To the Plodders of this world who have watched him whiz by these many years, it is a source of amusement that Mark H. McCormack still feels compelled to scribble the word "run" atop his things-to-do-today list. As superfluities go, that is like reminding Secretariat to giddyap or a bullet to accelerate. "The plain truth is," says a close friend, "Mark has been running flat-out and hell-bent for who knows where since birth."
Still, McCormack is nothing if not a slave to the directives he jots down on his trusty yellow legal pad each day, blocking out a track meet of a schedule that would leave the average fast-stepping tycoon gasping at the first turn. So if the pad says "run," run he does—in place, arms churning, knees pumping above the waist, left foot stomping out a rhythmic pace of 100 beats a minute, just as his trainer, Gary Player, taught him.
McCormack, a tall, graying blond with a look of perpetual anticipation, runs in the dim solitude of predawn, blotting his Arnold Palmer pajamas with sweat long before most mortal toilers are even stirring. As he runs he plots, his eyes scanning the notations on his pad: "Call Stockholm re ski promo"; "Review Brooks Robinson cash flow"; "Cricket bat tie-in?" And he runs everywhere, in his $300,000 split-level in suburban Cleveland, in his futuristic Manhattan apartment overlooking Central Park, in his elegant London town house, in his palm-draped condominium in the Fiji Islands. "The sun never sets on my condos," says McCormack.
Nor on his empire. With 250 employees in 12 offices around the world, McCormack's International Management Group, a vast complex of companies specializing in athlete management and sports promotion, is busy turning muscle into money somewhere on the globe 24 hours a day.
May 11, 1975
And so very nearly is McCormack. Even after he has showered, dressed—Jean-Claude Killy socks, Fran Tarkenton shirt, Rod Laver suit, Tony Jacklin shoes—and embarked on his business day, the image of the runner remains. Indeed, when McCormack hits full stride, jet hopping oceans and continents, playing his bank of push-button telephones like a Wurlitzer or giving dictation while being measured for the latest in John Newcombe casual wear, the thudding football at 100 beats per minute almost can be heard.
Though his finish line is not yet in sight, the total of his split times already precludes the need for a closing kick. Mark H. McCormack, 44, of Pepper Pike, Ohio long ago lapped the field. He is the most powerful man in professional sport.
Pete Rozelle or Bowie Kuhn or Roone Arledge or Charles O. Finley might beg to differ. But they and all the other so-called sports czars seem but provincial chieftains in the wide, wide world where McCormack reigns. Though some of his subjects consider him a grubbing despot, McCormack commands bows from even as intense a competitor as Bob Woolf, the Boston attorney who occasionally has claimed the most-powerful title for himself. "I have nothing but admiration for McCormack," says Woolf. "He is one of the pioneers, the man who helped bring integrity and professionalism to the field. I'd like to meet him some time."
There's not much chance of that. McCormack himself does not deign to dabble much in team sports, the area in which Woolf and most other sports lawyers concentrate. Notoriety by headline, salary disputes, recruiting wars, league jumpings, strikes and suits are unseemly to McCormack. Nonetheless, his IMG staff not only dabbles in that end of the business, it dominates it. IMG engineered the stunning $3.84 million deal that is scheduled to send the celebrated Miami Dolphin trio of Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield to the WFL. And McCormack's people arranged it so that the threesome will get paid whether the league folds or not. It is just one measure of McCormack's far-flung clout that team sports, the field most often associated with jock managers, represents barely 5% of his total operation.
Indeed, Mark the man-machine seems limited only by the sweep hand on his Jackie Stewart watch, which is permanently set live minutes ahead "to get me inspired." While making a pit stop recently at the refrigerator in Evonne Goolagong's condominium in Hilton Head, S.C., McCormack confessed to the obvious. "Time," he said while munching on a fistful of American cheese for breakfast, "time is my No. 1 enemy."
The competition for that distinction is heavy. Over the past 15 years, from the day he turned his first nickel on behalf of Arnold Palmer, still his premier client, to this year, when IMG will gross $25 million or so, McCormack has elicited the kind of reactions that charitably might be called mixed. In Britain he has been called Mark the Knife, in New Zealand the Traveling Computer, in France the Midas of Muscle and in the U.S., well, take your pick. Parasite, megalomaniac and cold fish are a few of the more endearing appraisals.
Of course, the opinions vary, depending on whether the speaker is a giver or a getter. "The best thing that ever happened to me in my entire life was meeting Mark McCormack," says Gary Player. "All the material success I've had I owe to him. He has gotten me the best contracts, the most lucrative deals. But for Mark I'd have just been peanuts."
Just how hard a bargain McCormack drives is reflected by the fact that "McCormack Numbers" has become a front-office euphemism for exorbitant demands; some players have even been known to get a pay raise merely by threatening to join IMG. Still, McCormack has won grudging respect in the boardrooms of the world. John DeLorean, who as top man at Pontiac and later Chevrolet went head-to-head with McCormack on many big-money endorsement deals, says, "All I know is when I get to that big economic entity up in the sky I want McCormack to represent me."
No one, foe or friend, would be surprised if McCormack already had St. Peter under contract for halo and harp rights plus a 30% cut of the Pearly Gates. As it is his behind-the-scenes operation so nearly resembles another of his unflattering nicknames, Octopus Unltd., that the public as well as those within IMG's grasp have little notion of its all-embracing reach.
