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E.M. Swift
May 21, 1990
Mark McCormack, founder and CEO of International Management Group, rules his empire as both agent and impresario
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May 21, 1990

The Most Powerful Man In Sports

Mark McCormack, founder and CEO of International Management Group, rules his empire as both agent and impresario

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McCormack closely guards IMG's profit figures, but in terms of revenues, TWI contributes 28% of the company's revenue. And the feeling within IMG is, you ain't seen nothin' yet. "Television is a mature business in the United States, but it's exploding in Europe," says Peter Smith, a senior vice-president of TWI. "And with so many non-Americans winning major sporting events, the climate is like it was during the sports television boom in the U.S. in the 1960s."

Says Drossart, who runs TWI in Europe and the Middle East: "At the beginning of the 1980s, there were only three television stations in the U.K., three in France, two in Spain, four in Italy and three in Germany. Now there are five more stations in Great Britain. France has seven channels. West Germany, seven. Italy, nine. And Spain has three new ones. They need programming."

So, eventually, will the newly liberated Eastern Europeans. The opportunities for IMG there are vast, but they will be slow to unfold, primarily because of the lack of hard currency in those countries. What McCormack will probably do initially is convince a company that would like to sell a product in Eastern Europe—Heinz, for example—to finance the airing of an IMG program like Trans World Sports.

TV stations in Europe will be bidding enormous sums of money for an array of sporting events. IMG has already started the ball rolling in that direction by paying $32 million over three years—almost a quarter of its BSB budget—to televise 40 English and Scottish League soccer games. Other sports that IMG is planning to air on BSB include cricket, snooker, rugby, boxing and Monday night football from the U.S. And, of course, the ATP Tour, which the company already owns the rights to.

The 5,000 hours of sports programming that BSB will air each year are 5,000 hours in which IMG could subtly or shamelessly promote its own clients and special events. Certainly that is one of the fears of IMG's critics, who note that with so many governing bodies, big-name stars and corporate sponsors feeding from the IMG trough, the integrity of the games themselves are at risk. Who is left to block the path of IMG's relentless commercialization of sports in its pursuit of profits? How far down that road are the powers-that-be in sports willing to travel? "An Olympic athlete running in a Hertz uniform is a generation away," predicts McCormack, without regret or apology. "We're heading in that direction."

And no doubt McCormack would like to be around to pull off that particular marketing coup. He has no plans to hand over the IMG reins anytime soon. "Most people retire to do something they've always wanted to do," he says. "I'm already doing it. But I have a lot of intricate plans about what happens to the company when I die. I think I've got a plan that would keep the key people in place after I'm gone, but no one will know what that plan is until something does happen."

McCormack's considerable ego would not allow his successor to be anything less than a heavyweight. Ideally, he, or she—Nagelsen has indicated that she would like to take an active role in the business—would be someone with an international reputation, managerial skills and vision. Oh yes, definitely vision. Because, make no mistake, IMG did not get to be in the position it is in today by exploiting its conflicts of interest, terrorizing the competition and shoving trashsports down the throats of an unwilling public. McCormack foresaw the future and, in the best traditions of American industrialists, prepared to meet it. McCormack not only built a company, he built an entire industry. And in that sense, Mark Hume McCormack and the four-letter word he created—IMG—will go on living for a long, long time.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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