Bob Kain visits UMass as Executive-In-Residence

By Mark Chiarelli

The senior advisor for the Creative Artists Agency and former President and co-CEO of IMG Worldwide Bob Kain visited campus this week, delivering the Sports Innovators Keynote Address at the Campus Center auditorium on Tuesday.

Kain was recently named Executive-In-Residence of the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management.

Titled “The Global Growth of IMG & The Business Behind the First Golden Age of Female Athletes,” Kain’s address covered a broad spectrum of topics and stories from his 30 years with IMG, including his work directly with McCormack. Kain also built IMG’s tennis division into a dominant power within the sport as the company represented numerous stars such as Billie Jean-King, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Maria Sharapova, among others.

McCormack, who founded the company in 1960 as a small golf agency, recognized the importance of globalizing athletes, capitalizing on the growth of television and endorsements.

“I worked alongside Mark McCormack and I am truly honored to be the McCormack Executive-in-Residence,” Kain said in a press release on Oct. 10. “Mark had extraordinary vision and I am eager to celebrate and reflect upon his remarkable legacy and leadership during my UMass visit.”

McCormack was instrumental in Kain’s growth within the business.

“He was the best when you were down,” Kain said, pointing out McCormack was the first to “pump him up” if he made a mistake.

“He was a wonderful boss, a wonderful leader. … He was a huge impact on my life.”

The initial growth of IMG was tied to McCormack’s signing of Arnold Palmer, the first athlete to sign with the agency. The sport industry had never seen an athlete transcend internationally by using television endorsements and global marketing.

“We basically had to figure it out on our own,” Kain said, later mentioning that sports were confined to “one to two pages in the newspaper” and three sport-dominant networks.

Palmer’s clout as a golfer opened many avenues for growth.

“Arnold Palmer was the greatest superstar of our lifetime,” Kain said, noting Palmer is a “polite, gracious” man who treated everyone with respect. IMG’s growth within golf in the 1960s allowed the company more freedom to delve into other sports in the 1970s. Golf and tennis quickly became synonymous.

Kain joined the tennis agency in 1976, overseeing its rise within the tennis industry. He personally represented King, comparing her to both Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey in terms of legacy in the sporting world.

“She was the most important athlete in the 20th century and, to me, it’s not even close,” Kain said.

He also visited numerous classes throughout his visit on campus including an in-class interview with Todd Crosset, a professor within the Sport Department. Kain told numerous stories, highlighting his involvement as King’s agent during a controversial story in which King admitted to having an affair with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett, in 1981. Kain said King lost all of her endorsements within 48 hours of the news.

“I’ll never forget it … I don’t think there are any courses (offered in school) to help you with this one,” Kain said.

Kain also focused on the future business of sport, as much of his audience consisted of prospective sport management students. A pioneer in women’s sports, Kain founded IMG’s figure skating division and later oversaw product of IMG fashion before retiring from IMG in 2006.

Today, he still sees a lag in hiring women throughout the sport industry.

“The business side of sports has not progressed as well as it should for women,” Kain said. “There has to be more effort to hire women and minorities.”

Kain also had some advice for students looking to break into sports, saying that innovators need to look internationally and continue to globalize sports and at the end of the day, students must learn how to sell themselves.

“It takes good blocking and tackling (in the sport industry), it’s not a fancy business,” Kain said. “The most important thing is selling. Selling is critical to your success.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected]

Correction: In the original version of this story that appeared on Oct. 31, The Collegian misreported that Bob Kain is the senior adviser for the Colonial Athletic Association. Kain is the senior adviser for Creative Artists Agency.