In 1973, for example, when most of the male players boycotted Wimbledon to protest the banning of Nikki Pilic, McCormack was split every which way. Not only was IMG under contract to film the matches, but nearly all the principals were McCormack clients: Wimbledon itself; the BBC, which televised the event; John Newcombe, spokesman for the players; Roger Taylor, who defied the boycott; World Championship Tennis, which was apprehensive about the effect of the boycott on its tour; and the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, which feared that Forest Hills might also be sabotaged. Bud Collins, the man in the TV booth who was supposed to explain the meaning of it all, may have had a slight advantage in getting the word from all sides; he, too, is a McCormack man.
Though conflicts of interest seem to abound, McCormack protests otherwise. "There are two things you do to solve that problem," he says. "First, you make a full disclosure of your commitments to all parties. Second, you get the consent of all parties. We did that at Wimbledon, and we must have done a good job because everyone is still with us."
McCormack has been on so many sides of so many negotiating tables that it is almost impossible to define what he is. Say he's an agent and he will run you through with a nine-iron. "I'm not an agent" he insists. "Agents are fat bald guys with cigars. Agents book bands. I'm a manager, sort of an engineer of not only careers and lives but of things, of concepts, ideas." How many careers? "Let's see, what day is today?"
McCormack keeps no active client list for fear that rivals will use it to lure away prospects ("Look at that gang of names! Go with McCormack, kid, and you'll get lost in the crowd"). The IMG lineup includes more than 150 athletes and 100 other assorted celebrities, teams, associations, corporations and TV networks. What do model Jean Shrimpton, Xerox, the Atlanta Flames, Oriole Manager Earl Weaver, Singapore Broadcasting, flycaster Bill True and the Professional Archers Association have in common? The answer is McCormack, who says, "Stacking us up against our competition is like comparing General Motors to a garage."
Haughty as that may sound, Suite 1300, One Erieview Plaza, Cleveland, otherwise known as the Wonderful World of Tax Shelters, Capital Gains and Deferred Compensations, does indeed resemble a long assembly line. When a new client comes in one door, he will go out the other greased, tuned and buffed like a showroom model. Beyond the usual merchandising and contract negotiating, IMG may pay an athlete's bills, supervise his investments, answer his mail, direct his publicity, handle his insurance, put him on a budget, plan his estate, arrange his itineraries, sell his book, buy his wife's birthday present and lend a sympathetic ear at two a.m. to hear why his coach doesn't love him anymore.
Depending on the sport and the services rendered, IMG's fee can go as high as 50% of a player's total earnings. The average is 25%. "And why not?" says McCormack, who earns $500,000 a year. "We have the contacts, we have the expertise and we have the clients. We don't do anything for 10%."
Profitwise, as the boys in Suite 1300 like to say, IMG does plenty to justify its $2.5 million payroll. The 10 companies comprising IMG overlap and interlock in ways so subtle that they are best explained by a hypothetical example.
Suppose for a fanciful moment that you are president of Amalgamated Criddles Inc., and sales are down. The problem has something to do with a spotty marketing mix. Enter Merchandising Consultants International, an IMG enterprise designed to advise corporations on "the promotional uses of sport for commercial purposes." If MCI were to hand out criddle endorsements strictly to IMG clients (and why not?), it might have its sister company, International Merchandising Corporation, bring in Bjorn Borg (youth market), Frank Robinson (ethnic), John Havlicek (New England), Stan Mikita (Midwest) and Pelé (international).
What's that? Mothers love criddles, too? Say no more. IMC will deliver, direct from Cape Town, the Rosenkowitz sextuplets, IMG clients all, to cry their little hearts out for criddles.
With that kind of demographic slice, how can Amalgamated miss? And speaking of slices, you absolutely must have International Management Inc. stage one of its fab VIP golf weekends. You invite your target accounts, and IMI will provide your choice of stars from its stable of three dozen golfers and handle all the arrangements, right down to plastering the old Criddles logo on everything from the cocktail napkins to the courtesy cars. And for the awards banquet IMI will bring in its Winsome Twosome: Dave Marr spinning his priceless clubhouse yarns followed by the 1970 U.S. Open champ crooning selections from his latest album Tony Jacklin Swings....
With that kind of talent around, how can you resist staging your own TV sports spectacular? How about The Criddles Kick the Can Open? Just the ticket to perk up your lagging six-pack sales. Trans World International Inc. will create, package and sell the show. And with IMG's cast of luminaries, the possibilities are endless. Archie Manning, dynamite in the Southern market, will captain one team, and for the violence freaks, Dick Butkus the other. Chris Schenkel will handle the kick-by-kick. Willie Shoemaker, up on a white charger, will lead the Parade of Champions. Motormarketing International Inc. will supply his escort: Emerson Fittipaldi in a Go-kart. That's always a laugh-getter. The float, towed by the French Connection line of the Buffalo Sabres, will feature Janet Lynn pirouetting on an Arnold Palmer artificial putting green that converts into an ice-skating rink.
International Literary Management Inc. will peddle the magazine series: It's All in the Ankle. Fashionart International Inc. will have Vidal Sassoon handle makeup. International Insurance Agency Inc. will underwrite the whole thing. International Financial Management Inc. will show you new and exciting ways to write it off. And if you're wondering how you're going to pay for it, why not let Investment Advisors International Inc. sink your money into some oil wells with a superstar like Ilie Nastase as your venture capital partner? After all, how many other hackers can hang around the neighborhood racquet club saying, "As I was telling Ilie-baby the other day when our gusher came in...."
