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To a lot of people, IMG is a four-letter word.
It is, quite simply, the most powerful, farsighted, far-reaching (some would say grabby) corporation in the world of sport: International Management Group, the company that people love to hate.
Not its clients, of course, who would never refer to IMG with any four letters other than R-I-C-H. Not the Chris Everts and Greg Normans and John Maddens, whom IMG has helped make as wealthy as sheiks by arranging their commercial endorsements and managing their finances. Not the Wimbledons and U.S. Golf Associations and Albertville Olympic Committees, whose coffers are overflowing thanks in large measure to IMG's handling of their licensing, merchandising and television contracts. Not even the Hertzes, Rolexes and Nestlés, corporations that fork out small fortunes to sponsor IMG-run events, rent IMG tents and have outings with IMG clients. Nope, all those folks will turn blue in the face telling you how honest, innovative and dependable IMG—specifically, Mark Hume McCormack, its founder and chief executive officer—is to deal with.
Everyone else in the sports world, though, has it in for IMG. "We're IBM, the 1927 Yankees, whatever," says Hughes Norton, 42, the head of IMG's golf division. "Everybody hates us."
Is it professional jealousy, as IMG proponents maintain? Or is there something insidious about this multinational, Cleveland-headquartered conglomerate, which is one of the great business success stories of the past 30 years?
Competitors, in wooing potential clients, bad-mouth IMG as being too big and impersonal, while inwardly chafing at IMG's swashbuckling corporate arrogance. "They're heavy-handed people," says one ex-IMG executive. "They push for the maximum. I think IMG has often been successful in spite of itself."
Many members of the business community who have never made a deal with McCormack are wary of his reputation as a shrewd negotiator, and vaguely mistrust the personal style and motives of the man who six years ago wrote the best-selling business advice book What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School. "My stomach tells me that McCormack is the ultimate hustler, that he will use you to the nth degree," says the head of one Fortune 500 company, whose misgivings about McCormack have kept him from taking the IMG plunge. "There's something shady and unattractive about him—he doesn't give much eye contact. I wish I could be more specific. It's just a feeling I have."
Many in the media are similarly antagonistic toward IMG. The company's agents, like all sports agents, vigilantly shield their biggest clients from all but a handful of interviews. What sets many IMG agents apart is the supercilious manner in which they often deal with the press and public relations people, expending an absolute minimum of courtesy. "The worst thing about being represented by IMG is always having to defend it," says one former client, Greg Lewis, a sportscaster for NBC. "It's like having a tattoo."
And just about everyone vilifies IMG for being, well, too all-encompassing and powerful, with tentacles that reach into the backwaters where sport and the dollar meet.
Whose idea do you suppose it was to spread the Olympic Games, Summer and Winter, over three weekends instead of two, as was first done at Calgary in 1988? Who invented the corporate tent for major sports events, those portable entertainment centers just off the 10th tee or just beyond center court, which have been sprouting like mushrooms after a rain ever since the '74 Wimbledon championships? Who made commonplace the practice of paying golfers appearance fees—sums that are often greater than the first-place money at the tournament in which the golfer is to play—to lure American stars to the European, Japanese and Australian tours? The answer to all these questions is IMG.