Florida lost an adopted son in Arnold Palmer
PITTSBURGH – Sunday at the age 87 Arnold Palmer died of complications due to a heart issues. His passing hit me hard because of the thousands of sports stars I have worked with or interviewed over the years, there was none nicer and more interesting than “Arnie.”
Palmer, was so much more than a great golfer, he was loved by so many people that “Arnie’s Army,” was a worldwide group of fans that will never stop following him.
Talking to Palmer was always a treat and the fact that I grew up near Pittsburgh meant that was golden. I was golden. I interviewed Palmer over 40 to 50 times over the years and he was always smiling, always with a handshake and a wonderful story.
There was never a more gracious sports star than Palmer and no one in sports more willing to take the time to talk to his fans or media people like me. I must say that while he loved his native western Pennsylvania, make no mistake about it, Orlando and his beloved Bay Hill was a close second.
What some people didn’t know was how Palmer changed the way sports stars were marketed forever. Long before there was a Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, or any other superstar athlete Palmer not only paved the way for their commercial success he built the model.
He along with his longtime friend Mark McCormack created the world’s most influential marketing and representation company, the powerful International Management Group. The Cleveland based IMG became the most profitable marketing and representation company in sports history.
Palmer not only sold product he was the first major golf star to design golf courses. Many of them located throughout the state of Florida with Bay Hill being his favorite.
Last night I reached out to my long – time friend Joe Favorito, a New York based marketing and public relations expert. He knows something about marketing and promotion with a client list that includes Bloomberg LP, Intel, NFL Films, Fantasy Sports Ventures/The Big Lead, Major League Baseball, Spike TV, Sony Entertainment, Nickelodeon, EPIX, Wizard Entertainment/Comic-con, TOPPS, the John McEnroe Academy, USA Rugby 7’s, AVP, USA Wrestling, USA Baseball, Beyond Sport, Leaders In Performance, Right To Play and others.
He is also a professor of sports management at Columbia University and I asked him about what Palmer and McCormack meant to the business of sports. Here is what Joe had to say about the duo:
“There were others before Arnold Palmer that started to understand the value of their brand; Yogi Berra being one,Joe DiMaggio being another. However what Arnold Palmer and Mark McCormack started as such a wide ranging but focused business changed the way athletes were perceived and more importantly, how all of product and event marketing was going to be done going forward. Probably not enough young people really understand the impact that Palmer had not on golf, but on popular culture, politics and global business, but it is worth a quick study to see how the vision they had in the 1960’s transformed into the world we have today, with a multibillion dollar industry thriving like never before.”
Over their nearly 66 years together, Palmer and McCormack made IMG the most important sports company in the world for athletes as well as sports media rights. They represent, everyone from Tiger Woods to the Pope on the personality side and represented everyone from the PGA Tour to the International Olympic Committee in television rights fees negotiations.
More recently they moved into the TV, radio and digital rights business for colleges and universities driving that into a billion-dollar business. They own the rights to the universities of Florida, Florida State and South Florida.
Palmer retired from competition in 2006 and hadn’t won a major championship since 1964. But that didn’t prevent him from being ranked as the world’s third highest-paid retired athlete last year, with estimated earnings of $40 million. Only Michael Jordan and David Beckham brought in more, according to Forbes.
His business interests span clothing, cars, golf course building and beverages — with the iced tea and lemonade drink that bears his name.
Palmer was the co-founder of the Golf Channel, which was launched in 1995 and was the first sports specific network. Long before there was an NFL Network, NBA TV, MLB Network, NHL Network or Tennis Channel, the Golf Channel stood alone based in Orlando not too far from Palmer’s Bay Hill base.
The network was sold to Comcast/NBC Universal in 2006 and yesterday, the man now in charge of the Golf Channel Mike McCarley, responded to my request for his thought’s with this email statement:
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Arnold Palmer. He meant so much to so many people from all walks of life, and is the embodiment of what can happen if you work hard and always treat people well. As Golf Channel’s founder, he was proud of what he created and we all take tremendous pride in continuing an enduring part of his vast and lasting legacy.
He was and likely will remain the most important golfer of all-time. He will be remembered for popularizing the game of golf and revolutionizing the business of sport, but for those who were lucky enough to meet him, they will always remember how special he made them feel. He was always genuine and generous with his time, no matter if the cameras were rolling or not.” Mike McCarley, President, Golf, NBC Sports.
There were better golfers than Arnold Palmer, but there was never a better or more gracious person in all of sports than the man they called “The King.” His vision along with his partner Mark McCormack changed the way Madison Avenue looked at sports and sports stars forever.
Rest in peace Arnie, your Army will never forget you.