Farfetched, perhaps, but variations on that theme are played every day by the Mark H. McCormack Drum & Ballyhoo Corps. For a newcomer the ringing accompaniment of the cash register can be downright symphonic.
Take the case of Laura Baugh. Two years ago she was a talented but needy young amateur golfer from Long Beach, Calif. who wrote several local newspapers offering to sell the story of her intention to turn pro. No one was interested—except McCormack, who caught a glimpse of her looks and pronounced her an eminently "salable commodity." Trouble was she had six months to wait before she turned 18 and could officially join the women's pro tour. So McCormack packed her off to Japan to play in the World Ladies Open and the rest, as they say, is merchandising history.
As McCormack hoped, the golf-mad, lens-happy Japanese could not focus often enough on the curvy blonde prototype of Western pulchritude. Almost overnight her picture was everywhere; sales of a 1974 calendar bearing her blue-eyed visage had the Japanese standing in lines for up to two hours. There followed Laura Baugh clocks, photo albums, cosmetics, school supplies, "Learn English" cassettes, sporting wear, LP records, golf accessories and a 26-week TV series that all but toppled a competing sumo wrestling show out of the ratings.
Before ever teeing up as a member of the LPGA, Laura Baugh became the highest-paid woman in golf, with earnings of $100,000 in less than six months. No matter that last year, her first full season on the U.S. pro tour, she failed to win a tournament. Americans joined the Japanese in dogging her trail, and a Laura's Legion was formed. Moving smartly into the U.S. dimple market with such tie-ins as her Ultra-Brite commercial (Chorus: "How's your love life?" She: "Uh, what's a love life?"), the 19-year-old Baugh earned $300,000.
And what about Philip Martyn? Never heard of him? Enough jet-set faddists had that a bunch went winging off to Monte Carlo last year for a little backgammon spectacular McCormack tossed together for Martyn, one of the game's top professionals. With Mark the Shark making all the fast moves, Cartier picked up the tab and Martyn raked in more than $50,000, pushing his income close to the quarter-million mark for the year.
McCormack obviously knows how to run with a winner. There is no better example of this than Superstars, that irrepressible TV thing that pits a cross section of athletes, many of them IMG plants, against one another in a Kiwanis picnic decathlon. The first Superstars, which IMG packaged and had to find a sponsor for before ABC would touch it, was so successful that it begat an expanded Superstars which begat Women's Superstars which begat Team Superstars which begat Celebrity Superstars which begat a total of 24¼ sweaty hours of programming. Coming up next year: Hall of Fame Superstars in which IMG hopes to have such notable graybeards as Sam Snead, Jack Kramer and Otto Graham compete against cardiac arrest.
Kyle Rote Jr., the $1,400-a-year soccer player who won the 1974 Superstars, parlayed the win into $200,000 through McCormack's promotional efforts.
IMG has staged two British versions of Superstars which included such touching moments as Jacklin all but dismembering himself on the parallel bars. This year European Superstars will debut with six countries participating, and so will Down Under versions in Australia and New Zealand. With the addition of Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan next year there will be Western Pacific Superstars. All of this is a mere prelude to 1977 and the inevitable World Superstars.
The ability to create a new "sport" and turn it into a global happening affirms what IMG has known all along: soft sell or hard, the medium is indeed the message. With the networks presumably willing to air anything this side of a PTA canasta party if it is brought in with the sponsors already in hand, IMG stands ready to gift wrap a TV sports package to meet any merchandising need, including its own.
In 1970, two years after McCormack had earned Jean-Claude Killy $2 million on the strength of the three gold medals he won at the Grenoble Winter Olympics, the Gallic-charmer was in danger of losing his selling power because of lack of exposure.
"We had to figure out some way to get Jean-Claude back on the slopes without tarnishing his winner's image," says McCormack. His solution was The Killy Challenge, a series of televised races in which the master gave his opponents a head start, then chased them on a parallel slalom course. Though it had its sporting moments, The Killy Challenge was in effect an eight-week advertisement that Killy was alive, well and still a viable force in the marketplace. "There was no gamble," says McCormack. "Even if Jean-Claude lost, people would say, 'Well, after all, the other guy started ahead of him.' There was no way he could lose." And he didn't, perhaps because all but one of the opponents selected were from the Alpine version of the bum-of-the-week club.
In tennis other marketing goals have inspired IMG to serve up Ford's World Invitational Tennis Classic, IS eggs World Series of Women's Tennis, the Colgate Mixed Doubles and the Bristol-Meyers Mixed Doubles. (No conflict there, says one IMG salesman, "because the Colgate men are all under 40 and the Bristol-Meyers guys are all senior tennis citizens.") It must make sense to someone. Four years ago, before IMG was completely plugged in, there were only six hours of tennis on national TV. This year there will be 122, 101½ of them brought to you through the lucrative efforts of Mac's Pack.
That kind of saturation means IMG sports programs sometimes end up competing against one another on all three networks on the same weekend afternoon. Even so, with additional income reaped from tie-ins ("Munsingwear, the official clothiers for The Superstars") and the distribution of reruns in foreign markets, the incentive for IMG to dream up more offbeat productions is irresistible. IMG sideshows this year will include the NFL Arm-Wrestling Championship, the Saturday Night Sports Special (karate, indoor soccer, etc.) and the $100,000 Super Mile starring Ben Jipcho, Jim Ryun and Kip Keino. The latest brainchild is Challenge of the Sexes, which promises all sorts of fun pairings like Nastase, limited to one serve and forbidden to rush the net, vs. Goolagong.
