Amid fallout at IMG, Donald looms as top prize

Luke Donald

Luke Donald

IMG Worldwide remains one of the premier representation firms in sports and entertainment, but the recent defections of top golf agents and players – as well as last week’s exit of tennis great Roger Federer – has the agency under scrutiny.

Rumors and speculation are swirling, ranging from banter about a possible sale of the company to IMG de-emphasizing player management for more lucrative business ventures. For now, IMG executives are keeping mum, especially since they’re embroiled in a lawsuit in a Cleveland court over the departure of golf division employees and their contracts.

In early May, Jon Wagner, senior vice president and co-managing director of the Americas, vice president Kevin Lynch and player representative Jeff Stacy left IMG Golf. Pending litigation, primarily addressing noncompete issues, includes a hearing scheduled for July 10.

Last week, Wagner opened an office in the Cleveland area for his new firm, Milestone Sports Management. In what’s expected to be a hotly contested battle is the recruitment of No. 1-ranked Luke Donald, who is represented by IMG but has a contract expiring at the end of 2013. While at IMG, Wagner also represented Sean O’Hair and Trevor Immelman. Both left IMG in May as well.

Revenues generated from Donald’s endorsement deals seem relatively minor compared with IMG Worldwide’s recent international initiatives, including forming joint ventures in emerging markets such as Turkey and China, but the company seems intent on protecting its key assets and juggernaut reputation in player representation.

Donald’s endorsement agreements with Titleist and FootJoy, Mizuno and RBC are scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.

Regarding his new shop, Wagner said: “I’ve had plenty of conversations with plenty of people. . . . It opens up a whole new world.”

Meanwhile, Donald sounded determined to stay out of a potential crossfire.

“I believe whoever negotiates that gets the royalties on it or whatever, the commissions,” Donald said. “But again, I’m trying to play golf and not really get involved with all this stuff.”

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