Chairman of the board

No other company within the sports business is revered quite like IMG. The agency-turned-sports media powerhouse has an aura about it, a history that regularly crosses the threshold into industry mythology.

25 March 2013 Michael Barber

No other company within
the sports business is
revered quite like IMG.
The agency-turned-sports
media powerhouse has an aura about
it, a history that regularly crosses the
threshold into industry mythology. Even
in times of turmoil and – whisper it –
underperformance, its reputation is a
force-fi eld that protects it from real harm.
The late Mark McCormack, the man who
founded the company 50 years ago, has
become almost as famous as the famous
names he enriched. Think of Palmer,
Player and Nicklaus, and their agent’s
name is not far behind. In recognising
the commercial potential of sport beyond
ticket sales, McCormack truly became the
father of the industry. A long, successful
career at the business he founded saw
him grow into the granddaddy of sport.
When McCormack died in 2003,
the business was soon acquired by
Ted Forstmann’s private equity fi rm
Forstmann Little. Forstmann, who took
over the day-to-day running of IMG,
brought a new vigour to the company,
spreading its tentacles into all facets of
the sports media business. The ‘playboy
billionaire’, as the media delighted in
labelling him, had a fl air for deal-making
and a love of the limelight, and brought a
period of aggressive, acquisitive growth
tactics to the IMG business. When,
in November last year, Forstmann
succumbed to the brain cancer he had
been diagnosed with in early 2011, Mike
Dolan, who had been serving as chief
fi nancial offi cer of the company since
joining in early 2010, was installed by
the IMG board as the new chairman and
chief executive.
Entrepreneurship is the spine that has
long supported IMG. From its global
sales force at the bottom to its board
of directors at the top, it is a corporate
spirit that defi nes the company to this
day. That being the case, it is safe to
assume that the release announcing
Dolan’s ascension to the top job, via a
‘unanimous election’ by the shareholders
and directors no less, told only half
the story. Forstmann’s illness, though
particularly painful for Dolan to watch
given that the pair sat “12 feet away from
each other every day” in IMG’s New
York offi ce, did allow for a handover
period before he died. “Before he fell
sick, he had a year, year and a half of
great health,” Dolan explains. “We put a
plan together, we thought about all the
different things we would do together
to put the company on a strong growth
curve, and when he fell sick he said, ‘I
want you to continue what we’ve done.’
So there wasn’t the abrupt transition that
you might think. There was continuity.”
Nevertheless, in the run-up to November
2011 and Dolan’s unanimous election,
four board directors left IMG.
Sitting at a table at a central London
hotel, brewing, straining, offering and
pouring a round of Earl Grey teas,
Dolan is all easy charm and soothing
manners. He acknowledges his position
in IMG’s lineage, but admits to being
consistently humbled when, on his very
frequent travels, he sees photographs
of McCormack in famous sporting
moments in history, or when he enters
IMG’s international headquarters in the
westernmost edge of London and sees
an image of Forstmann staring down
on him. Dolan is an altogether lowerkey
character; he is certainly no playboy,
having been married for over 40 years and
generally travelling with a shabby, practical
rucksack in tow. His PhD and expertise
in medieval literature provide him with
an academic reputation that is rare in the
sports industry and does little to qualify
him as a hell-raiser. It is already clear,
however, that he is no less shrewd than
his predecessors, nor less driven. And ‘low
key’ by no means equates to ‘soft touch’.
The story goes that NBA commissioner
David Stern is the smiling assassin of the
sports industry. “You think he’s the nicest
man in the world,” says industry legend
Donald Dell, “then you walk two blocks
and your head falls off.” Dolan, though he
built his career and made his name away
from the sports industry and is not as well
known as a consequence, could be in the
same category.
Assessing his own negotiating style, it is
clear that Dolan is a stickler for fairness.
“I’ve always been of the mind that you
should strike a good deal for the company
you work for but that you have to leave
something on the table for the other side,”
he says. “Both sides should walk away
feeling good about what happened. And
I think that’s something I’ve carried with
me for 30 years I’ve been in business.”
Nevertheless, he says he never concludes a
deal he doesn’t believe he will be proud of.
Prior to joining IMG, Dolan was chief
fi nancial offi cer at Viacom. It was
Mark McCormack is widely acknowledged as the Adam of the sports industry and IMG, the
company he founded 50 years ago, still inspires something of a religious reverence today. As such,
there is no job in the sports industry like the one Mike Dolan, only the third chairman IMG has ever
had, ascended to last year.
Chairman of the board
By James Emmett. Photographs by Graham Fudger.
“Both sides should walk away feeling good
about what happened. And I think that’s
something I’ve carried with me for 30 years.”