"We're coming into an era when sports will be fun again," says IMG Vice-President Barry Frank. "What I call the Ray Scott School, the school that treats sports as a religion, is, happily, on the way out. Sports are the greatest thing that ever happened to TV, the only honest thing that goes on. And I don't just say that because we've got the field surrounded. As the overall quality of TV continues to deteriorate, sports will become even more effective. There's no such thing as too much sports on TV."
But McCormack feels there can be too much money—when it is out front where everyone can ogle it. He contends that the $100,000 "winner-take-all" purse publicized for the challenge match the IMG promoted between Laver and Jimmy Connors in Las Vegas earlier this year fell just within the bounds of decency. The $250,000 prize for last week's encounter between Connors and Newcombe was something else. Rather, it was the work of someone else.
"Connors' manager insisted that he run the thing or else there was no match," McCormack says. "We went along only because John wanted to beat Connors so badly. But $150,000 or so should have been cut from the prize structure and split between the players some other way, because $250,000 was just too much. It cheapens all the other tournaments. After the $64,000 Question, who's interested in a $400 trip to Newark?"
After all the messy haggling over money that has been going on in sport lately, how many fans are interested in cheering a player or a team they know will desert their affections tomorrow if the price is right? There seems to be a growing sentiment that professional sports are becoming too openly commercial for their own good.
McCormack recognizes the mood, respects its implications and rejects it. "Maybe it is all just a matter of growing up," he says. "Fans do tend to be children. They try to pretend that the athlete of their fancy is out there doing what he excels at for some greater good or glory than a buck. That naive view is probably the nub of the problem, and the fault lies with the fan, not the athlete who always knew he was playing for the dollars and not much else."
Jacklin, a sweet-natured chap, agrees: "I think Mark McCormack is a genuine person, even though he's ruthless in a way that is necessary for success. It's a cruel world, and although it's a selfish way to look at it, you've got to take what you can get."
If the attitude of athlete-as-money-maker is destined to become more prevalent, then McCormack is very much the sports savant of the '70s. Point of view is critical. Where a fan sees a wide receiver spearing a pass in the end zone or a base runner belly-sliding into the plate, McCormack sees "pawns in the massive, changing, vigorously competitive arenas of advertising and marketing."
Given that thinking, winning on the field of play becomes secondary. What becomes important is sending Jody Scheckter to the barber, the tailor and speech school to erase his "bumpkin image" and knowing not to market Dave Eichelberger in Japan because of pronunciation difficulties. And according to McCormack's First Law of Piggyback Plugs, all clients, regardless of where they are or whose advertisement they are appearing in, must sip the "right" soft drink and be attired from spit shine to snap-brim in products they endorse.
"I'm much more concerned with a man's personality than with his game," says McCormack. "It's the same as a golf swing—it's what's inside that counts."
How that indefinable inside projects itself to the impressionable outside is the key, according to IMG Vice-President Jules Rosenthal. "You have to sell a company on the ambience of a person," he says. "You can't sell on winning ability. Billy Casper, Frank Beard and George Archer all won big, but where is their lasting quality? It doesn't matter whether Palmer wins anymore. He's gone from golfer to sports personality to international brand. It's all in knowing how to image your people. For instance, we turned down a cupcake deal for Arnold because it just didn't seem right for the Latrobe strongman to be eating cupcakes. Breakfast cereal, yes. Cupcakes, no. Grooming aids, yes. Deodorants, no.
"We're high medium. No way we would have Laura Baugh involved with canvas shoes that retail for $9.95. When Johnny Miller, who is not our client, went with Sears he niched himself. Now he will never get in on toiletries that retail for $14.50. He's forever Old Spice."
Over the years, says McCormack, "there has hardly been a champion who hasn't approached me at one moment or another to represent him." By applying his inside-outside theory, he has turned down Muhammad Ali among others. "That was back when he was Cassius Clay," McCormack says. "It had nothing to do with race. It had to do with image. He was not the kind of guy whom Singer Sewing Machine would want to sign up. Neither was Joe Namath when he first came up."
As a primer in athlete merchandising, McCormack's gallery of rejects and near-misses warrants review.
Wilt Chamberlain: "It's hard to relate to someone who's 7 feet," says McCormack. "I mean, what do you do with him? Maybe put him in a Volkswagen to show legroom. But what after that?"
Bobby Fischer: "He came to me shortly before Reykjavik, and I wanted him to get busy with newspaper columns and so on. I could have earned him $2 million right off, but he wasn't interested. Fischer is a very shortsighted man in everything but chess."
Mickey Mantle: "His financial affairs, part ownership in bowling alleys and that sort of thing, were a total disaster. Beyond rescue."
Mark Spitz: "He thought our 25% fee was too high. I was in Teheran at the time, and I told our people not to concede. Frankly, I wasn't all that sure what we could do for him. After all, there's nobody for him to swim against."
Willie Mays: "He came around too late in his career."
