Starting in 1959, when he secured one of sports’ first mega-endorsement deals — $5,000 for a young golf pro named Arnold Palmer to hawk Wilson sporting goods — Mark McCormack was one of the first to realize the sponsorship potential of top athletes.
By May 16, when the man widely hailed as the most powerful man in sports died at 72 after a lengthy heart attack-induced coma, the agency he founded, Intl. Management Group, had grown to enjoy annual revenue of $1.5 billion, with more than 80 offices around the globe.
Under McCormack, IMG managed endorsement and sponsorship negotiations for the sports world elite, including Tiger Woods, and Venus and Serena Williams … and even Pope John Paul II.
IMG’s co-CEOs, Alastair Johnston and Bob Kain, are left to tend to McCormack’s sports empire.
“Mark’s passing wasn’t anticipated, but it was planned for,” says Johnston. “Over the past couple of years, he divested himself of almost every client that he was directly responsible for, other than the British Open and Wimbledon. In terms of client activity and hands-on relationships, Bob and I quickly took over and haven’t missed a beat.
“Mark’s role in the company and in the industry was largely as ambassador the last 10 years. He was the rainmaker, but he realized that his role had to change when he saw that his peers were retiring around him. He was very strong on the younger generation building their own corporate relationships and profile.”