Show me the money Sugarpova!

Posted by on Aug 21, 2013 in Blog, News | 0 comments

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In 1996 I joined an outstanding company called IMG. The next 3 years were supersonic – the sports marketing behemoth founded by Mark H McCormack would teach me pretty much everything I have ever needed to know about business. McCormack’s ethos was simple

Money matters. People matter. The rest is easy.

Notwithstanding a worldwide circular urging staff to re-use paper clips, in my time at IMG everyone knew that the way to get ahead was to make a shitload of money or lose a shitload of money. McCormack encouraged an entrepreneurial spirit amongst us with the caveat to be mindful of needless expense.

This was the Silicone Valley of sport.

The first serious business deal I ever did was for IMG. It was for USD$1.4 million. The client was JVC, the Japanese electronics giant. I will never forget Ishihara san from JVC, or how it felt that day.

It was all great fun and good business.

IMG was never cheap. The company pushed and tested boundaries, but McCormack’s focus was always on the client. IMG did not need a profile he would say.

“Anyone who needs us knows who we are.”

He was right.

Mark McCormack made Arnold Palmer the highest earning sportsman in the world – until the AIR apparent Michael Jordan flew higher in 1991. Yes, you read that right. Many years after Palmer had won his last tournament, he was still earning more than ANY sportsperson alive. McCormack “invented” sports marketing, signed Palmer with a handshake and changed the game – literally.

Then Tiger Woods arrived.

Hughes Norton had been scouting Tiger from an early age. He would become his first client manager at IMG. In a straw poll of leading sports agents, none predicted that Woods would earn more than USD$15 million per annum for endorsement activity. Norton blew the doors off with his ballsy “100 million per annum” projection. Woods had won nothing at that point.

Norton was right. That was just how IMG rolled.

Mark McCormack’s influence is everywhere in sport. His company brought Wimbledon into the modern era when McCormack took the Rolex folks to centre court and famously told them

“This is for you.”

Commercially brilliant, but brilliantly subtle. Rolex believed it. So did Mark.

That was the underlying philosophy of everything IMG did. Do your homework. Find the right brand for the client. Wait for the right deal. Get engaged before you get married. “Strategic” ruled the day.

When Mark McCormack died several years ago the company he founded was sold.

Maria Sharapova’s attempt to change her name to Sugarpova for the duration of the US Open goes against everything the IMG founder taught me about the industry he created.

The world’s highest earning female athlete has diluted her reputation, and quite possibly her future earnings. IMG got a mention but refused to comment during the global “WTF?” media frenzy. McCormack wouldn’t like that very much either.

Part of me still hopes it was just a typo. Maybe Maria knows about the global war  against obesity and diabetes and all the stuff that regular folks suffer. Maybe she wants to support that by changing her name to Sugarsova. You know, the end of the line for sugar and all that. Maybe her Russerican twang just confused those folks down in Florida.

If I was managing Maria here’s what I’d be telling her today:

Maria. This has been a PR disaster. I’m here to fix it.

 We’re going to tell the media that this was a concerted attempt by the world’s greatest female athlete to raise awareness about the dreadful global growth of obesity and diabetes. We’ll tell them this was a strategy to get their attention because this issue commands their attention.

 We’ll tell them you ARE changing your name. But this is about starting a new, positive global campaign to inform and fight against obesity and diabetes.

 It’s all been a play on words you see.

 Tomorrow, Maria, we are launching this campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of sugar.

 We’re going to publicly apologize and pull your sweet brand. This movement is called Sugarsova.”


“But vat about the maaahney we will lose?



Jerry Maguire was just a movie Maria. But I really liked the way he left his job by telling everyone how things should be done. You know. With responsibility and all that.

 That’s how I work too Maria. So don’t worry. You won’t lose anything. In fact you will be more valuable than ever! Your existing sponsors love this concept so much they have just agreed to a 10% increase AND they’re going to publicly support your new anti obesity campaign as well.  

 This is right for you Maria.”


“OK. Cool. That sounds sveet.”


Of course it does.

Sugarpova or Sugarsova? One little letter would make a whole world of difference.














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