Ben Crenshaw: "A real tragedy, the biggest waste in the history of golf. He has lots of charisma, but he failed to realize the importance of timing. You either capitalize on someone when they first come up or you have to wait until they make it. In between is no good. By choosing to do nothing, Crenshaw blew the first stage."
Does the responsibility of IMG's influence on the players and the pastimes of the world weigh heavily on the man in charge? McCormack reflected on that question late one night in the Florida room of his Pepper Pike home. Reclining on a sofa and looking like a suburban rajah in his tangerine pajamas and royal-blue robe, he said, "We're by far the most powerful influence on sport in the world. We could turn any individual sport—golf, tennis, skiing—on its ear tomorrow. The position we hold in some of these sports is the ability to reconstruct the whole edifice.
"It would be so easy, for example, to turn golf on its head that it's frightening. And that just may be what needs to be done. The Tournament Players Division is really strangling the growth of golf around the world. It wouldn't take much to change things, just a nucleus of players to go off on their own and start a second tour. We want to do what is best for our clients and the game. What we try to do is hold a balance of sanity between a lot of tugging forces."
Reconstructing sports edifices was not what McCormack had in mind when he was growing up on Chicago's south shore. He wanted to play golf, a game he took up at age six as therapy after suffering a skull fracture in an auto accident. One of his golfing partners was an old man who used to lie prone on the green to line up a putt. "I didn't know who he was then," says McCormack, "but I realize now that if I would have represented him, Carl Sandburg would have become a famous writer."
Sandburg published a whimsical poem about his golfmate called Young Mark Expects and later sent McCormack a copy of his children's book Rootabaga Stories, noting in it that Mark reminded him of one of his characters, Bimbo the Snip. Bimbo was a lad who thumbed his nose at people.
McCormack was good enough to win the Chicago prep title and to play at William & Mary. During a match with Wake Forest he remembers admiring the Deacons' ace, Palmer. "I'd never seen long irons hit like that," he says. The encounter was not on the order of Mr. Rolls meeting Mr. Royce. That came later.
After Yale Law School and a stint teaching military justice in the Army, McCormack in 1957 joined Arter & Hadden, a staid Cleveland firm, as a legal eaglet with Horatio Alger overtones. At least, that is how he is depicted at the Harvard Business School, where he was success story NE 127 in a course called "Starting New Ventures." Though hardly a child of the streets—his father was a moderately well-to-do publisher of a farm journal—McCormack played the Alger role. He lived in a $130-a-month apartment with his wife Nancy, whom he met on a golfing blind date, drove an old Ford he called "Whitey," took the 32B bus to work and earned $5,400.
"I didn't really find law all that thrilling," says McCormack. "There were all these 80-year-old guys shuffling around the halls, and when someone died everyone moved offices. It was like my whole life was programmed. All I was really interested in was golf."
Striving to combine the links with law, he and a partner formed a weekend company booking exhibitions for pro golfers. "Pretty soon players were coming around asking me to look at their endorsements," McCormack says. " 'Hey, Mark, you're a lawyer'—that kind of thing. When I read the contracts I was appalled by their one-sidedness. When it came time for renewals I insisted on better terms. Any lawyer could have done it, but these people didn't have lawyers, so I became their hero."
Among the impressed was Palmer. In early 1960 he asked McCormack to represent him exclusively, McCormack agreed and they sealed the deal with what came to be known in merchandising circles as "The Golden Handshake." Shortly thereafter Player, then a relatively unknown South African itinerant, came knocking. "He was a friend, so I figured what the hell, let him in," says Palmer. In late 1961 room also was made for Jack Nicklaus, just 21 and new to the PGA. "The Big Three," sighs McCormack, still lost in the wonder of it all. "Overnight they began winning everything in sight and golf started to take off."
With Arter & Hadden's reluctant consent, McCormack followed in hot pursuit. He became the weirdo at the end of the hall, the guy with the office that looked like a pro shop at inventory time. He was running a closet cartel with all manner of merchants puffing up the back stairs seeking endorsements for their wares.
With his short blond haircut, his white bucks and Ivy League droop suit, McCormack came on like an ad for Junior Achievement, until it came to the fine print. "I used to sit in on some of the negotiations, and I was shocked," recalls Palmer. "You got the feeling there was a hell of a fight brewing. More than once I had to leave the room before I took a poke at somebody."
There was a lot to spar about. One contract that was signed before McCormack took over obliged Player to "win" so many tournaments a year; McCormack changed it to "attempt to win." Palmer was forbidden to endorse any product without also plugging Wilson Sporting Goods. McCormack changed that restriction and amended Wilson's worldwide rights to Palmer golf equipment to apply only to those areas where the company had outlets, thereby opening up new markets abroad for his client.
Once he had hacked through all the prior entanglements McCormack began molding contracts that became models for future player transactions. Not only did he demand—and get—-record cuts of the action, he also insisted that his clients be awarded bonuses of up to $20,000 for each victory, that their endorsements command a certain minimum percentage of a company's royalties and advertising budget, that their names be associated only with the firm's top lines and that they have right of approval over all their ads. "Athletes were being ripped off for so long that I felt like Robin Hood," says McCormack.
There were no merry men on the other side of the negotiating table. "I was thoroughly resented by every company used to dealing with players without me," says McCormack. "And I considered it my best personal ad. If they welcomed my entering the picture, I was suspicious. Our feeling was that any time you sell an endorsement, you know the man on the other side doing the buying will probably benefit from it more than you in the long run. So we figured, why shouldn't we be on the other side?"
