Sunday 21 December 2014

McIlroy believed he had the same deal as McDowell, court told

Management company denies telling golfer that his terms were identical to those of fellow Ryder Cup star

Dearbhail McDonald and Karl MacGinty

Published 24/06/2014 | 02:30

Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy has claimed that he was "consistently" led to believe that he enjoyed the same deal as fellow golfer Graeme McDowell in an increasingly bitter legal action before the Commercial Court.

Mr McIlroy, who is set to give evidence for two weeks next year in his case against Horizon Sports Management, says that he got "markedly inferior" terms – such as paying a higher-level commission on lucrative off-course earnings – compared to Mr McDowell. He argued this was despite alleged representations they would get similar terms.

But Conor Ridge, MD of Horizon Sports Management, has strenuously denied that he made any such representations.

Mr McIlroy (25), from Holywood in Co Down, and Portrush native McDowell (35) have long enjoyed a friendly rivalry on the world's fairways and partnered each other for Ireland at golf's World Cup; Great Britain and Ireland at the Seve Trophy and Europe at the 2010 and 2012 Ryder Cups.

Both played last week's Irish Open at Fota Island, Mr McIlroy making headlines by revealing in his pre-tournament interview that he'd play for Ireland and not Team GB at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

However, World No 7 Mr McIlroy failed to make it beyond the 36-hole cut at the Fota Island Resort in Co Cork.

It was his sixth tournament in an eight-weeks spell in which the 25-year-old terminated his engagement to Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth days later.

He was reunited with his golf clubs only on the eve of the Irish event after they went missing on his transatlantic flight from Newark to Dublin after last Sunday week's US Open.

Horizon has hit back at its former star, claiming in correspondence that Mr McIlroy's commission rates were agreed in September 2011 based on the fact that they matched the terms he was on with International Sports Management, the company founded by Andrew "Chubby" Chandler.

Horizon says the "continuing portrayal of Mr McIlroy as having somehow been a victim" of the agency "rings very hollow" in circumstances which, the company says, the golfer has already earned $70m (€51.5m) – and will earn another $70m – from contracts negotiated on his behalf by the company.

Mr McIlroy argues a representation agreement signed by him in December 2011 is not valid and unenforceable on grounds including undue influence. That agreement was signed when he was aged just 22, inexperienced and without the benefit of independent legal advice, he claims.

Commission

The agreement resulted in his paying more than $6.8m (€5m) based on "unreasonable" fee rates "many times greater" than the standard in the golf industry, including 20pc commission on his off-course earnings and 5pc on his on-course earnings, he claims.

He also alleges the defendants are not entitled to be paid certain fees into the future related to his $20m (€14.7m) a year sponsorship deal with sportswear giant Nike.

Yesterday, barrister Rossa Fanning, for Mr McIlroy, said the alleged representation by Mr Ridge was one of two "extraordinary" matters of which Mr McIlroy became aware from documents discovered for his case, which is due to proceed next January.

Mr McIlroy wants to amend his legal proceedings against Horizon and two other companies so as to make that claim, said Mr Fanning.

The second "extraordinary" matter was Mr McDowell was a shareholder of Horizon, he added.

Mr Fanning stressed he wanted to make clear Mr McIlroy has no issue with Mr McDowell.

Paul Sreenan, for Horizon and the other defendants, said Mr Fanning had referred to "extraordinary" revelations.

But Mr Sreenan said that the claim it had been represented to Mr McIlroy his terms would be the same as Mr McDowell's was not part of his case to date.

Mr Sreenan said it was never represented to Mr McIlroy the terms to apply to him were identical to those of Mr McDowell.

Mr McIlroy was also aware since October or November last Mr McDowell was a shareholder in Horizon, counsel said.

The position was Mr McIlroy's representation agreement was not with Horizon but with another defendant company, Gurteen.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said he would fix the full hearing of the case for January 27 next.

Mr Fanning indicated earlier Mr McIlroy would require to attend probably the first two weeks of the case, scheduled to run for eight weeks.

In his action, Mr McIlroy is challenging the validity and enforceability of representation agreements involving allegedly "unreasonable" fee rates and commissions.

The case is against Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management Ltd; Gurteen Limited, with a registered address in Malta, and Dublin-based Canovan Management Services.

The defendants deny the claims and have counter-claimed.

Irish Independent

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