Executive-in-Residence Recalls Personal Heroes and Sport Management's Changing Landscape
November 04, 2013
In an hour-long lecture on October 29 to the Isenberg and campus community, Mark H. McCormack Executive in Residence Bob Kain lavished praise on two personal heroes, Mark H. McCormack and Billie Jean King. Kain's lecture was a highlight of his three-day Executive in Residence with the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management. During his residency, Kain met with faculty, students, and alumni. He also participated in the Sport Innovation Oral History Project in cooperation with the University Archives at the UMass Amherst Libraries.
In the 1960s, "Mark McCormack saw the future growth of the sports business in the U.S. and globally [facilitated by affordable air travel]," observed Kain, who worked for 27 years with McCormack at his dynamic firm, IMG. "Mark used to say that there were no language barriers in sports. Nobody else thought like that," he continued. "He was the most amazing visionary, but an unbelievable micro-manager." He did not, however, micromanage his executives-one reason why "Mark kept his 15 top executives together for 15 to 20 years.
"To me, Billie Jean King was the 20th century's most important athlete," emphasized Kain, who from the late 1970s represented King, Chris Everett, Martina Navratilova, and a host of other women tennis giants. "On the court, I've never seen any man or woman work so hard," he recalled. She was just as relentless, he added, off the court in championing women in professional tennis. That included creating and driving the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), which ran its own women's tennis tour. Ignored by the tennis establishment, King and the tour secured their own sponsors, promoters, and ultimate success. As late as 1980, the German and Italian opens still refused to include women's teams. "We [IMG] took the risk of running our own tour," Kain told his UMass audience.
King and her fellow Women's Tennis Association athletes, noted Kain, were the #1 lobbyists for the U.S. Civil Rights Act's Title IX, which mandates gender equality in federally supported education. "It's not just about sports; it's about every educational [opportunity]," he remarked. Driven by King and others, the Women's Sports Foundation "became Title IX's guardian angel," he continued. When Title IX became law in 1972, 300,000 women played high school sports; today the number is 3 million. Without question, "Billie Jean has changed the world," he insisted.
When Kain joined IMG in 1976 as the third employee in its nascent tennis business, McCormack, as always, was seeking to expand his company's competitive reach. IMG, Kain emphasized, had been dominant since the 1960s in representing the planet's top golf pros, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player. The company had expanded internationally, representing many of golf's top tournaments and tours. "Tennis was even more global than golf," explained Cain, who helped adapt the company's successful model to tennis, first representing the world's elite players and then events and tours.
In 1987, Kain propelled IMG's purchase of the Florida-based Nick Bolletierri Tennis Academy, which has helped develop a who's who of elite tennis players. Under Kain's leadership, the company expanded that footprint as IMG Academy, fostering megastar athletes in golf, soccer, baseball, and basketball. Kain also recounted persuading McCormack in 1984 to invest in figure skating, where IMG gained rapid market dominance. Twenty years later, the division's signature Stars on Ice tour visited 70 cities in the U.S. and Canada.
When Mark McCormack died in 2003, Kain became IMG's president and co-CEO, leaving the firm in 2006. Since 2009, he has been a part-time senior advisor with Creative Artists Agency, the world's largest entertainment and sports agency. At the evening's end, Kain offered the students additional advice: "The sports business is no longer wide open," he noted. But there are plenty of opportunities in rapidly developing nations like Brazil, China, and India. And, he added, you should take selling seriously. That means selling products, services, and yourself. If you're turned off by "sales" as a concept, substitute "presentation," he advised.