The IMG Effect

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2003

Ed and Susan Moore have a successful sewing supply business in Portland, Ore., and a successful 18-year-old son in Bradenton. Their business-selling threads, needles and other supplies across the country-has allowed them to give their son Jonathan the best golf training money can buy at the Leadbetter Academy, part of the sprawling IMG Academies in southwest Bradenton.

Like hundreds of other parents striving to help their children succeed in the competitive arena of sports, the Moores are turning the former Nick Bollettieri tennis school into an economic behemoth in Manatee County. Their presence is growing businesses and communities-such as Glen Lakes and El Conquistador-that surround it. They are buying real estate and cars, building homes, eating at local restaurants, and shopping for groceries, furniture and sporting goods.

It's a story Susan Moore loves to tell, starting with her son, then 14, enrolling in the famed golf school and the private Bradenton Academy in the fall of 1999.

"We were nervous parents, so we came out and stayed two months of that first four with him," she says. "We stayed at the Radisson on Lido Key. He had so much fun, and the weather was a huge bonus. He being our only child, it was easy for us to come join him. We found a very nice villa here in El Conquistador."

Bradenton quickly became their adopted home, with Susan here year round, and Ed, who still flies back to Oregon to run his business, spending three out of every four weeks here. They bought furniture and a car here, and they made sure family would visit them regularly. "My in-laws come every three or four months," Susan reports. "They love Florida, too."

How big an impact do families such as the Moores have? Multiply their experience by just some of the 500 full-time students at IMG, plus the 10,000 annual part-time campers and hundreds of adults who visit for business retreats, and it's clear that IMG's economic effects are enormous.

The present academy started small, but with a bang, in the late 1970s. Tennis coach Nick Bollettieri envisioned a tennis boarding school that prepared students for college. As he added students and a camp environment, the academy concept took shape. Big-name players like Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Boris Becker spent time with Bollettieri, and soon the Bollettieri legend was born. When he joined forces in 1987 with International Management Group-the world's largest sports marketing agency representing famous athletes, with corporate annual revenue of $900 million-the seeds were planted for today's mega complex.

Financially, the Academies comprise a small part of IMG's empire-less than one percent of IMG's annual profit, according to Sports Illustrated. While IMG executives acknowledge that the Academies help to put promising young star athletes under contract, Greg Breunich, senior IMG vice president and the Academies director, says their main purpose is to provide young athletes with the best sports training available.

Today's IMG campus encompasses 190 acres bordering 34th Street, near Bayshore High School and Manatee Community College. What began as a small cluster of tennis courts now includes dormitories, meeting rooms, fitness centers, playing fields, pools and IMG's own villas-a complex of 74 residential units, which sell between $220,000 and $500,000. IMG's new Academy Park is home to baseball, soccer, a huge golf practice facility and Phase Two of the villa project off 53rd Avenue West.

With the addition of hockey and basketball in the last three years, IMG Academies now employs more than 200 people and is home to training centers in six sports, plus the International Performance Institute, which specializes in sports conditioning of big-name athletes and youngsters.

And officials say the Academies will continue to grow, whether through buying more land, growing existing programs or consulting for other start-up academies around the world. IMG just finished a deal for a start-up academy in India.

The Bradenton campus also hosts huge sports events, such as last fall's Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships, which brought in more than 1,000 top junior tennis players from 70 countries. These players, their coaches and families pump even more dollars into the economy. Just as importantly, the visitors discover the Academies and Southwest Florida, and spread the word.

IMG's latest venture is hosting corporate retreats with a sports twist: business in the morning and games in the afternoon.

"The corporate leaders we're bringing in here are phenomenal," says IMG Academies marketing manager Laura Borso. In 2003 that list included folks from Wilson Sporting Goods, ECCO, J.P. Morgan, Prince, Nike and Chrysler.

Attending IMG costs nearly as much as an Ivy League education. The annual price tag for a high school-age tennis player-a simple plan that includes daily instruction, mental conditioning, room, board, tournament entry fees and spending money-is about $31,000. For those parents who can afford the extras, such as the IMG's private school, the Pendleton School, additional tournaments, private lessons and private performance training, the bill can run up to almost $70,000.

IMG executives don't like the facility to be regarded as only for athletes from wealthy families. "This is not an elitist prep school. We have a very wide variety of students, with all socio-economic levels represented," Borso says.

But there is no denying that the majority of parents who send their kids to IMG Academies don't worry about incidental charges. "We've got some pretty powerful parents coming in here," Borso says. "We have 500 full-time students, and about 50 percent of those parents are buying property here. They're not the type of people to rent for long."

