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Obituary: Mark McCormack

Mark McCormack was the undisputed king of sports marketing. The former lawyer signed up Arnold Palmer as his first client in 1960 and went on to become the “most powerful man in sport”, according to Sports Illustrated magazine. In the process he became hugely wealthy and his IMG Group was responsible for ensuring generations of sportsmen also gained riches that would have been unimaginable before McCormack redefined the sports business. McCormack was in the right place at the right time when he signed up Palmer but it was his unquenchable energy and entrepreneurial skills that enabled him to become the chief architect of a burgeoning new industry.

McCormack, a promising college golfer and Yale law graduate practising in Cleveland, was among the first to realise sportsmen could earn extra money from endorsements and sponsorships.

In 1960 he offered to become the agent of a young American golfer called Arnold Palmer and the deal was done with a simple handshake.

Soon after, McCormack signed a talented South African newcomer by the name of Gary Player and a fledgling American professional called Jack Nicklaus. Either inadvertently, or with incredible foresight, McCormack had signed the “Big Three” who would dominate golf for decades and promote the sport’s global appeal.

McCormack was quick to recognise the potential of sport as a way for companies to communicate with consumers, and he began by negotiating a deal of about $5,000-a-year (£3,100) for Palmer to endorse Wilson sporting goods. Nowadays, IMG are responsible for the $100m-per-year contract (£62m-per-year) for client Tiger Woods, golf’s world number one, to endorse Nike. In 1968, McCormack branched out into tennis, signing Australian great Rod Laver. He soon added Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. And IMG’s current list of clients includes tennis stars Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Tim Henman and the Williams sisters and golf stars Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia. The company has also grown to be a major player in the football market as well as representing athletes from rugby, cricket, motor racing and a host of other sports. IMG’s broadcast division Trans World International (TWI), set up in the 1960s to film a handful of golf events, is the world’s largest independent television sports production company and rights distributor. The group also owns and represents many major sporting events around the world, several sports academies and runs a classical music arm and a branch dedicated to models. McCormack was voted “Most Powerful Man in Tennis” by Tennis Magazine, “Most Powerful Man in Golf ” by Golf Digest and in 1990 Sports Illustrated called him “The Most Powerful Man in Sport”.

His legacy remains in the fabulous sums earned by top sportsmen the world over.

Retrieved from BBC Sports online: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/front_page/3035005.stm

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