36 |
Mike Dolan, the third chairman in the history
of IMG, pictured at a central London hotel on
Wednesday 19th September
SportsPro Magazine | 37
38 | 39 Born in New York to Irish
parents in November
1946, Mike Dolan’s youth
was spent studying.
The bookish youngster became an
academic, gaining a PhD in medieval
literature from Cornell Univestity
and lecturing at the City University of
New York. He soon swapped words
for numbers and joined banking
fi rm Morgan Guaranty and then
consultancy Booz Allen & Hamilton.
He held senior roles at Kiewit, Snack
Ventures Europe, Young & Rubicam,
and Viacom before joining IMG. He
is on the board of directors at both
Mattel and Bacardi. A keen, if modest,
golfer, he also enjoys skiing and
snowboarding and walks to work each
day from his house on the Upper East
Side of New York that he shares with
Dorothy, his wife of 40 years.
Having all but created
an industry with its
foundation 50 years
ago, IMG is regularly
acknowledged as the sports marketing
university. Jobs across every facet of the
company are much sought after, and
not just for the job itself. A grounding
in the business at IMG is a valuable
asset for any sports industry executive.
“It’s like General Electric and Pepsi,”
explains Dolan. “They were always two
companies in the United States that
were continuously poached for good
people, because they did a great job of
developing management and training
them, and they knew that what they
were doing was training for rivals who
would come in and pick somebody
up who had been there for fi ve or six
years.” Here Dolan knows whereof he
speaks. While preparing Y&R for its
IPO, he personally brought over no
fewer than eight former colleagues from
Pepsi’s fi nance department.
“There’s a certain amount of that
that goes with the title of being the
leader in the industry, and we expect
that,” he continues. “But what you try
to do is manage that in a way in which
you say, ‘Well, you’re not going to keep
everyone. You can’t keep everyone.’
There’s always going to be a situation
where someone comes in and offers
somebody an outlandish amount of
money which would put all of our
parity in jeopardy. The odd cases I
think you have to let happen. What
you don’t want to do is let a brain drain
happen – that connotes something
more systematic than just a one-off
hiring or poaching. We’re careful
to make sure the critical assets that
we’ve got stay with us, and that they’re
valued. Frankly, one of the big draws
of us is that we have the assignments
that people want to work on.”
While Dolan insists that the
company does its best to look after its
best human assets, the representation
business in particular is an area that
has experienced high profi le departures
recently, with Tiger Woods following
his agent Mark Steinberg out of the
company last year, and Roger Federer
and his agent Tony Godsick following
suit this June.
“The representation business is still
key to the company,” says Dolan, who
believes that some of sport’s younger
stars don’t understand the way IMG
does business in the way that veterans
such as Jean-Claude Killy and Jackie
Stewart – both still on the books at
IMG – do. “It’s key to the brand. The
event business is very important to us,
because that’s the key to the production
business as well. We get to produce
many of those events because we have
many of the players that appear in them.
The business is really interconnected in
a way that you don’t initially recognise.”
Mike Dolan
The sports industry university
during his tenure there that he made what
he rates as the best deal of his career.
“We bought DreamWorks,” he explains
of a 2006 deal that saw Viacom-owned
Paramount Pictures acquire Steven
Spielberg’s fi lm production company.
“Everyone thought we paid a very, very
high price. But we did it for a reason: we
wanted to revitalise what was a broken
studio in Paramount – it had no backlog
of projects. DreamWorks came with a
tremendous backlog of projects. And what
people didn’t realise was that our intention
was to take the library of DreamWorks
and sell that. By selling the library, we
were basically able to decrease the amount
that we paid for DreamWorks studio itself.
That was a very, very good deal and I
think one that surprised a lot of people.
No one, including the DreamWorks guys,
appreciated the value of the library.”
Finding value where others don’t is
something of a motif in Dolan’s career.
Before joining Viacom, and then IMG,
Dolan had been chief fi nancial offi cer at
Young & Rubicam, joining the marketing
company in 1995 to prepare it fi rst for
recapitalisation in 1996 and then its IPO in
1998. Before that, he led Pepsi’s European
snack food business. Corporate structure,
good governance, fi nancial rigour – he
knows them all like the back of his hand.
He was hired by Forstmann to optimise
the business, build its value as it prepares
for an IPO of its own. He is renowned as
an ultra-effi cient fi nancial chief. And he
knows it, too. “I think my skill-set is as
an operator,” he says, “and really taking
what we’ve got and making sure that we
operationalise it and that we get all of the
advantages out of the assets that we’ve got
to work with. I guess that’s how I would
see my contribution and I hope that that’s
the contribution I am making.”
The contribution is already being
noticed. IMG is now a business of over
3,000 employees across more than 30
countries. Financial ineffi ciencies were
bound to have crept in somewhere. Dolan
was able to make an immediate impact
through simple fi nancial streamlining
processes, fi nding savings in the way the
company went about its offi ce rentals, HR
and purchasing.
