Yale graduate who unlocked sport's riches

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The Independent Online

Ceefax ran a sentence or two but Teletext didn't mention it at all. On sportinglife.com's home page it was the 20th most important news story of the day. Mark McCormack had been in a coma since a cardiac arrest four months ago, so his death on Friday at the age of 72 hardly came as a shock.

In his perversely dispassionate way, McCormack would probably have approved of this understated coverage of his passing. Despite holding the worlds of sport and entertainment in thrall for 40 years, his focus was primarily on his clients.

His estate could well exceed $1bn while his Cleveland-based company International Management Group, which grew from a handshake with Arnold Palmer in 1959, turns over double that sum annually. It has 2,500 employees, 86 offices in 33 countries, and a client list ranging from Tiger Woods to Michael Schumach-er, Liz Hurley to the Pope.

McCormack rejected many opportunities to sell IMG, notably to Rupert Murdoch. Even with the three children from his first marriage, daughter Leslie and sons Breck and Todd, all working for the company, he never contemplated retiring or handing over the reins. Once the grieving has elapsed, though, his heirs could have a battle on their hands to keep IMG – an empire bursting with ambitious executives – together. "I think the company's in good hands," said Woods, perhaps more in hope than expectation. "There are some very competent people there.''

The marketing formula with which McCormack transformedThe Open and Wimbledon, and dominated a myriad of lesser events – by organising the sponsors, prizemoney and players, and negotiating the merchandising, broadcasting and internet rights – has always attracted resentment. Seve Ballesteros, who has never seen eye to eye with IMG, recently branded their influence over the European Tour as mafia-like. To such criticism, Mark the Shark always replied: "Have we ever done anything bad for sport?"

Business Age wrote that the erstwhile Yale law graduate "invented the sports business. It was he who first realised that, within the golden triangle of sport, sponsorship and television, lay vast wealth just waiting to be tapped".

That process began in the early 1960s when McCormack packaged Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as the Big Three and created his own TV company, Trans World International, to film them.

His energy and versatility were legendary. He rose at 4.30am, was fiercely hands-on and flew 250,000 miles a year. "You have to look into someone's eyes and be interested in them as human beings," he once said. After launching the World Match Play Championshipin 1964, he joined the BBC's commentary team. And he wrote many books, including the infamous What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School.

The Renaissance Man was very much his own man. "Say what you will about him but the plain fact is that Mark's business savvy made us both materially successful beyond our wildest dreams," said Palmer. "Through good times and bad, he never broke the faith of that long-ago handshake. At the end of the day, that's what meant so much to me." A slight improvement on Ceefax and Teletext's epitaph.