They soon were. By 1966, as anyone who ever partook of a bottle of Palmer catsup, gunned a Nicklaus lawnmower or sweated over a Player plow, is well aware, the Big Three became the biggest moneymakers this side of Kuwait. Palmer was president of more than a dozen companies grossing $25 million, and young Jack was the mogul of such grand-sounding enterprises as the Jack Nicklaus Western Hemisphere Trading Co. With seven different golf equipment contracts for as many areas of the world, Player was kept busy switching clubs and muttering things like, "If this is Spalding, it must be New Zealand."
All of which left McCormack with a dilemma: "Do I retire a millionaire at 35 or do I go for my own kind of grand slam?"
Grand slam it was, and as usual the stakes were high. If three could shake the money tree, McCormack reasoned, imagine what 30 or 300 could do. He leased more office space across the hall from Arter & Hadden, raided the Harvard Business School for assistants and hopped the nearest jet to offer his "service umbrella" to an unprotected world.
One of his first stops was England. "It was like an elephant jumping into a pool," says one British golf writer. "The waves still haven't subsided." At first splash McCormack recruited several of [Britain's best young golfers and began drilling into "an untapped market."
Suddenly there was McCormack outraging pro shop operators by convincing Esso to sell Palmer golf balls in its gasoline stations. He began publishing a weekly called Golf International, and unabashedly used its pages to promote his players. He created the Piccadilly World Match Play Championship at Went-worth. He signed on as the BBC's co-commentator for the British Open and other tournaments.
There was no dodging the ubiquitous Yank. In 1969 McCormack sold the serial rights to How I Won the British Open before Jacklin, the leader, had teed off for the final round. After his client won, he stepped out of the crowd at the awards ceremony and turned the label on a bottle of Bollinger champagne away from the cameras, saying that he would talk about an "arrangement" later.
Jacklin got his split of champagne money and McCormack a position of power. Too much power, some felt. When the $129,000 Alcan Golfer of the Year tournament debuted in Britain, McCormack undermined the tournament by saving the Big Three for his own Piccadilly production the following week. "The Alcan was ill-conceived," he says. "I spoke against it, wrote against it and now it is no more."
Great Britain vs. Japan, a team match promoted by McCormack, is all too successful for some members of the British PGA. It is bloody vexing enough, they say, to have an upstart colonist operating in their midst, but when he goes so far as to wheel his deals under the Union Jack without even consulting the association, well, harrumph. "I see no reason to discuss these matters with the British PGA," says McCormack. Nor does he cotton to the criticism that he pads the British team with his own clients at the expense of more qualified players. "We created the event. Why shouldn't we put our own men in it?" he says. "Without us, there wouldn't even be a tournament."
The official position of the British PGA suggests that the bad that McCormack may have wrought has been far outweighed by the good. "He has built an empire," says PGA Secretary Ken Schofield. "He has brought a great deal of money to the game and he has undoubtedly been very good for European golf."
Back home mutterings within the ranks of the U.S. Ski Association have it that McCormack is the Abominable Snow Job Man. Hired in 1967 to raise endorsement money for the perennially bereft national ski team, he collared such sponsors as Pontiac and brought in more than SI million. Nevertheless, his 10-year contract was terminated in 1973 because, says one ski official, "his cut, based on escalating revenues and sometimes going as high as one-third, was out of relation to the good he did."
The settlement guarantees that McCormack will collect 12½% of all revenues he generated through 1977, a drain on a needy cause that many ski officials feel is downright un-American. "McCormack's heart may not be totally black," says one, "but it sure as heck isn't red, white and blue, either."
"I'm trying to run a business," says McCormack. "I don't mind being philanthropic, but I'd like to do it on my own terms. What the U.S. Ski Association has to ask itself is where would its bottom line have been without us? They just got grabby."
McCormack suffers criticism with the weary detachment of a man who has heard it all before. The syntax may vary, he says, but the theme is so familiar that he has a name for it: The What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately syndrome.
He had been doing a lot. When he recruited British golfer Mickey Walker he formed the Brazilian Women's Open for her to star in. To celebrate Janet Lynn's $500,000 signing with the Ice Capades, he sent her to Tokyo so she could win her very own World Professional Ice Skating Championship. What with doubling Chet Walker's basketball salary and moving Stewart to Geneva and Borg to Monte Carlo for tax reasons, he had been a very busy man.
That was the problem. Somewhere between selling Arnold Palmer Enterprises to NBC for more than $20 million and putting pro track on TV, between creating the Lanc√¥me Trophy golf tournament near Paris and having his hair styled with a blond rinse by Sassoon, between putting out his annual 600-page volume The World of Professional Golf and buying land in Rhodesia, Mark the man-machine slipped a gear. He was everywhere and nowhere, spread so thin that his blanket coverage of the golf scene became a shade transparent. Competitors moved in. Young luminaries like Johnny Miller signed elsewhere. Looking back, McCormack says, "I was more complacent than I should have been because I just couldn't imagine anyone going anywhere else. I still can't. It's just mind-boggling to think about."
The biggest boggle of all came in 1970, when Nicklaus asked McCormack what he had been doing for old Jack lately. According to Putnam Pierman, a Columbus, Ohio businessman who is currently representing Nicklaus, "Jack's disenchantment with McCormack had been building for some time." In the course of investigating a land development venture with Nicklaus, Pierman had three of his associates review McCormack's handling of Jack's finances. "The conclusion was that Jack's net worth was less than it could have been and he agreed that we should dissolve his association with McCormack," says Pierman.
