| ABU DHABI
ABU DHABI World number one golfer Rory McIlroy has signed a multi-year sponsorship agreement with Nike as the U.S. sportswear company moves on after dropping disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong last year.
Commercial terms were not disclosed but media reports say the agreement with the fresh-faced Northern Irish golfer unveiled on Monday is worth as much as $250 million over 10 years, one of the most lucrative in global sports.
McIlroy was previously sponsored by golf brand Titleist.
The U.S. PGA champion, 23, topped the tournament earnings lists in both the United States and Europe last year and is seen as having supplanted Tiger Woods as the game's greatest talent.
The agreement is especially important for Nike, the world's largest sportswear company, as it seeks to move on from the doping scandal that forced it to ditch American Armstrong.
Nike is also a long-time sponsor of Woods, standing by the U.S. golfer in 2009 despite the bad publicity he suffered when a series of extra-marital affairs came to light.
A new Nike TV commercial featuring the two golfers was shown for the first time at a news conference in Abu Dhabi where Nike officially confirmed it had recruited McIlroy - one of the worst kept secrets in sport.
"There is still some equity (value) in the Woods' brand. McIlroy, rather than being a replacement, is the heir-apparent," said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy at England's Coventry University.
"In golf and cycling they built much of their business on the back of two individuals. They needed to move quickly and decisively to make a big signing and with McIlroy that is what they have done," he added.
Under the deal with Nike, McIlroy will use the company's clubs and wear its clothing with the familiar swoosh logo.
McIlroy is part of a high-profile sporting couple with former world women's tennis number one Caroline Wozniacki.
The agreement with Nike has not been accepted by all of McIlroy's previous sponsors.
Sunglasses maker Oakley has begun legal action to try to retain its sponsorship deal with McIlroy, saying it had the right to match any improved agreement with another company.
(Reporting by Matt Smith in Abu Dhabi; writing by Keith Weir in London, editing by Mark Meadows)