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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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With IMG's marketing program, COJO has been able to meet its goal of raising $140 million in sponsorship money from French corporations, nearly twice what the 1988 Calgary organizers took in and about what fund-raisers amassed from sponsors for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

While other U.S. businesses are scrambling to gain a foothold overseas in time for 1992, which is when Europe's trade barriers are scheduled to come tumbling down, IMG is already firmly in place. IMG offices have been established in 10 European countries, staffed, for the most part, by citizens of the country in which each is located. And though McCormack & Co. could hardly have predicted the collapse of the Iron Curtain, IMG was nonetheless prepared when it happened. It has had an office in Budapest since 1988, already represents a number of Soviet athletes—mostly tennis and basketball players—and is helping the Soviets build their first golf course.

The global opportunities are so vast that a few giant international advertising conglomerates, such as England's Saatchi and Saatchi and Japan's Dentsu, are getting in on the action, creating sports marketing departments of their own. For now, IMG isn't worried. "We have no competitors within light-years of where we are," says McCormack. "And I can't think of two companies out there who could merge and cause a ripple in our business."

IMG's three backbone divisions are golf, tennis and television (box, page 101). "Nobody is competitive with IMG in golf," says one former IMGer. "Nobody can provide the income for its clients in that sport as IMG can, and making money for clients is the answer at the end of the day."

How much money? "Telephone numbers," says Norton. "People ask what I do for a living, I tell them I make rich people richer."

Greg Norman of Australia, who made some $10 million in endorsement and appearance money last year, is an IMG client. So are Curtis Strange ($4 million) and Nancy Lopez ($1.8 million) of the U.S., Bernhard Langer ($3 million) of West Germany, Nick Faldo ($3 million) of England, Sandy Lyle ($2.5 million) of Scotland, Ayako Okamoto ($2.5 million) and Isao Aoki ($2 million) of Japan and Ian Woosnam ($2 million) of Wales. In an era in which Americans no longer dominate golf, IMG already has a formidable multinational lineup.

The sport, popular not long ago in only the U.S. and the U.K., has been diffused—the best golfers in the world play all over the world—and IMG has taken full advantage of that realignment. For instance, on one of golf's busiest weekends last year, ending on Sunday, Oct. 15, there were five important tournaments in four different countries: the Gatlin Brothers Southwest Senior Classic in Abilene, Texas; the Suntory World Match Play Championship in Virginia Water, England; the BMW International in Munich; the Polaroid Cup Golf Digest in Susono, Japan; and the Fujitsu Ladies Cup in Ichihara, Japan. IMG, which ran the World Match Play Championship, had clients win money in all five events.

Successful golf tours have sprung up in Europe, Japan, Australia and South Africa. How does a player decide which tournament to enter? Let the bidding begin. Appearance money, airline tickets and hotel suites are all negotiable items, and IMG will be happy to do the negotiating—accepting, of course, its standard 25% commission for the service. Thus far, Deane Be-man, the commissioner of the PGA Tour, has held firm against the payment of appearance money in the U.S., where million-dollar purses have, at least for the time being, provided enough of an incentive to attract decent fields. But that too may change, as late-season PGA tournaments, such as the Southern Open and Texas Open, come to grips with the fact that the only way to lure top stars like Mark Calcavecchia, Raymond Floyd and Strange is by matching the guaranteed bucks that are available on the foreign tours.

Says Norton, "One promoter wanted Norman to play in his tournament in Australia, and I told him there was just no way. Greg wanted that week off. The promoter said, 'What would it take to get him?' I said, 'O.K., $500,000.' The guy didn't bat an eye. 'Done.' I called Greg, and his reaction was, 'How can we turn that down?' "

How, indeed? The worry, though, is that chasing the highest bidder all over the globe can bring on golfer burnout, otherwise known as the Bill Rogers syndrome. Rogers, who is now 38, was, he says, "the perfect IMG client. I liked to travel, and I could carry on a decent conversation with clients." So he traveled and conversed. In 1981, when he was the PGA Player of the Year, he won seven tournaments: three PGA events, the British Open, two events in Australia and one in Japan. He was also a member of the winning U.S. team at the Ryder Cup matches, held in England. The only problem was, even with all those victories, Rogers lost his desire to play. He has won only one tournament since and has not finished higher than 128th on the money list in the past six years. He seldom plays competitively anymore.

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