"Jack left me for two reasons, one of which he wouldn't admit to," says McCormack. "First, when I decided to diversify I could no longer give him the kind of personal attention he expected. He wanted me, and I didn't have the time. Second, he was jealous of Arnold. He resented Palmer's success with people compared with his own, and he blamed me for it. We talked about it. I told him to smile more, be more outgoing. But he didn't warm up to my suggestions. It's hard to teach humility.
"Jack spent a lot. He was the kind of guy who'd call you up and say, 'I bought a $40,000 boat today, go figure out a way to pay for it.' We told him for three years to get rid of his jet because it was costing him $200,000 annually to operate it. But he'd always say, 'Well, Arnold has a jet. Why can't I?' When we tried to show him where all his money was going, he'd say, 'Well, it's your job to stop me from doing that.' He was right in a way. I should have been stricter with him, but again it was the time factor. If I'd stayed small, I'd probably still have Jack. As it was, I guess if I were him I would have left me, too."
McCormack had to suffer through another crisis last summer. While teamed with Player in the Inter Maritime Pro-Am, a tournament he created in Geneva, he suffered a severe headache that caused him to drop out and to fly to London, where he checked into a hospital. The diagnosis was a subdural lateral hematoma, a blood clot on the brain lining. Five nickel-size holes were drilled in his skull to relieve the pressure. McCormack traced the malady to a fall he had taken two months before while tossing around a golf ball with Player outside a bullring in Spain. All his friends saw it as a five-alarm warning that his life-style finally was catching up with him.
Greg Peters, an American industrialist based in Spain and McCormack's partner in Topspin ("consultants in the planning, building and management of leisure-oriented developments"), arrived at the hospital with gifts and stern advice. "You're a lucky man, Mark," he said. "You've been given a new life—now why don't you reorganize it? You've arrived, Mark. The race is over."
Not quite. After five weeks of recuperation McCormack was up and about, then here and there and, soon, everywhere again. Today Peters regretfully says, "He's like a wheel rolling down a hill. He can't stop."
Some acquaintances say he cannot come to a halt because he has an Accutron for a heart. Others suggest that he is the corporate version of TV's Six Million Dollar Man, data banks courtesy of IBM and circuitry by ITT. And still others swear that it all has something to do with that middle initial H. It stands for Hume, as in David Hume, the 18th century Scottish philosopher who is one of McCormack's forebears and the author of the precept, "Avarice, the spur of industry."
"Nonsense," says McCormack. "I do what I do the way I do it because I enjoy it. By gosh, it's fun."
By golly, it is not always a laugh a minute working for McCormack. Summoned for conferences at all hours, staffers can recite his 7:30 a.m. breakfast menu (grapefruit juice, burnt English muffin) as readily as they can find his house in the dark: in self-defense most IMG executives live near the man they call The Man, the quicker to get to bed after his infamous, late-hour "Pepper Pike Powwows." But IMG Vice-President Ed Keating sees a mellowing in McCormack. "I don't feel like I have to stand at attention anymore when I knock on his door," Keating says. Now, presumably, parade rest will do. Another IMG man sums up the McCormack method as, "Divide, conquer and intimidate."
"It's what happens to everybody who goes from lawyer to international millionaire," says Judy Chilcote, McCormack's personal secretary since his 32B bus days. "You can't expect human compassion. He's too busy. My No. 1 pet peeve is that he delights in catching you in a mistake. My No. 2 pet peeve is that he's usually right. Still, as much of an SOB as he can be, he has a little-boy quality about him that can charm the socks off you."
McCormack's saving grace, his people say gamely, is that he asks no more of them than he does of himself—blood, sweat and grab another oar on the galley. "If you're not working 24 hours a day, seven days a week," says IMG Vice-President H. Kent (Bud) Stanner, "Mark figures you're taking too much time for lunch."
"Mark thinks in numbers," says IMG's Barry Frank. "He can't tell you what the 10 events are in Superstars, but he knows to the decimal point how much DeWitt Weaver made on the tour in 1969." Next to the bottom line, McCormack's favorite numbers begin with area codes. He has three lines and 11 phones in his home for a ring-a-ding monthly bill of $1,000 or more: in his Cleveland office, which is bigger than a squash court, he has six lines, seven phones and a battery of hold buttons that light up like a keno board when he is calling the game.
Late and early mean newspaper editions to McCormack. Up at five a.m., he refers to that brain-numbing hour simply as "the time to call Europe." Evening never comes in his life; it only gets to be "along about that time when I should be talking to Australia and Japan." As Ma Bell's favorite son, McCormack is not fussy about ambience. He calls from anywhere, drawing more than a casual glance from his companions in the men's rooms of restaurants when he says, "In Liechtenstein the number is...."
McCormack is not only never out of touch, he is rarely out of sight. He demands copies of every scrap of correspondence that passes through his network of offices. After all the pieces have been summarized into "one-liners," he pulls out those of interest to read in their entirety and labels them "future," "soon," "very soon" and "now!"
Now is the time that many IMG executives believe that Mark should back out of the spotlight a little. "Mark's so out front," says one associate, "so on top of everything, so omnipresent that most people don't know what a great organization he has. Only we know how good we are."
