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Living With the Pioneer of Sports Marketing, Mark McCormack

Tennis Australia's Paul Kilderry says living in the pool house of IMG founder and sports marketing legend Mark McCormack inspired him to pursue sports management.

McCormack, a lawyer, agent and writer who passed away in 2003, managed some of the biggest names in sport, including Björn Borg, Michael Schumacher and the Williams sisters among many others.

He was one of the first to connect elite athletes with sponsorship and endorsement deals and revolutionised the sporting world by making IMG the largest athlete representation company in the world.

Paul Kilderry, who heads up athlete management at Tennis Australia and was a junior tennis star, spent a period under McCormack's roof while trying to breakthrough onto the international tennis circuit.


“I used to live in their (the McCormack's) pool house for a while … and he (Mark) just had this like carousel of sports people and famous people from all over the world always at his house and there was just this intriguing lifestyle and as a 15, 16 year old kid, it was pretty amazing,” Kilderry told Pickstar’s Off-Field Podcast.

“We’d go to dinner and he'd always have some fascinating stories and he'd always have a briefcase of notes or things that he's kept, you know, and you'd be at dinner and an example would be, he'd bring out this old piece of paper and it would be all scrunched up and it would be a letter from Rod Laver, in 1970-something; 'Dear Mr. McCormack, I've seen the great work that you've done with Arnold Palmer and I'd love you to manage me'.

“You know, fast forward to today and you'd have 50 agents clamouring all over him to sign him and you've got this beautiful handwritten note from Laver asking him to manage him and (there were) all these stories and years of that and so it was a big part of my life growing up, but I was always fascinated by that.

“I spent a lot of time with his family and I just saw his lifestyle, and in his library room at home he had three big screen TVs, this was back in the late 80s you know, big screen TVs weren't around, and he'd sit there and watch the tennis on one screen, watch the golf on another and some other sport on the other and thinking 'I'm making money there, making money there and I'm making money there'.

“In the back of my mind, probably spending so much time with Mark, I always thought I'm going to do sports management when I stop playing tennis. That was always what I wanted to do.”

Sports Illustrated called Mark McCormack "the most powerful man in sports".

[Mark McCormack: Sports Illustrated called him "the most powerful man in sports."]

Kilderry first came onto McCormack's radar at just seven years of age.

“I was always around the tennis, and funny, in 1981 Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe came to Perth to play … my dad took me down to watch and I jumped on the court and had a hit with Bjorn Borg and his coach.

“His manager was there from IMG, who saw me play tennis at the age of seven, and sent a telegram to Mark McCormack, the founder of IMG and said 'I’ve discovered our next superstar, we’ve got to sign this kid!', which in 1981 was probably quite humorous, these days they'd sign that seven-year-old or eight-year-old!" Kilderry said.

"I got to play with Borg and then IMG did a few things for me and got me some sponsors and rackets and things like that."

A few years later, while Paul’s father was coaching internationally, he was able to meet McCormack in person, who had not forgotten the young star.

“He had an amazing memory and said 'oh is this young boy from Perth still

playing tennis?' And I was at the time the national 14 and under

champion, so my father said 'oh that's my son'!" Kilderry said.

“Mark was coming to Perth in 1987 for the America's Cup and came down and watched me play, and offered my father a job to come work for him in America, and me a scholarship to go to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy as a fourteen-year-old, so the whole family packed up and moved to Florida.”

Paul Kilderry with Matthew Pavlich

Following his professional tennis career and a stint in coaching, Kilderry took on the task of heading up athlete management for Tennis Australia.

It's unusual for a sport's governing body to play the role of an agent, but professional tennis players have a unique set of needs.

“At the time (over a decade ago) we had a lot of players who were having troubles with management, so we would invest a quarter of a million dollars a year into a young player and help their development and supply them with a coach and help their physio and do everything for them to help them become a pro,” Kilderry said.

“We had a few instances where managers were getting involved and the focus

was very commercial rather than about development.

“We also had cases where players might have signed up to something because

they needed help at a vulnerable time in their career, and basically signed the

next ten years of their career away, paying back the prize money or however it

may be.”

Kilderry's first client was female professional tennis player Casey Dellacqua, who was initially signed on a one year deal for 10 percent of her commercial earnings, about half of what most traditional sports management firms would charge.

"So Casey, you may remember, she had a great Australian Open, and all of a sudden she was talking about Target in a press conference, and then we were able to do a deal with Target which was the first deal I ever did actually," Kilderry said.

"I went in there and sort of worked through it, and because Nike were sponsoring Casey at the time it was really interesting, and Target were great to work with.

"It was fantastic, Target had never sponsored an individual athlete like that before and it was a unique brand, but I did learn a lot and I was thankful."

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