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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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"Even so, I don't have too many financial problems," says Rogers. "But I had to travel an awful lot to be in a position to say that. I don't blame IMG for my loss of desire. It's not like they're holding a gun to your head saying these are the tournaments to go to."

Says Strange, who is a close friend of Rogers's, "It's tough sometimes to say no. People would get dizzy if they knew what we made off the golf course."

Some folks get dizzy with rage. When David Inglis, the promoter of a tournament called the Australian Classic, found out that Norman's asking price to play in Inglis's event was more than the first prize of 180,000 Australian dollars, he went public with it, to Norman's anger and IMG's dismay, NORMAN DOESN'T COME CHEAP ran the headline in a Melbourne paper, and the story was picked up around the world. McCormack's reaction when Norton told him about the incident? "I hope you didn't lower your price." Norton didn't. Inglis paid. And Norman played.

Says Ken Schofield, executive director of the European PGA Tour, "Appearance money has become a big issue in Europe, and I am pretty concerned about it. But the fact is, it happens. The problem lies not with the receiver but with the payer. And when the person promoting a tournament also happens to represent a stable of players of the caliber of Lyle and Faldo and the others, that can present a conflict of interest."

No kidding. IMG says that as long as everyone knows beforehand that relationships of that sort exist, there is no conflict. But uneasy lies Schofield's hegemony over professional golf in Europe. IMG runs nine of the 34 events on the European tour, including four tournaments that IMG started: the Suntory World Match Play Championship, the Lancôme Trophy in Paris, the Dunhill Cup at St. Andrews and the Austrian Open near Salzburg. IMG also produces the telecasts of 12 tournaments and represents virtually every top European player except Seve Ballesteros. That invests IMG with an enormous amount of leverage, which it is not reluctant to use to get its wishes.

"McCormack is basically all-embracing," Schofield says. "While we do use other promoters, IMG runs more of our tournaments than anybody else. But I do not think that is necessarily bad. It may be very well and nice for those of us involved in the sports industry to tell the promoters that they can only promote, to tell the broadcasters they can only broadcast. But the countries we live and work in don't allow us to do that. Whether McCormack's power is good or bad for sports just is not an issue. He can do what the law says he can."

And that means he can do virtually everything in his power to keep IMG competitors out of the way. "There was the Moroccan Open in 1986, for example," says a former IMG employee. "ProServ [an Arlington, Va.-based firm that is one of IMG's larger competitors] got the deal to market the event and recruit the players. IMG lost the bid. McCormack's immediate reaction was, 'How can we screw it up? How can we make them look bad?' The way to do that was to hold back IMG players. So that's what he tried to do." (As it turned out, it wasn't necessary. According to ProServ, the tournament never got off the ground because of concerns about security.)

Responds McCormack, "I'm not going to deny I might have said that. We do not go out of our way to make our opponents' special events look good, and they don't go out of their way to make ours look good."

And special events are the direction in which golf is heading, much to the chagrin of traditionalists. Last year, for instance, IMG—which created (with producer Don Ohlmeyer) the monumentally successful Skins Game—introduced the Australian Skins Game, the Seniors Skins Game and the RMCC Invitational, hosted by Norman. All are big-name, made-for-television events of which IMG owns all or part. It so happens that Norman's tournament was scheduled opposite the World Cup, a 35-year-old team event that, like IMG's five-year-old Dunhill Cup, is similar to the Davis Cup in tennis.

"Burch Riber, who runs the World Cup, swore at me up and down that we were trying to put him out of business," says Norton. "He wanted to know why we couldn't leave the little guys alone. I told him that November 16-19 were the only dates the PGA had available to hold Greg's tournament. Do we sit around and dream up events to run opposite something we aren't involved in? The answer is no. Are we unhappy when one of our events conflicts with something put on by a competitor? Put it this way, it's not an unpleasing experience to us. But we know we can't run every event, and we don't try to."

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