New IMG brand to unify Bradenton campus

BRADENTON -- IMG is preparing for an identity makeover.

The sports training giant this month will merge all of its independently branded athletic programs under one new name to enhance the academy's global marketing strategy.

Shedding the plural, the new-look IMG Academy is focused on creating a feel at its Bradenton campus that more closely mirrors that of a university.

The change is part of a long-range expansion plan that also includes new dormitories, a student union and bolstered sports offerings.

The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy and the John Madden Football Academy are the only arms at IMG that will retain reference to a high-profile figures. Bollettieri was the original founder of IMG Academy more than three decades ago.

"It reached the point where our different brands were competing with each other," IMG spokeswoman Kim Berard said during a recent tour of the campus. "We feel like right now we have built enough equity from a standpoint where our brand can stand on its own."

IMG hired a New York consulting firm to vet options for unifying the campus. The end result takes a page from the collegiate model, where student athletes of all sports share a common bond by representing one athletic program.

Staff meetings were called last week to inform the 650 full-time workers of the change. The academy also spent the week delivering its new message to students and their families.

IMG is in the process of replacing signs at its 450-acre campus on 34th Street West in Bradenton. Updated gear is on its way.

"We want kids to feel like they're in the same academy," Berard said. "Besides Bollettieri's tennis program, all of the other name associations are going away."

World class facility

IMG Academy is a specialized boarding school for student athletes who come from around the world to train there.

While teaching standard education courses, the school also offers professional quality training for tennis, basketball, golf, soccer, lacrosse, baseball and general conditioning.

More than 60 percent of IMG's 725 enrolled students are from other countries. Some are kindergartners.

The campus also runs summer camps, training programs for professional athletes, one-on-one sports tutelage and is home to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

Athletes from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees to Heisman trophy winner Cam Newton and Miami Dolphins top rookie draft pick Ryan Tannehill all trained at IMG for their NFL Combine, the pre-screening workout before the annual draft.

"Pro athletes love it here, and because they can come and everything they need to train in the offseason is right on campus," Berard said.

Tennis is IMG's start

The school was founded in 1978 by Bollettieri as simply a tennis program. IMG purchased the academy in 1987, adding golf and eventually other sports to its curriculum.

The latest addition came last year when IMG paid $7.5 million for 110 acres of adjacent land that will be used for future expansion.

The academy's 10-year blueprint shifts the focus of the campus from the front -- where the clubhouse, classrooms and most housing now stand -- closer to the secluded soccer, baseball and football fields to the rear of the property.

The front hub was developed to accommodate the tennis and golf programs, which came first. But as the campus has expanded, it's made for a long hike for the students of other programs who need to access those services, Berard said.

IMG was granted rezoning approval by the Manatee County Commission earlier this year that opens the door to more dorms, recreational facilities, retail and a restaurant or medical clinic on 325 acres.

Workers now are moving dirt for the construction of a new five-story student housing complex in the center of campus, which is slated to be completed by July 2013. A new student union will be built adjacent to the dorms.

Classrooms also eventually will be moved to the centralized location, and the current education building will converted into general office space for support staff.

All of the older development to the front will be razed incrementally to make way for more updated facilities.

Unique assets for Bradenton

The 10-year master plan even calls for a full-sized football stadium for IMG's new high school team. Bringing a volleyball program to the school still is under consideration.

"These are unique assets to our community," said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Manatee Economic Development Corp., which has led the push to develop the local sports industry. "It's extremely important to our economy."

The sports industry is a $36 billion economic generator to Florida's economy, supporting about 434,000 jobs in the Sunshine State, according to Enterprise Florida.

The estimated annual economic impact of IMG alone was last tallied at $160 million. Capital investments over its 10-year master plan will swell that figure to more than $350 million, according to a study by the economics consulting firm Fishkind and Associates.

And the area's efforts to bolster sports tourism here are heightening those implications further by creating synergy throughout the industry.

Organizations like the Pittsburgh Pirates and IMG are now sharing information that they never have before, including business that provides services athletes need from equipment manufacturers to field care.

Pirates all-star outfielder Andrew McCutchen also trained at IMG this winter. He likely would not have done that if the Pirates made their spring training home in a different city, said Trevor Gooby, senior director of Florida operations for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"Between the Pirates, IMG, the rowing and hockey arena, it's going to help the whole area," Gooby said.

Josh Salman, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @JoshSalman.