Having quickly gained the trust of the
senior executives – many of them IMG
lifers – Dolan has been able to take his
SportsPro Magazine | 398
The late Ted Forstmann was credited with reinvigorating IMG when he took the role of chairman in 2003
IMG founder Mark McCormack (right) with his first client, Gary Player (centre), and Sean Connery in 1968
financial optimisation strategy further.
Andrew Wildblood, a London-based
senior vice president of the company who
has been instrumental in the development
of its business across Asia, explains that
Dolan has paid close attention to the
company’s tax situation. “If you’ve got tax
credits that you could be using that you’re
not using then people are making money
that could be spent in other ways just to
accommodate the inefficiencies of your
financial engineering,” says Wildblood.
“That is a matter of enormous frustration
to anybody that understands it. Having
your company set up technically in the
best possible financial way is crucial. My
first perception of him was that he clearly
had a grasp of how companies should be
set up most efficiently from a financial
engineering perspective way beyond
anything that we at IMG had previously
benefited from.”
Having tweaked the company’s
‘financial engineering’, Dolan has now
turned his attention to outer-lying areas of
the business. Founded by McCormack in
Cleveland, IMG, Dolan says, is now like a
huge wardrobe of clothes, some of which
you had almost forgotten you owned. “It’s
like a cornucopia of assets,” he says. “I
think what you have to do occasionally is
poke around and say, ‘Hey, why can’t we
do something interesting with this?’ or
‘What if you guys got together and worked
on something?’”
The way Dolan sees it, IMG is
now comprised of five distinct areas:
its traditional businesses of athlete
representation and events; the mirror
image fashion business, which includes
model representation and events;
‘amateur sport’, which Dolan defines
as the famous IMG Academy business
alongside its burgeoning, Forstmann-
“I think my skillset
is as an operator
and really taking
what we’ve got and
making sure that we
operationalise it.”
40 | 41 China
IMG signed a 20-year joint
venture agreement with Chinese
state broadcaster CCTV in 2009.
The partnership was initially
focused on tennis events, but is now
aimed principally at the development
of Chinese soccer.
“I went over to China two weeks
ago,” says Dolan in mid-September,
“and met with chairman Wei, who is
the chairman of the [Chinese Football]
federation, and we really had a
breakthrough in terms of the progress
we were making with the China soccer
league. A couple of months before that
you would have said maybe it would
take six months to a year to do that.
Suddenly it’s gone fast forward. We’re
within putting distance now.”
That putt has since been holed, with
CCTV-IMG announcing a ten-year
strategic partnership with Chinese
Super League soccer in October.
BrazilBrazil has been on fast
forward ever since we
signed the agreement,”
explains Dolan of the
2010 joint venture deal with EBX
to form IMX. “With Brazil we did
something that really worked in our
favour; almost from the very get-go we
acquired a very small sports company
in Rio – Brasil1 is the name of the
company. The CEO of that company,
IMG’s four key JVs
IMG linked up with the EBX Group owned by Brazil’s richest man, Eike Batista (centre), to form IMX
Mukesh Ambani signed a deal with IMG in 2010 to create the IMG Reliance joint venture in India
In May, IMG began a Turkish joint venture with Ferit Şahenk’s conglomerate Doğuş Holding

funded college sports portfolio; media
production and commercialisation;
and the newest branch of the business,
international joint ventures. It is this
fi nal facet that represents the real growth
opportunity for IMG. Forstmann was
able to forge partnerships with highprofi
le billionaires in four of the most
important emerging markets in the
world. Over a frantic few years of world
travel, Forstmann nurtured relationships
with Ferit Şahenk for a joint venture
with the Turkish group Doğuş, Mukesh
Ambani for a joint venture with his
Indian giant Reliance, and Brazilian oil,
gas and mining magnate Eike Batista for
a joint venture with his EBX Group, as
well as completing another joint venture
agreement in China.
If Forstmann was able to bring in
the talent, now Dolan must make them
work in unison. It is a challenge he
is very defi nitely up for, even if he is
not particularly cut out for the travel
involved. Dolan, it is said, spends two
weeks of every month travelling. “I
think I underestimated the wear and
tear factor, and just the amount of
travel – and the distances,” he says with
a weary shake of the head. “Prior to
SSppoorrttssPPrroo Maaggaazziinnee || 4410
his illness, Ted was doing a lot of these
international trips, and working on these
relationships with the joint venture
partners, and he liked it; he was good
at it, he was a charismatic person, and
then when he fell sick I really stepped
into that. And now having travelled 100
or 150,000 miles, I can appreciate what
he was doing, because there’s a lot of
wear and tear in constant travel. But you
have to do it, because at times there’s no
substitute for being there.”
