SBJ/20081215/Special Report

50 Most Influential, 41-50

Executive director, Major League Baseball Players Association

Change from 2007:

Don Fehr has presided over the MLB Players Association, widely considered to be the most powerful union in sports, since 1983. Fehr has long been regarded as the most powerful of all the sports union chiefs, but in recent years MLBPA general counsel Michael Weiner has taken a more active role. And, although Fehr has guided the union through two strikes and one lockout, the sport has enjoyed labor peace for more than a decade. The last collective-bargaining agreement was negotiated quietly and without rancor nearly two months before it was set to expire in 2006. That CBA expires in 2011, and it’s unclear if the next negotiation will be as agreeable.

CEO, The Scott Boras Corp.

Change from 2007:

Scott Boras will again wield more influence on this year’s baseball free agent market than any other agent, representing a slew of star clients headed up by Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Lowe. Additionally, when the MLB Players Association settled a grievance earlier this year involving Pittsburgh Pirates draft pick Pedro Alvarez, it was widely viewed as a win for Boras, who represents Alvarez.

That’s a nice rebound from last year, when Wall Street financiers, including Warren Buffett, interceded for Boras’ client Alex Rodriguez after A-Rod opted out of his deal with the New York Yankees. It’s not clear what impact the economy will have on his clients, but Boras has proved that he can move markets in baseball.

Owner, Boston Bruins
Chairman & CEO, Delaware North Cos.

Change from 2007: Not Ranked

When NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman turns to owners for counsel, the first person he typically calls is Jeremy Jacobs. The Boston Bruins owner is the anti-Mark Cuban, a man known more for discreetness than outspokenness. He replaced longtime NHL board of governors chair Harley Hotchkiss last year and has been a rigid defender of the league in the face of a lawsuit from one of its owners, Madison Square Garden. His position as chairman and CEO of Delaware North’s Sportservice division also extends his influence beyond hockey and across all pro sports.

Executive director, National Basketball Players Association

Change from 2007: No Change

Billy Hunter runs the union that boasts the highest-paid members in the world, 420 NBA players whose annual salary averages $5.58 million. The NBA collective-bargaining agreement expires in 2011, and Commissioner David Stern has indicated he is interested in raising the league’s age limit the next time around. Hunter not only opposes any age-limit increase, he wants it lowered to 18. He also has pre-emptively pointed out that the trend of stars signing pro contracts in Europe could give the union added leverage in the next round of negotiating.

Owner, Denver Broncos

Change from 2007: Not Ranked

Pat Bowlen is best known among football fans for his team’s two consecutive Super Bowl championships in the 1990s with John Elway. But with the NFL facing a pending labor war over the next few years, he may become better known to football fans as the man who helped save the game — or, more ominously, who brought about the NFL’s first labor stoppage in a quarter century. With a lockout potentially looming in 2011, Bowlen’s role as co-chairman of the owners’ labor committee will make him one of the most influential men in U.S. sports

President and CEO, Octagon

Change from 2007:

You can make a case — and Rick Dudley often does — that in times of duress, agencies really have to earn their money. They’d better, or they risk being jettisoned with so many other marketing expenses. But even for clients looking to shed sports ties, agencies can prove their worth. “The whole field of sponsorship is much more disciplined now, and it’s a good time for us to show our value,” Dudley says. With retainer clients that include heavy sports spenders Bank of America, BMW, MasterCard, Sprint and Home Depot, Dudley and Octagon will have a lot of say in where money gets spent in sports, and having hands on the purse strings is influence that counts.

President, FSN Networks

Change from 2007:

The defining moment of Randy Freer’s year came in the spring when he outbid AT&T and EchoStar to secure the rights to the Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings in Detroit. As distributors and teams continue to try to get into the regional sports network business, FSN under Freer has figured out how to remain the dominant player in the space. As president of Fox’s 19 regional sports networks, Freer’s influence is obvious: He oversees the most profitable part of Fox’s TV empire. Under his leadership, Fox has deals with 44 teams, representing more than half of all U.S.-based MLB, NBA and NHL teams.

Co-head, CAA Sports

Change from 2007:

With an athlete roster that includes LeBron James, Derek Jeter, Ryan Howard and David Beckham, as well as a football operation led by Tom Condon (No. 33 on our list), CAA Sports has major influence in sports. But it’s CAA’s move into sports marketing, and its reputation from years of being one of Hollywood’s top entertainment agencies, that has industry types paying attention. Michael Levine, along with Howard Nuchow and David Rone, is orchestrating CAA’s sports marketing strategy. And while they have not delineated a master plan, clearly they are looking for affiliations with top brands — witness CAA’s deals with the New York Yankees, Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona.

If you are judged by the company you keep, then CAA Sports’ influence is only getting bigger.

Former chairman, U.S. Olympic Committee

Change from 2007:

Four years after he made his return to the U.S. Olympic movement, Peter Ueberroth is leaving it in better shape than when he arrived. The organization’s board has been trimmed from 123 to 11 members, its staff cut from 600 to 284, its debt paid off, and it was left with a surplus of more than $110 million.

But two of Ueberroth’s pet projects remain outstanding. Winning the 2016 Olympics and launching a USOC network are both considered critical to the future of the Olympics in the U.S. Ueberroth is expected to continue to work behind the scenes on both after the board reconfigured the bylaws so that he can still attend meetings as an honorary president.

Chairman and CEO, Google

Change from 2007: Newcomer

Google’s relatively limited sports profile is primarily through its YouTube subsidiary, which holds a series of official video partnerships with the NHL, NBA and others, as well as a new data-driven pact with Stats LLC. But the new economy, recession or not, is becoming deeply based on search and analytics, and arguably no company is better positioned to be a dominant force in that emerging reality than Google.

Tightly aligned with President-elect Barack Obama, Eric Schmidt is that rare breed of business executive whose importance and personal gravitas makes even the most senior of sports executives stop in their tracks to hear what he has to say.

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