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SBJ/Dec. 14, 2009/Special Report
The 50 most influential list, 1-10
Published December 14, 2009
It’s what Jacques Rogge didn’t do for the American sports industry rather than what he did that shows the extent of his influence. Working quietly behind the scenes, Rogge steered the International Olympic Committee’s selection of Rio de Janeiro as the host city for the 2016 Olympics. The selection of Rio and rejection of Chicago cost the U.S. sports industry hundreds — if not thousands — of jobs, $1.2 billion in sponsorship deals and approximately $250 million in U.S. media rights. The decision also meant that it likely will be more than 20 years before the Olympics ever return to the U.S. The IOC has become Rogge’s organization, and under his direction it has diversified its revenue streams internationally and, in turn, lessened its dependence on America . At the same time, his vision for an open-tender process for TV rights should generate another windfall from U.S. networks this year, even with the rejection of yet another U.S. Olympic bid.
Roger Goodell is growing more comfortable and more authoritative in year three as NFL commissioner. His actions — and reactions — still set the agenda of the U.S. sports landscape. If he says the NFL is doing something, the other leagues usually follow. He pared league expenses, led the resolution to the NFL Network/Comcast stalemate, and was outspoken on both Michael Vick and the Rams’ ownership situation. He’s also more comfortable taking on owners (read Bud Adams) and was not too set in his ways to react and address player concussions. But it’s his leadership in labor talks that will cement the polished commissioner’s legacy — and that’s the unknown.
Under George Bodenheimer’s leadership, ESPN has gained a reputation for innovation that has always kept it a step ahead of its competitors. ESPN clearly has been the most aggressive sports network in the broadband and mobile space. This year was no different, as ESPN again tested new technologies to ensure, as Bodenheimer has said, that “it will serve sports fans wherever they are.” This year’s developments: It produced a live 3-D production, opened an Innovation Lab and launched a Los Angeles facility.
David Stern is finishing his silver anniversary as NBA commissioner, and his influence over the league — and professional sports in general — remains as strong as ever. Stern pushes on with his vision of the NBA as a global sports entity, aware that the growth of the league is firmly centered on an international footprint. At home, the NBA has its challenges as teams try to sell tickets in a down economy while facing what is likely to be a contentious labor negotiation. But there isn’t anyone better prepared for those challenges than Stern.
Already two of the most influential executives in sports before Comcast’s NBC deal, Brian Roberts’ and Steve Burke’s power will grow considerably once regulators give their OKs to the purchase. If the deal is approved, the sports industry stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries. Roberts and Burke have been securing profits from sports media for years through their TV channels. With the addition of a broadcast network, look for them to become even more aggressive buying up sports rights.
Could anyone really doubt Dick Ebersol’s influence? When he started taking public swipes at the U.S. Olympic Committee over the summer, veteran industry executives knew it couldn’t be long before its leadership was ousted — something that happened just months later. Perhaps Ebersol’s defining moment this year occurred in April, when he accepted the Sports Emmys’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Prior to giving his speech, six league commissioners walked on stage to pay homage to the industry legend. That’s influence.
It might seem counterintuitive to claim a year in which attendance dropped 6.65 percent as your greatest year ever. But Bud Selig did just that, and there’s plenty of merit to the boast. The attendance drop was less than some feared, and the sport still drew more than 73 million people in 2009. Also happening this year: the successful launch of the MLB Network, growth in the second installment of the World Baseball Classic, strong postseason ratings improvement, and a sharply expanded charitable focus for the league. Selig likely does not get enough respect from those outside MLB, but his influence within league circles is unquestioned.
These two News Corp. execs are front and center over key issues influencing the future of sports media. Carey has put Fox in the middle of retransmission consent negotiations as he tries to increase the amount News Corp. receives so the ever-creative Hill can continue to bid on rights and produce top sports events like few other. Carey’s ace-in-the-hole: He’s using leverage from Hill’s big events and Randy Freer’s RSN programming to force cable operators to pay more in retrans dollars.
Sometimes it seems like the NFL is Jerry Jones’ league and everybody else is just along for the ride. Whether it’s his economics-altering new stadium, the punt-affecting scoreboard, his fine-inducing comment about revenue sharing, not to mention his team, so much of the NFL revolves around Jones. With the CBA talks heating up, look for Jones to take a similarly larger-than-life role. And don’t forget that little event coming up in 2011, a Super Bowl at the new Cowboys Stadium.
Ironically, much of Sean McManus’ sports influence comes when he wears his CBS News hat. As president of CBS News and CBS Sports, McManus is able to orchestrate the coverage of some of the biggest sports stories that cross over to the mass media. Michael Vick gave his first post-prison interview to “60 Minutes.” Michael Phelps also sat down with “60 Minutes.” Given CBS’s standing as a longtime PGA Tour partner, would anybody really be surprised if the television news magazine landed the first extended sit-down with Tiger Woods? It would just be another example of the clout the well-regarded McManus brings to the table.