Death deprives sports of its most prolific marketer

NEW YORK/DELHI: Mark McCormack, once dubbed the most powerful man in sport, died on Friday after failing to recover from a heart attack he suffered four months ago, officials of his International Management Group (IMG) company said.

A file picture of Mark McCormack taken from McCormack, 72, the founder, chairman and CEO of IMG, had been in a coma at a New York hospital since 16 January, according to a Reuters report. McCormack was a pioneer and founder of the sports marketing industry and his IMG company was widely known as the world's largest representative of sportsmen and sportswomen.

"It's a loss for everybody," the Reuters report quoted Tiger Woods as saying. Woods, the world's number one golfer and a client of IMG, was reacting after hearing the news at the Tour Players' Championship in Gut Kaden, Germany.

"He was a genius when it came to sports marketing and, obviously, with his association with Arnold, Jack and Gary, they basically started sports marketing. If it wasn't for him, obviously, we wouldn't be in the position we're in right now," according to Woods.

McCormack began his sports career in 1960 by signing golfer Arnold Palmer and, as his business grew, he played a key role in how much athletes were paid and how their images were portrayed.

Palmer never forgot the moment McCormack struck that first deal. "Mark has never broken the faith of that handshake. That meant a lot to me," Palmer was also quoted by Reuters as saying.

McCormack's company, based in Cleveland, grew rapidly and now has 80 offices in 32 countries.

The man who found IMG slowly realised that there is a business opportunity to be tapped in other sectors too like television. And so was born Trans-World International (TWI), the television production wing of the IMG.

Over the years, TWI has emerged as one of the leading television production houses in the world, specialising in sporting events.

As recent as the last cricket World Cup in South Africa, TWI had evinced interest in producing post and pre cricket matches programmes for India's pubcaster Doordarshan. The offer was rejected by DD and it produced similar programmes in-house, though in the past TWI has worked several times with DD.

In India, as elsewhere in the world, TWI has a strong presence and leverages the strength of the parent company, IMG, which also functions in India and is slowly spreading its wings to organise big time fashion shows and glam events.

McCormack Sr. had been to India several times and during one his earlier visits between mid and 1990s, McCormack had said if given a chance he and his company can change the face of Indian sports, specially less popular ones like volleyball and basketball and also hockey, which, he said, has unfortunately given way to cricket in India.

During those days, when Taj Sports' Peter Hutton was still with TWI, McCormack even had plans to forge a tieup amongst TWI (through IMG), various sports bodies and schools. The aim, he had said, was to popularise sports and show Indians that it can be a profitable business venture too.

Though, many of his plans for India failed to take off for various reasons, mainly because of the rampant red tape.


IMG represents a host of athletes ranging from McCormack's first clients, such as golfers Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy, to tennis players Pete Sampras and sisters Serena and Venus Williams, the Reuters report said.

The company, which has over 3,000 employees and sells more than 5,000 hours of television programming to over 200 countries around the world, has also represented tennis players Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Andre Agassi.

McCormack's reach has stretched much further than the world of sport. He has even handled special projects for global leaders, such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and the Pope.

But he will be remembered for revolutionising sport as he developed representing athletes into a business discipline and by demonstrating the value of sport as a marketing tool.

After Palmer, golfing enthusiast McCormack signed up South African Player and an unknown called Nicklaus before expanding into tennis with the signing of Laver in 1968.

By 1990 the Yale law school graduate was named the Most Powerful Man in Sport by Sports Illustrated magazine.


Chicago-born McCormack had to overcome a fractured skull at the age of six when he was hit by a car. Unable to play contact sports, he took up golf -- the game that would change his life.

McCormack learned to play with his father and George E Q Johnson, the Chicago prosecutor who put Al Capone behind bars, as well as poet-historian Carl Sandburg, his godfather. Later, he qualified for the US Open as an 


McCormack graduated from Yale law school and, after a spell in the Army, joined Cleveland law firm Arter & Hadden and while working for the firm shook on his first deal with Palmer.

A prolific author of business books, McCormack's works included the best-selling 'What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School' and 'Hit The Ground Running'.

McCormack's personal philosophy was: "Be the best, learn the business, and expand by applying what you already know."

He leaves a wife, former tennis professional Betsy Nagelsen, four children and seven grandchildren.

A private burial will be held in Chicago followed by a memorial in New York on 21 May 2003.

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