By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - American sunglasses maker Oakley has launched legal action to try to retain its sponsorship of world number one golfer Rory McIlroy who is set to become the new face of sportswear giant Nike.
U.S. PGA champion McIlroy is poised to rubber-stamp a 10-year deal with U.S. company Nike worth as much as $250 million, according to media reports.
Nike is set to supply the 23-year-old Northern Irishman's clubs and have its name or logo on his clothing in an exclusive deal.
However, Oakley, owned by Italy's Luxottica, is challenging the move and started legal action in its home state of California last month.
"Oakley's contract with Rory has a right of first refusal that permits us to retain Rory as an Oakley endorser by matching any offer he receives covering our products," the company said in a statement to Reuters.
"These types of provisions are common in the industry. Oakley values Rory and will do all it can to retain him," it added.
The Dubai-based hotel company Jumeirah Group confirmed earlier on Tuesday that its five-year sponsorship with 2011 U.S. Open champion McIlroy had ended, the latest indication that confirmation of the Nike deal was imminent.
"Jumeirah became my first corporate sponsor when I turned professional back in 2007 and I would like to thank everyone at the company for their support in helping me become the player I am today," McIlroy said in a news release.
The player, who topped the money-lists on both sides of the Atlantic last year, said in November he did not think that ditching the Titleist clubs that have taken him to the top of the sport would affect his game.
Nike is hoping a partnership with the clean-cut McIlroy will help it to move on after it dropped disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong last year over his doping scandal.
The company stuck with former world number one golfer Tiger Woods despite the bad publicity the American suffered when a series of extra-marital affairs were exposed in 2009.
(Writing by Keith Weir; editing by Tony Jimenez and Justin Palmer)