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Sports Agents Become Indispensable/Sports Marketing Booms in China, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

Sports agency, as we know it today, was largely defined by the efforts of the late superagent Mark McCormack, who founded International Management Group with a handshake deal to represent golfer Arnold Palmer.  McCormack and his company, which later become known as IMG Worldwide, pioneered the negotiation of highly lucrative contracts for top athletes.  World-class athletes can earn millions of dollars yearly by excelling in their sports, but they can also multiply their incomes significantly by endorsing products, participating in special events and speaking to groups.  According to Forbes, Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi garnered $130 million through salary, winnings and endorsements, making him the number one highest paid athlete in the world in 2022.
Sports agents make this possible by serving athletes in an ever-increasing number of ways.  From contract negotiation to endorsement deals to special event planning to investment planning to personal handling, agents have become indispensable to top athletes in every sport.
McCormack was the first to arrange endorsements, signing Palmer as a spokesperson for everything from golf clubs to motor oil to the Lear Jet.  McCormack planned and executed golf tournaments, selling rounds of golf played with Palmer to executives around the world for hefty fees.  The golfer was a highly paid inspirational speaker for many years.  At the end of his career, long after Palmer’s official retirement, he still earned $20 million a year from deals struck by IMG.
From golf, McCormack’s IMG branched out into 10 other sports, plus modeling and the arts.  The firm also launched a television production division and established IMG College which has the marketing rights to for more than 200 collegiate institutions for licensing, sponsorships, ticketing, publishing and seating.  Meanwhile, in 1995, four former IMG agents, including Ariel Emanuel, formed the Endeavor Talent Agency.  Endeavor and competing firm William Morris Agency merged to form WME in 2009.  WME went on to form a strategic partnership with investment company Silver Lake Partners three years later.
In December 2013, IMG was acquired by WME and Silver Lake Partners for $2.3 billion.  The latest chapter in the powerhouse agency story was the 2017 establishment of Endeavor LLC, which is now the parent firm for the entire WME and IMG business.
Outside the U.S., China is a hotbed of opportunity for sports marketing.  China’s growing middle class is being exposed to talented athletes from around the world.  These athletes and their agents are looking for ways to tap the growing Chinese market.  While Yao Ming, a native of China, has long been a familiar face in Chinese ads and at personal appearances, athletes including Serena Williams, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are doing the same.

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