Nike have been caught unawares and in the process lost a huge opportunity to ride on Rory McIlroy’s appeal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
McIlroy has decided to represent Ireland (and not Great Britain) in the Olympics and this means the Irish golfer will not have his main sponsor, Nike, on his apparel.
According to a report in the Irish Independent, Nike assumed that the Northern Ireland-born McIlroy would be playing for the United Kingdom in Rio. So, when the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) offered Nike the chance to provide the Irish team’s gear, Nike passed on the deal, worth between $1.5 million and $3 million.
"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'."
Nike’s contract with McIlroy is worth an estimated $20 million a year.
Then McIlroy announced that he would be donning Ireland’s green, white, and orange to tee it up for golf’s return to the Olympics.
“I’m told that the Nike guys nearly collapsed when they heard what happened and that they’d missed a golden opportunity,” Hickey said.
McIlroy could very well wind up wearing the first gold medal in golf since 1904. If he does, there won’t be a Nike swoosh beside it. Instead, New Balance’s logo will adorn McIlroy’s and the other Irish Olympians’ shirts, pants, hats, belt, and sunglasses. McIlroy’s golf bag will bear only the Team Ireland logo and the Olympic rings. He is allowed to wear Nike golf shoes and use his Nike clubs, however, because they count as “technical equipment.”
The British Olympians will be outfitted by Adidas, as they have been since 1984.
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. Belfast boxer Paddy Barnes would carry the flag.