Golf legend Arnold Palmer died yesterday at age 87. While the golf world mourns his death as one of the best golfers of all-time, others know Palmer from his many other endeavors – including the ice tea that bears his name and the more recent Xarelto commercials that he stars in alongside NBA star Chris Bosh and entertainer Kevin Nealon. Yet, beyond golf and entertainment, Arnold Palmer’s biggest impact on sports may have been something that most people are not even aware of.
In 1960, Arnold Palmer agreed to be represented by Cleveland attorney Marc McCormack for his business and golf endeavors. McCormack, a college golfer himself, was already involved in staging golf exhibition events and saw the need for professional golfers to be properly represented to maximize their own economic value and make the most of their opportunities. That relationship gave rise to what became International Management Group – or better known as IMG. After signing Palmer, IMG soon added other top golfers such as Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
Ironically, Palmer's most prolific years as a golfer were 1960–1963. During that stretch, he won 29 PGA Tour events, including five major tournament victories. His popularity gave rise to a broad fan base known as "Arnie's Army." Palmer won a PGA “major” tournament every year from 1955 to 1971. He was also the first golfer to eclipse the $1million dollar mark in career earnings in 1967.
As Palmer’s athletic performances peaked, his business endeavors started to take over. His golfing accomplishments led to scores of endorsement deals along the way. Together, Palmer and McCormack formed Arnold Palmer Enterprises which eventually became the holding company for most of Palmer’s golf related businesses which including golf courses – including Bay Hill in Florida and Latrobe Country Club in Pennsylvania (where Palmer’s father was a club pro initially), to golf course design companies, to sportswear. With IMG’s experience in even production, he was also instrumental in the founding of the Golf Channel too. While Palmer continued to play on the PGA Tour and later the Senior Tour, his earnings on the course quickly took a back seat to what he was generating off the course…
Additionally, went on to become the biggest sports agency in the world. It always had a huge role in shaping professional golf and then tennis – which it at one time represented majority of the circuits top stars. IMG expanded into team sports too including football and baseball and was one of the largest live sport event programming owners in the world. After McCormack’s death, the company went on to merge with William Morris Endeavor to form WME-IMG which now spans the vast reaches of both the sports and entertainment worlds. Earlier this year, WME-IMG also purchased the UFC, the largest and most popular mixed martial arts circuit, in a deal valued at $4 billion.
So, while we celebrate Arnold Palmer’s achievements as a golfer today, what is even more amazing is how he transformed the business of sports in the last 50 years. Now, in an age of multimillionaire athletes abound, few of them probably even realize how it all began.