Lawyers for two-time major winner Rory McIlroy say Oakley is “harassing” him for an abundance of documents pertaining to his relationship with now-former agent Conor Ridge.
In a Nov. 1 filing in a California federal civil court, McIlroy’s lawyers claim the apparel and eyewear maker is asking for information above and beyond what it needs to understand the role Ridge played in negotiating McIlroy’s five-year contract with Nike Golf in the fall of 2012.
McIlroy’s counsel says in the brief that Oakley is asking for “broad and harassing discovery into myriad discussions, negotiations, and contracts with or pertaining to Mr. McIlroy’s representatives, which have nothing to do with the claims or defenses in this case.”
Oakley filed suit against McIlroy and Nike Golf in December 2012, claiming the defendants violated Oakley’s right of first refusal to match at least a portion of a competing endorsement offer to McIlroy made by any golf-related company in the final months before Oakley’s two-year contract with McIlroy expired at the end of 2012.
McIlroy has since severed ties with Ridge and his Dublin-based Horizon Sports Management, creating his own representation firm, Rory McIlroy Inc. McIlroy and Horizon are suing each other over varying claims, including Ridge’s claim McIlroy breached his contract, as well as McIlroy’s counterclaim that he was not made fully aware of the terms of his agreement with Horizon, including what McIlroy said was an outrageously high commission owed to Ridge for his work on the Ulsterman’s behalf.
Oakley believes that lawsuit in an Irish court is pertinent to its case against McIlroy and Nike. Representing McIlroy, Ridge was to act in “good faith” and in a credible fashion in negotiations with Oakley. McIlroy’s claims in his suit against Ridge, Oakley says, suggest that was not the case, leading to their claim for extensive documentation about their relationship.
“McIlroy and Nike’s defense relies directly on what they claim Mr. Ridge was told in various telephone conversations with Oakley, and what Mr. Ridge says he and Nike discussed and did not discuss regarding Oakley’s rights, so Mr. Ridge’s credibility is at the heart of this case,” the filing read.
Lawyers for McIlroy shot back at that claim, suggesting Oakley was merely looking to make undue burden on McIlroy.
“[N]one of these issues (between Oakley and McIlroy) have anything to do with McIlroy’s agreements or disputes with his former agents or his outside counsel, or Mr. Ridge’s credibility,” the filing claimed. “Oakley’s persistence in seeking documents concerning an unrelated,ongoing litigation, are clearly designed for one purpose only: to harass McIlroy.”
In an Oct. 11 conference call between representatives for the parties, McIlroy’s counsel agreed he would provide McIlroy’s representation agreement with Horizon, the amended representation agreements with Horizon and the so-called “Book of Papers” filed in the Irish Commercial Court case between McIlory and Horizon — approximately 250 pages of legal documentation used to support McIlroy’s claims in his suit against Ridge.
Meanwhile, McIlroy’s lawyers are seeking 10 email communications between Oakley staffers, particularly involving Link Newcomb, Oakley’s special advisor to the Chief Executive Officer and vice-president of its retail business. Newcomb is a lawyer, leading to Oakley claims that the communications are protected under attorney-client privilege. McIlroy’s lawyers claim Newcomb was acting an Oakley employee rather than legal counsel, meaning the communications would not be protected.
The crux of the entire case is the interpretation and execution of Oakley’s right of first refusal as outlined in the contract between the two parties.
Oakley claims it was never given the proper opportunity to exercise that right. In its Dec. 2012 filing, Oakley outlines email communications between Ridge and its sports-marketing rep, Pat McIlvain. In those email strings, McIlvain tries to learn from Ridge what the competing offer from Nike is, as well what the breakdown of the offer would be by product category, i.e., apparel, clubs and, in particular, eyewear.
Ridge counters that Oakley simply cannot match the Nike proposal. Oakley responds by saying it has the right to match on apparel and eyewear, suggesting its contract with McIlroy says it would consider offering 10 percent of the value of a larger offer to McIlroy as enough to match and meet its right of first refusal.
Ridge then claims McIlroy no longer will be wearing eyewear — prescription or otherwise — on the course in the future, making the Oakley offer meaningless. McIlvain tries to put together a packaged competing offer to the Nike deal, suggesting it would outfit McIlroy in Oakley apparel and eyewear and bringing in TaylorMade-adidas Golf to do the equipment part of the package. Ridge then says McIlroy wants a clean, head-to-toe deal and that Nike’s offer has eclipsed any piecemeal deal that could be offered.
Frustrated, McIlvain sends a late night email to Ridge saying, “Understood. We are out of the mix. No contract for 2013. Pat Mac.” McIlroy’s lawyers claim that email was enough to count as Oakley’s decline of its right of first refusal, despite future emails from McIlvain asking for a formal offer sheet presented by Nike so it could provide its matching offer.
McIlroy’s lawyers also suggest that the case should be dismissed because it claims Oakley missed a payment to McIlroy, breaching and nullifying the contract, carving a clear legal path for McIlroy to have negotiated with Nike on the five-year, $20 million-per-year deal Nike offered to McIlroy on Oct. 25, 2012.
Oakley is seeking compensation for the damage McIlroy’s departure did to its brand, as well as for over $300,000 it paid for a promotional photo shoot featuring McIlroy to showcase its 2013 products.