The problem is that IMG now owns this venerable tennis magazine and also represents the two biggest celebrities in tennis: Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer.

I read the New York Times sports section (paper version) each morning. I don’t read my hometown LA Times sports section or the USA Today sports section and I seldom go onto ESPN.com. It’s pretty silly considering the New York Times print version is often a day late with sports news. When Ohio State played Florida in the BCS championship game last week, the paper at my doorstep the following morning had the opening kickoff touchdown run by Ted Ginn and that’s it, no final score and no review of the game. Evening games finish long after the Times runs its presses for the hard copy version of its publication. Yes I know I could read it online, but then I’d get milk and eggs all over my keyboard.

Why do I put up with this inconvenience? Here’s one reason: yesterday’s excellent, in depth article about Teddy Forstmann, the owner of the huge meda/sport corporation IMG. The tennis media world has been in an uproar since IMG bought Tennis Week, the well-respected tennis publication started by Gene Scott 32 years ago. Scott, a key figure in tennis as a publisher, author and tennis advocate, died of heart disease in April. The problem is that IMG now owns this venerable tennis magazine and also represents the two biggest celebrities in tennis: Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer.

The next time Maria Sharapova pulls out of Montreal citing exhaustion as she did last year, will Tennis Week write an in depth article noting that pullouts by top ten WTA players doubled over the previous year and fault Sharapova for putting herself before the game, or will it look more like this Maria fan blog and complain that she was “punished for the exhaustion that led to her withdrawal?”

Not that IMG doesn’t put itself before tennis, it does. Look at this quote from Forstmann in the Times article: “This is not a golf or tennis or media business. We work for the greater glory of IMG.” Let’s look at this quote for a minute. If ever there was a statement that the bottom line means more than the content responsible for that bottom line, I never read it.

Mark McCormack created IMG. He was an innovator in sports media management and he loved the sports he represented but he was a poor businessman. The Times article reports that the company was $200 million in debt when McCormack died in 2003. Forstmann isn’t a creator or an innovator; he buys companies that other people created, makes them profitable, then sells them.

It’s kind of like flipping houses. I just purchased a house that was built 45 years ago. The original builder sold the house to a woman who spent the last year fixing it up so she could sell it for a profit. Since I moved in two weeks ago the garbage disposal has broken, the kitchen drain has clogged twice, milk goes bad in the refrigerator and the telephone jack in the new addition doesn’t work.

Disclosure: I flip houses. In fact I have one on the market right now so I know what I’m talking about. I try to take care that when I sell a house everything works but clearly I don’t love it as much as the house I live in and that’s how it is with IMG. Forstmann’s goal is to sell IMG for much more money that he paid for it and that means increasing the value of his properties, Federer and Sharapova included. When Sharapova’s interests conflict with the WTA’s interests – when she pulls out of a high profile tournament for instance – IMG will conflict with the interests of tennis.

IMG is just another version of the megamerger multimedia companies already out there. It’s clients include Tiger Woods, football star Peyton Manning, the Grammys, violinist Itzhak Perlman and fashion model Elizabeth Hurley and it owns the IMG sports academies which include Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy. Tennis Week could turn into the sports version of Time Magazine. When a movie shows up on the front page of Time Magazine, it’s just an advertisement for the latest release by a Time Warner owned film studio. You could call it an advertorial. Or it could turn into the sports version of The Oprah Magazine and alternate covers featuring Federer and Sharapova. That’s not likely but, for sure, the world now has one less independent media publication.

That’s another reason I like the New York Times, it owns itself. It has some of the megamerger thing happening: it owns the Boston Globe, has an interest in the Boston Red Sox, owns a number of regional newspapers, various websites and two radio stations – in fact most of its income is derived from assets other than its newspaper, but, as sad as that is, that’s independent by today’s standard.

Where is all the truly independent media? Let’s put it this way. If you work for an independent publication, you probably have a day job to pay the bills.

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