Mark McCormack founded a company in the 1960’s on the marketing rights of Arnold Palmer and a host of other athletes, and that business, IMG, grew into the most powerful brand in the sports marketplace. From the marketing of the Pope to the creation of television to the representing of athletes, the world of IMG never ended. However in recent years following McCormack’s passing, the company on the sports side changed focus, cutting many of its representation groups and focusing more on properties under the new leadership of Ted Forstmann and George Pyne. New growth areas were established and very un-IMG chances were taken. Yes the company does still represent the marketing rights of some of the greatest names in and out of sport, but now IMG is seen in other areas, especially American college licensing.
The goal with IMG College was to aggregate the marketing power of some of the biggest names and events in American collegiate sport and expose those properties as brands to partners who were never able to grasp the full aggregate value of a university or a league. One of those latest expansions was into a more aggressive licensing plan, the results of which have yielded both high end deals with Brooks Brothers (a first for the storied apparel company to license college images) and more mainstream with Old Navy. Now collegiate licensing of marks is not new. What is new is a much more targeted approach for specific items and specific colleges that match the retailer in a multifaceted approach. Many times the retail push for college branded apparel was scattershot, some things you would find…a Syracuse jacket in Des Moines, a Florida teeshirt in Boston…but the demand channels were never fully defined. IMG has changed that a bit now, seeing ways to take Notre Dame ties to Brooks Brothers, or Alabama tees to Old Navy. The result is a great win for all involved. The Universities in the program align with great retail brands they could not reach on their own, alumni have an outlet to but quality and unique apparel at retail outside of the University footprint or the bookstore, and IMG helps pull it all together as a way to augment all their licensing efforts. It is still in its early stages with back to school underway, but by getting out in front and into retail, the pairing could be a good one, especially for Universities with big names still struggling to hit budgets in challenging times.