SBJ/Dec. 14, 2009/Special Report

The 50 most influential list, 11-20

Executive Director
NFL Players Association
Change from 2008: Newcomer

When NFL player reps voted in March to select an outsider to lead the NFLPA, they gave D.C. lawyer and former Assistant U.S. Attorney DeMaurice Smith one of the toughest jobs in sports. The collective-bargaining agreements for the four major sports unions expire in 2011, but the NFL agreement is up first, in March, which could lead to an uncapped year in 2010. A newcomer to sports, Smith has the power and personality to lead the NFLPA, and the early results are of a man ready to leave his mark on the league’s future.

Change from 2008: +1

Any doubts about Gary Bettman’s power and influence in the world of hockey were put to rest during Research In Motion CEO Jim Balsillie’s bid to buy and relocate the Phoenix Coyotes. Bettman forged a united front among NHL owners and carried the battle flag on behalf of all leagues interested in preserving the location of their franchises. His commitment put out the fire in Phoenix, but plenty of others remain for the NHL.

Founder, Chairman and CEO
The Kraft Group
Change from 2008: -1

As a gaggle of reporters surrounded New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft during the fall owners meeting in his hometown of Boston, another owner walked by, quipping that he was no match for the “commissioner.” Kraft may be nearly as powerful as the commissioner, with his powerhouse team, three Super Bowl rings and perches on powerful committees, but as someone who likes to appear humble, he clearly did not appreciate his colleague’s remark. “I could make a comment, but I won’t,” he said to laughs. “Maybe you should all go to him.” Not a chance, Bob.

President and CEO
Change from 2008: -3

He is loud, he is tireless and he is loaded with ambitious ideas. It’s the combination of those three traits that’s taken Tim Leiweke from his humble beginnings as an employee for a now-defunct indoor soccer league to the upper echelons of the sports business. His influence extends not only across every major sport but also across every major continent, and he still shows no signs of fulfilling his appetite for making AEG the world’s foremost entertainment company.

Denson (left) & Parker
Nike Brand
Change from 2008: -1
Nike Inc.
Change from 2008: Newcomer

Nike is the face of sports in the U.S. As the world’s biggest sporting goods company, and arguably the most prominent sports brand globally, anyone captaining Nike has influence extending well beyond sports. In establishing itself over the past 45 years, Nike’s genius was part design and part marketing; Mark Parker and Charlie Denson embody that dichotomy. Parker started as a Nike footwear designer, while Denson has a wealth of sales, marketing and distribution expertise, having worked at Nike’s first store. Each has been with Nike since 1979, so they understand that unconventional amalgam of East and West that is Nike’s corporate culture.

Chairman and CEO
Change from 2008: -7

Jim France , Brian’s uncle, might technically own NASCAR, but Brian still runs it. The son of Bill France Jr., Brian oversees the day-to-day operations and the unit chiefs report directly to him. Brian is still the best-positioned France to dictate the direction of the sport, whether through instituting cost containment measures for teams, tweaking the Chase for the Sprint Cup format or setting the overall agenda. And if he decides to wield his influence on an issue, his voice will be heard above all others.

Ganz (left) & Batterman
Proskauer Rose
Change from 2008: Newcomers

Proskauer Rose law firm partners Howard Ganz and Bob Batterman have wielded enormous influence behind the scenes for years, but for the first time the two attorneys are working as outside labor counsel to all four major team sports leagues as they are preparing to, or have begun, negotiating new collective-bargaining agreements. The labor deals for all four major leagues expire in 2011. Ganz is outside labor counsel for the NBA and Major League Baseball, while Batterman occupies that role for the NFL and NHL, as well as Major League Soccer.

PGA Tour
Change from 2008: -1

Tim Finchem sat in a sweltering media tent at the Tour Championship in Atlanta this September, calmly fielding questions about the potential loss of events and title sponsors. “Look at him,” remarked one drenched reporter, “I don’t even think he’s sweating.” It was a tough year not to sweat. Golf insiders don’t remember when Finchem was as visible as he was in 2009, starting the year fighting congressional pressure over corporate spending on golf and ending it on a tour of Asia to build the PGA Tour’s footprint outside the U.S.

Ganz (left) & Batterman
Executive Vice President, Content
Change from 2008: +7
Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Change from 2008: +17

While George Bodenheimer inspires ESPN’s growth and innovation from 30,000 feet, it’s John Skipper and Sean Bratches who implement that vision. Skipper drives the editorial and programming product, locking up new property deals and gobbling up more and more rights. Bratches oversees the sales, marketing and affiliate relationships key to ESPN’s mega-bottom line, while increasing ESPN’s place in pop culture. When new deals are done with ESPN, one of these two have signed off on it.

Change from 2008: Newcomer

Few international sports figures find their way into the Oval Office when they visit the U.S., but the head of FIFA sat down with President Obama earlier this year. The meeting was indicative of just how important Sepp Blatter has become to the future of U.S. soccer. On the eve of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa , the U.S. Soccer Federation, MLS and other stakeholders in the sport believe it’s critical for the sport’s future growth that the U.S. host either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup. That decision, ultimately, rests with Blatter and FIFA.

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