high-ranked players change.
His equipment swap follows similar moves by successful players in the peak of their careers. Nick Faldo, who won six major titles with the same brand of clubs and then failed to win another tournament after switching equipment sponsors in 1998, called the move a “risk.”
“It’s the classic example of if it’s not broken don’t fix it,” Faldo said in a telephone interview. “It sure isn’t broken. You’ve got to be very careful. You’d rather have trophies in the cabinet because that leads to a fortune rather than having a fat bank balance and nothing in the cabinet.”
Nike shares were up nine cents today to $53.19.
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