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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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And yet, from IMG's perspective, creating the Shootout is merely another method of generating a money-making opportunity for its tennis-playing clients. The company isn't in the business of preserving traditions. If there is a television audience willing to watch an unorthodox event like the Shootout or the Skins Games, well, isn't that what business is all about, identifying and satisfying untapped markets?

Even Chatrier has come to realize that. Recently, he lent his name and support to a special, nontour event called the Grand Slam Cup. The 16 players with the best records in this year's Grand Slam events will meet in Munich in December to vie for the richest purse in tennis history. First place alone will be worth $2 million. Vive la tradition.

Throughout most of its existence, IMG placed little emphasis on team sports. That is changing. "We've been representing football and basketball players for 20 years, but we've never put a lot behind it until recently," says Peter Johnson, head of IMG's team sports division.

Lower commissions is the main reason for this neglect. An agent for a football or baseball player—and there are hundreds of these agents—generally gets a 3%-5% cut of the client's contract, as opposed to the 25% or so that IMG charges its golfers and tennis players. Because of the regional nature of fans' allegiances, team sport athletes are not as broadly marketable as those involved in individual sports, unless they are superstars like Joe Montana or Michael Jordan. Recently, however, the dollar values of the team contracts have grown so huge—anyone from an infielder who hits .250 to an untried football draft choice may qualify for a multimillion-dollar contract—"that the lower percentage we get is still worthwhile," says McCormack.

How, then, to break into the market? Johnson's idea was, if you can't beat them, buy them. IMG approached a number of the larger baseball agents about acquiring their businesses and in July 1987 bought the firm of Reich, Landman and Berry. IMG's baseball stable had only 10 clients then. Today, with Tom Reich as division president, it has 75, including Jack Clark, Tim Raines, Ruben Sierra, Julio Franco and Steve Sax. "Why get in with IMG?" asks Reich. "What we are seeing in the 1980s is only a precursor of what's to come, a sky's-the-limit type poker game [as baseball and other team sports become increasingly international]. IMG gave me a chance to expand my horizons." Since October, IMG's baseball clients have signed contracts worth more than $50 million.

To beef up its basketball and football divisions, in 1988 IMG took on two more sports agents, Larry Fleisher (the former head of the NBA Players Association, who died suddenly of a heart attack in May 1989; his sons, Eric and Marc, have taken over for him) and Ralph Cindrich, plus their clientele. Today, IMG represents 25 NBA players, including A.C. Green and Mike Gminski, and 40 NFLers, most notably Herschel Walker, Al Toon and John Offerdahl. IMG has only three hockey clients, but they're beauts: Mario Lemieux, Luc Robitaille and Paul Coffey, all of whom Reich signed after joining IMG. In sheer numbers, IMG now handles more team sport athletes than anyone else in the business, and it expects to acquire even more agents and their big-name client lists. Says McCormack, "Basketball has the biggest export potential of the American team sports. Internationally, fans still need more education in football and baseball."

And you can bet that IMG will be part of that educational process, particularly in Great Britain. In March, a newly formed satellite station called the BSB Sports Channel, the ESPN of England, began broadcasting. The company that landed the $250 million, five-year contract to provide some 5,000 hours of sports programming a year to BSB is Trans World International (TWI), the television and film branch of IMG.

TWI purports to be the world's largest independent source of televised sports, producing more than 100 sports shows annually, including the World Professional Figure Skating Championships, the Skins Game, the Seniors Skins Game, several American and European PGA events and some events that are colorfully referred to as trashsports. The Superstars—which has been running for 18 years—Survival of the Fittest, American Gladiators and the World's Strongest Man fall into that category.

One of TWI's most successful ventures is a program called Trans World Sports, a weekly, hourlong show that summarizes the week's sporting events on five continents—from major league baseball to Australian rules football to the Mount Cameroon footrace to badminton in China. The program is put together in London on a scant weekly budget of $75,000, exclusive of salaries. It is translated into 15 languages and distributed to 61 countries, including the U.S., where it is carried by SportsChannel. TWI officials brag that Trans World Sports is the most widely viewed program in the world. "It's the show of the week in Zimbabwe," says Stewart Binns, the program's executive producer. "We've made some big friends covering events in Africa."

Big friends who, no doubt, sometime in the 21st century will be contacted by IMG about running the inaugural Zimbabwe Open.

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