For all his ubiquitous ways, McCormack estimates that he has never met 40% of his clients. Nothing personal, mind you. And he says, "I don't give guided tours of the office because, frankly, I don't know many of the names."
Though McCormack makes all the command decisions, he does delegate authority to the point that he has been only distantly involved in some of the merchandising coups that have been attributed to him. And he rankles at the suggestion that proper credit is not given. "People who say that," he says icily, no doubt making a mental note to hold a humility inspection first thing Monday morning, "are those who tend to say 'I' instead of 'we.' "
Contrary to rumor, McCormack does not have the world in his hip pocket. He has it in his upper right jacket pocket. That is where he keeps a thick deck of three-by-five cards that he shuffles like a blackjack dealer, scribbling down and categorizing his every random thought. Some are turned into the 50 or more letters and memos that he dashes off each day. Many more become phone calls that begin, "Any bulletins? Here's one for you." The rest are transcribed onto his trusty yellow legal pad.
Much of the scribbling is done at about Mach 1. Like a gray-flannel astronaut, McCormack last year jetted enough miles to circle the earth more than 10 times. The stop-offs for just last month were Cleveland, Los Angeles, Mexico City, New York, Augusta, Ga., Palm Springs, Calif., Honolulu, Singapore, Bali, London, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Fla. and Pebble Beach, Calif.
Lest he somehow forget where he is going and why, McCormack carries a note as a reminder: "Mark, give me money and time. Arnie." He always strives to steal a few seconds here to save a few pennies there. "Mark is the only man I've ever met who's leaving before he's arrived," says ski promoter Bob Beattie. McCormack clocks elevators on his way up so he can expedite his exit on the way down. He travels with carry-on luggage so he can avoid baggage lines. He takes the Queen Elizabeth 2 to New York once a year, partly so he can dictate to his secretary without interruption and partly because "I just love turning my watch back one hour each day." And he rations his attention span so frugally that he has led friends to suspect a rare infirmity. "Let's face it," says Dave Marr, "Mark's hard of listening."
When McCormack does lend an ear he has a tendency "to finish your sentences for you," says Palmer. "He does it because he thinks it saves time." "It's my job to be abrupt," says McCormack. "I don't believe in talking around subjects. It's so easy to turn a two-minute conversation into a 10-minute ordeal. I like to cut through all the bull so I'll have time to do some small talk in my own forum."
To locate that forum McCormack has another universe tucked away in his upper-left jacket pocket. It is a black leather notebook in which he keeps encyclopedic records of things such as where to get a cheeseburger at three a.m. in Hong Kong or sukiyaki at high noon in Oslo. If you are a social friend, McCormack will drag you there. If you are an employee, no chance. "You can't drink with a guy one night, and then be his employer and refuse him a raise the next day," he says.
That is a pity. One reason McCormack's staff sometimes sassily refers to him as the Jolly Blond Giant is because they have never seen him in his ho, ho, ho moods. McCormack is in fact a host to the world, charming and witty in what he calls his "other life." As usual, each gourmet forkful, every calypso dancer and all midnight songfests are carefully plotted out in advance. Regardless of what city he is in McCormack will assemble the company of revelers and direct everything, telling the general to sit here, the contessa next to the rugby player and the centimillionaire, oh, over there behind the potted palm.
"Mark leads you into an exciting life," says Robert Anderson, president of Rockwell International. "He moves in amazing circles—artists, models, cricket players, songwriters. And it's always got to be the best restaurant, the newest spot. If he didn't organize his social life, he might find himself sitting around for two minutes and that would kill him."
Player is among those who fear that something like that actually may happen. "Mark is the most dynamic individual I've ever met," he says. "He's broken the barrier of hard work, but I think he's gone so far that he's damaging his health."
That is another lament that McCormack has heard so often that he immediately goes to his little black book to prove otherwise. "In 1973 my left foot hit the floor 147,001 times," he says. "In 1974 it hit it 220,614 times." Progress noted. And not only is his golf game holding steady at a 74.96-stroke average, but he reports,' 'Two years ago I slept 2,506¼ hours. Last year it was 2,656¼ hours. I like to sleep, but lately I've been reading that you don't need that much."
Another statistic McCormack is trying to improve is the number of days he spends with his children—Breck, 17, Todd, 14, and Leslie, 9. Though he has increased it from fewer than 100 days 10 years ago to 148 last year, it is still a sore point in his Pepper Pike home. Nancy McCormack admits that Mark's absence has caused certain "strains," but he has promised reform. When the mood is right he even goes so far as to talk about "slowing down."
On a recent evening in his Manhattan apartment McCormack reflected on the future while his favorite John Denver album played softly in the background.
"I think about phasing out, trying to make more time to relax and enjoy myself," he said, as Denver sang, Follow me where I go.... "Arnold and I have talked about buying our own country. He would be king and I would be secretary of defense," Places that I'm going to.... "But I enjoy what I do. I can't wait to get up in the morning and get to work." Places where I've been.... "To be pretty places with pretty people, to be center court at Wimbledon, to tee up with the best golfers in the world, to stand on the deck of a yacht at the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, sipping champagne and watching all the little racing cars go by, that's my life." My hags are packed, I'm ready to go.... "Slow down? Why? I thrive on the recurring challenge and the hectic pace. Speed is my way of relaxing." I'm leavin' on a jet plaaane....