The management of IMG, the company famously founded on a handshake between Arnold Palmer and the late Mark McCormack back in 1960, is seeking an equity partner to buy the business from the trust that now runs the Mark McCormack Group of Companies.
Forbes reports IMG as being in the top 200 privately owned companies in the United States with revenues of $1.26 billion in 2001. McCormack himself was reckoned by Forbes to be worth at least $1 billion at the time of his death in May 2003.
With headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio and now run by Bob Kain and Alastair Johnston as Co-Chief Executive Officers, IMG employs more than 2,200 people at 70 offices in 30 countries. The trust is said to want around $400 million.
In an internal memo Kain and Johnston have told staff that IMG is now preparing for a period of sustained growth. “Growth will be organic (e.g. international expansion) and through possible strategic acquisitions,” they say. “As a next step in the process, a Management-led initiative will identify financing partners to enhance profitable expansion and provide current owners with some liquidity.”
IMG’s range of activities influences almost every facet of sport and leisure; the broadcast division, Trans World International, is now the world’s largest independent TV sports production company. But it all began with golf, and golf is still a huge part of the business.
Arnold Palmer was McCormack’s first client (they never did get round to signing a formal contract) and his endorsement for Wilson Sporting Goods was worth around $5,000 per year.
Today the clients include Tiger Woods (reputedly earning $100 million per year), Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harrington and Annika Sorenstam. Together they dominate the PGA, LPGA and European Tours. Todd Hamilton, winner of the Open Championship at Royal Troon last weekend, is an IMG client.
IMG’s activities have resulted in record television contracts, sponsorship and media coverage. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is an IMG client.
As golf has enjoyed an unprecedented demand for new facilities around the world, many IMG clients have brought their playing experience and understanding of the game to golf course design; none more so than McCormack’s original ‘Big Three‘: Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
IMG’s Golf Course Services division has a support staff of over 50 people to provide back up for the named designers, with state-of-the-art planning, design and construction supervision. Together this teamwork has resulted in over 400 golf courses being designed around the world.
Also within the group is the international network of golf schools that operate under the title of David Leadbetter Golf Academy (DLGA). One of DLGA’s most recently opened sites is at the TopGolf Game Centre in Watford. The TopGolf concept is a unique new leisure activity that is revolutionising golf “in the same way that technology transformed skittles into tenpin bowling”. IMG is behind the development programme for this concept around the world.
Mark McCormack’s energy and skills as an entrepreneur are legendary. He left behind a library of quotable quotes including this one at the age of 71. “People retire to do what I do every day: – play golf with Arnold Palmer and tennis with Monica Seles; write books, make speeches. As long as I can contribute, I‘ll be around.”
Well now he isn‘t around any more and the future of his empire is under review as never before.
For over forty years IMG has advanced the cause of golf in order to benefit its clients but the truth is that the golf business as a whole has prospered as a result. Perhaps that is why there is so much interest in how this story will develop.