Next-door neighbor El Conquistador, a waterfront golf course community, has benefited from its relationship with IMG Academies. As the home course for the Leadbetter Academy, El Conquistador's proximity to IMG has attracted doting parents like the Moores. It's been an economic windfall for El Conquistador and made the 30-year-old golf course's $2.5 million renovation possible, says general manager Tom Donato. "It's having a big effect on us. The revenue the club has generated from the Academy has offset the cost of renovating the course," he says.

IMG also is helping to sustain local private schools. The Pendleton School, a private school on the IMG campus, is open 12 hours a day so students can fit in both their education and sports training. In addition, 37 students are attending St. Stephens and 55 are enrolled at nearby Bradenton Academy.

"I believe we have sent millions of dollars into the local economy every year. Not only in encouraging business and expansion of existing business, but in the widening and expansion and maintenance of community streets, property taxes feeding into the school systems, hospitals and doctors, apartment and condo complexes, etc. There isn't an area of community life that hasn't been impacted by the money from our families," Borso says.

Shopping, eating out or exercising, Susan Moore says she spots more IMG parents and children every month. "You can tell an IMG person because they look a little different. A lot of Europeans, and you can tell from the athletic clothing. You see them jogging all the time, and in the grocery store, everywhere," she says.

Possibly the biggest boost IMG gives Bradenton's image is through national media exposure. While local people may not know everything that goes on behind the walls of the empire Bollettieri begat, magazine readers the nation over have seen a steady stream of glowing articles-most mentioning Bradenton's great weather or scenery or atmosphere. Business Week, Baseball America, Associated Press, Street & Smith's Sports Business, Sports Illustrated, Tennis, Golf Digest, GQ have all reported on IMG Academies. Bollettieri also is a familiar figure at televised Grand Slam tennis events or on ESPN, discussing famous child athletes and other sports issues.

Nancy Engel, executive director of Manatee's Economic Development Council, says when she tells out-of-towners she's from Bradenton they often respond, "Oh, that's where IMG is." Manatee Chamber of Commerce president Bob Bartz agrees: "They're well known, and any time your name is mentioned, there's no way to put a value on it. We treasure that greatly."

There's also the cachet that visits from famous sports figures lend to the area. College football high-round draft picks train here each year before the National Football League draft, looking to improve their skills and increase their potential income. Stars from New York Yankee Derek Jeter to L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant have spent at least some time at IMG, training in relative anonymity next to rising stars and starry-eyed high school students.

While the IMG name and sports stars attracted plenty of families to Bradenton, many of them now plan to stay after their children move on. Jonathan Moore, the golf student from Oregon, will head west to study and play golf at Oklahoma State University, but he'll return often. "We'll keep our place here, because really, this has become Jonathan's home," Susan says. "This is going to be Jonathan's first house." 

IMG Academies by the numbers

Total number of athletes in a year: 10,000

Number of those who are adults: 3,000

Number of full-time junior athletes: 500

Number of U.S. states students come from: 45

Number of countries: 70

Youngest student: 12

Oldest student: 70-plus

Percentage of IMG's college-bound graduates who receive scholarships: 80

Base room/board/instruction cost for high-school age athlete: $31,400

Number of tennis courts: 72

Cost for 15 private lessons with Nick Bollettieri: $7,500*

Minimum spending allowance per student per year: $800*

Tuition at IMG's Pendleton School: $11,250*

Percentage of full-time students who have one parent living in an IMG villa: 30*

Number. of soccer fields: 4

Number of professional baseball fields: 2

Number of acres of driving range: 30

Square footage of indoor International Performance Institute: 30,000

The source: Sports Illustrated, Nov. 2002

The Coach

Tennis coach Nick Bollettieri founded the business that has become IMG Academies, but becoming a Goliath was not his original plan. In fact, in the 1980s, while he stood shirtless on the courts teaching ground strokes to future Wimbledon champs, his tennis school was losing its shirt. IMG, he says, came to the rescue.

"I had no choice," the tennis guru says now. "Outwardly, we were successful. We were quickly becoming the leaders of a different approach to tennis. But we didn't pay attention to the expenses. We gave the house away. About every student was a scholarship, and it boiled down to economics."

With IMG's corporate bean counters in place, Bollettieri says he and his team of Ted Meekma and Greg Breunich were able to grow the tennis school. We have become a huge mecca," Bollettieri says. "And we're giving back to the community."

Bollettieri works closely with the Boys and Girls Clubs on fundraising and scholarship programs. His role with IMG Academies has evolved into promotion and motivational speaking. And that's fine with him. "I can concentrate on what I do best, which is to promote and do coaching-groups and individuals. The relationship has been great for everybody. I'm very much on the tennis court, giving the people what they pay for."

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