Supermodels up for sale at troubled IMG

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The Independent Online

IMG, the sports agency empire whose founder, Mark McCormack, died on Friday, is attempting to sell off large parts of its business to stave off the effect of a downturn in the sponsorship market.

The disposal programme has been put in place by a committee that has run the company since Mr McCormack suffered a heart attack in January. It includes Bob Kain, who runs IMG's North and South American businesses, Alastair Johnson, president of IMG International, Eric Drossart, head of IMG in Europe, and Mr McCormack's three grown-up children, Breck, Todd and Leslie.

As Mr McCormack did not name a successor to run the business, there is expected to be a power struggle.

IMG employs 3,000 people in 80 offices in 32 countries and represents such stars as Tiger Woods, Pete Sampras and the Williams sisters. However, it has suffered without its founder at the helm and was already hitting problems because of a downturn in revenue, due to the fall in advertising expenditure.

The agency has been hit particularly hard as it owns many sporting events, especially golf and tennis tournaments. "The rights owners are the ones really feeling the pinch," said one sports agent.

To counter this, IMG has sold one operation, put at least two more up for sale and is considering the radical option of getting rid of its soccer agency. The business it has sold is Strasbourg, the French first division football team. IMG is understood to have lost about €5m (£3.2m) on the venture.

The two operations up for sale are IMG Models and IMG Artists. IMG Models represents some of the world's most famous supermodels, including Giselle Bundchen, Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum.

The IMG Artists business specialises in classical music, representing more sedate clients such as Itzhak Perlman, Sir James Galway and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

IMG has refused to confirm that either of these businesses is up for sale but industry sources say they have been approached about buying the operations.

More radically, it is believed that IMG is considering pulling out of football after an unsuccessful attempt to get into the business.

Despite buying some football agencies, it has lost out in the fight to secure top stars, such as David Beckham and Michael Owen, who are both signed to rival group SFX.

It is believed that Mr Drossart, who built up the business, may be keen to buy it from IMG. Speculation is rife that a bidder could emerge. However, one likely contender, WPP Group, whose chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell, used to work for IMG, is understood not to be enthusiastic. Another, Interpublic, is suffering losses at its sports agency Octagon.