Nike regret missing 'golden opportunity' in McIlroy bid for Rio gold, claims Hickey
Rory McIlroy's might be Nike's $100m golden boy but the sportswear giant was furious when it realised it missed a golden opportunity to sponsor his bid for an Olympic medal this summer.
That's the view of OCI boss Pat Hickey, who revealed yesterday that the US firm was offered the chance to back the Irish Olympic team this year and guarantee seeing McIlroy sport the Nike swoosh in Rio.
Instead the deal went to Boston-based New Balance for what Hickey said was small change compared to the $20m a year that Nike are playing the four-time Major champion.
"Before Rory decided whether he'd declare for Team GB or Ireland, we put our team gear out to contract," Hickey explained at the '100 days to Rio' presentation in Dublin.
"Just in case he declared for us, we went to Nike in the UK and told them we might have Rory. But they just dismissed us out of hand and now they regret it, I believe.
"I'm told that the Nike guys nearly collapsed when they heard what happened and that they'd missed a golden opportunity.
"Rory's agent came to us and said, 'What about Nike?' And I said, 'What about them? They had the opportunity and they missed it'."
Hickey could not divulge the size of the New Balance deal, believed to be worth between €1m-€2m according to industry experts - less than what McIlroy makes from his $100m (€20m x five years) Nike deal every month.
But he added: "It would have been peanuts compared to what they are paying Rory."
If McIlroy wins a medal and enjoys his Olympics experience, he may well make himself available for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, when Nike will again have an opportunity to tender for the contract.
Whatever about that, the only Nike gear McIlroy will be able to use in Brazil will be his clubs and his golf shoes, which are exempt as "technical equipment".
Hickey said: "The rules of the Olympics are very clear. You must wear the team gear as selected by the NOC (National Olympic Council).
"It's the same for every country. If you want to participate in the Olympics, you have to adhere to the rules.
"The situation is he must wear a New Balance cap, shirt, top, trousers, and accessories such as the belt and sunglasses. But the colour is tone on tone. So if it's a blue shirt, it is a blue NB emblem. The golf bag is neutral with no branding. It will just have the Team Ireland logo with the shamrock and the (Olympic) rings."
McIlroy was spared any political awkwardness as he was not considered to be Ireland's flag-bearer.
After announcing that Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes would carry the flag, Hickey confirmed: "Paddy Barnes is different. He is from the nationalist end of Belfast and he doesn't care. He is delighted to do it."
Nike Europe did not immediately reply to a request for comment on this story.
Barnes, meanwhile, expressed his delight at the honour. "It's just as big as winning a medal. It's a great honour to be put on me and I'm just over the moon."