In a recent interview with SportBusiness
Journal, NBA deputy commissioner Adam
Silver was fulsome in his praise of Dolan.
“He is a fi rst-class global businessman,
which is refreshing,” Silver said. “As
someone who has been in this business
for 20 years now, it is the ultimate
compliment to this industry that we can
attract someone like Mike Dolan.”
Silver’s assessment is spot on and it is
a testament to the sports industry that a
man that has never encountered anything
other than success in his business career
can have such faith in the industry’s
leading exponent. While he waits for
the order to fl oat to come from IMG’s
Forstmann Little owners, Dolan is bullish
about its chances in a process he knows
well. “When we did the fl oat at Young &
Rubicam,” he recalls, “we went out and
we met with potential investors in the
stock and what we would say was, ‘Are you
familiar with WPP? Are you familiar with
Omnicom?’ Always the answer was, ‘Yes,
yes, yes, we’re owners of that stock.’ And
we would tell them Y & R is exactly like
that – multi-capability, multi-geography,
in every country you can imagine, built
to serve the needs of international global
consumer products companies.
“When you look at IMG and you ask,
‘Who are our peers?’ There are none. It’s
a unique company. There’s no one who
will say, ‘IMG is exactly like X, Y or Z.’
No, there is no X, Y, or Z. Where we
compete, we compete a level down. In
the representation business we compete
with CAA and some others; in the media
production business, we compete with
Infront and Sportfi ve and people like that.
But none of those companies have the
other capabilities, and none of them have
the geographic breadth that this company
has got. It really is very, very special.
“Could someone duplicate IMG at this
point? I think that would be very hard to
do,” he continues, very much warming to
his theme and leaving the low-key image
behind him for a moment. “There’s such a
fi rst-mover advantage in terms of getting
the right set of athletes, getting the right set
of events. You just have a level of expertise
and a level of history and experience – how
do you compete against that? How would
someone put together a group that would
be able to say, ‘We promise you we’ll do
as good a job as the people who’ve done
it fl awlessly for the past 25 or 40 years.’
The only way for us to goof that up is to
do a bad job. But if you continue to keep
the values of the company, if you continue
to hire good people, keep the people who
are the spiritual heirs to McCormack and
Forstmann, if you keep those people intact
then you’re not going to lose.”
Alan Adler, became immediately the
CEO of the joint venture between IMG
and EBX. So we had a CEO, we had a
base load of business in Brazil, we had
20 or 30 people who were immediately
staff. And it has grown exponentially.
If you look at every couple of months
they’ve added a big piece of business.
The Memphis ATP tour event – we
bought that, we’re moving it to Rio and
the fi rst one will be in 2014. We have a
lot of golf business there.
“And then there’s the Maracanã
Stadium. It’s 50 or 60 years old and it is
being completely redone to be a modern
stadium for the World Cup. If our
partner gets to do all that work – this is
EBX and the construction company – if
they win that, then IMX would become
the hospitality marketing agency for the
Maracanã, which would be a very, very
attractive piece of business.
“The trajectory of what’s going on
in Brazil is mindboggling, and I think
if you had said a year ago, ‘What’s the
potential for Brazil?’ I don’t think any of
us would have expected quite so much.
We’ve gone from no one knowing who
we are to being really the go-to company
for anything in sports in Brazil.”
The 2010 creation of IMGReliance
saw IMG partner
with India’s largest company.
The JV has deals with
the Basketball Federation of India
to manage and commercialise a new
basketball league, as well as the All
India Football Federation to promote
all aspects of Indian soccer. The latter
relationship has encountered stumbling
blocks in the form of reticence on the
part of Indian soccer clubs to commit
to the JV’s commercial plans for
the I-League. “I think we’re making
very good progress,” says Dolan.
“Underneath it is a tremendous effort
going on at grassroots level to develop
players who can really populate that
league. Half of the Indian under-17
team was trained at our academy in
Florida. That’s really critical and as
important as anything that we’re doing
in India is really creating that petri dish
where the native athletes bubble up and
can then populate the league. You can’t
have leagues with just foreign players.”
IMG partnered with Turkey’s
Doğuş group in May, a
partnership that bore its fi rst
fruit at the beginning of October
with a commercial tie-up with one
of Turkish soccer’s biggest clubs,
Besiktas. “What we’re trying to do now
is develop in Turkey almost a satellite
version of the IMG Academy that will
undergird Turkey’s bid for the Olympics
and also provide this grassroots effort
to generate players who will populate
football leagues or basketball leagues
and all the other things that will go
on there,” says Dolan of a JV that will
also focus on developing projects in
Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan,
and Uzbekistan.

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