Even the Big Fish Have Been Swallowed Whole by the New King Kong of Agents

Article excerpt

Byline: NEIL WILSON

A FUTURE question for Nick Hancock to ask his goodie-two-shoes team captain Gary Lineker on They Think It's All Over: what has he in common with the very large New York basketball player Patrick Ewing? Or with Houston Rockets' Hakken Ola-juwon? Or NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde?

The answer that may escape Lineker is that they are all about to come under the management of what may be the world's largest sports management company. Or at least the second or third largest.

Later this month International Management Group, the company created by American lawyer Mark McCormack which has dominated the management of the world's sporting talent for three decades, may lose its premier place in the market to one of two giant corporations that have woken up to the importance of sport.

The days when sports management was a grandiose name for the wheeling and dealing of Arthur Daley figures known as Mr Ten Per Cent, who aspired to sheepskin coats and gold bracelets and worked out of a local bar, are gone.

The godfathers of sport now are the presidents and chief executives of global corporations.

This month a new kid on the block that is presently a mere Goliath becomes King Kong. That is when the Marquee Group merges into SFX Entertainment to take Lineker, Michael Owen and Alan Shearer under the same wing as Luther Van-dross, Billy Joel and Michael Jordan in a deal worth around $100million.

Since SFX owns, leases or manages 75 venues in 30 cities across the United States, the players it manages will play not only in events it organises, paid for by sponsors it represents, but also in arenas it owns.

McCormack's IMG has led the field since the signing of golfer Arnold Palmer in the sixties. Its clients over 35 years comprise a hall of fame of sporting celebrities, from Palmer and Gary Player through Jack Nicklaus, Muhammad Ali, Chris Evert, John McEnroe, Sebastian Coe, Jackie Stewart and Nick Faldo to today's finest, Pete Sampras and Tiger Woods.

IMG was the first to create its own events for its own players. It owns Wentworth's world matchplay championship, for which it finds the sponsor, negotiates television coverage and then deals with players, some of whom it represents.

IMG even owns its own soccer club - Racing Club Strasbourg in France - and academies of sport where it creates its clients of the future.

Now two huge media groups are ranged against it. On the one side Marquee, soon to be swallowed by SFX. On the other Octagon, sports arm of the world's largest advertising group, Interpublic.

While McCormack's IMG grew organically over 35 years, his rivals have chosen to match him in as many months by swallowing the sprats, mackerels and basking sharks which operated in their shoals around the world's sporting talent. Inside three years Marquee has become worth close to $100million. In Europe it bought out Park Associates, a Nottingham agency that represented Lineker, Will Carling and David Gower; CSI, which owned TV rights to major events including the Premier League; and Tony Stephens Associates, managers of David Beckham and Michael Owen.

Now it has thrown the whole lot into Bob Sillerman's SFX Entertainment, a company whose shares trade on NASDAQ at around [pounds sterling]35, and is rumoured to be contemplating bidding this week for Wembley Stadium.

AS PART of its marriage dowry, SFX brings with it FAME, the sports agency which represents Michael Jordan, whose personal income would buy two Michael Owens every year even at Lazio's reputed [pounds sterling]25m valuation. …