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SBJ/December 13-18, 2010/In-Depth
The 50 most influential list, 1-10
Published December 13, 2010
Put aside the sheriff of the NFL tag, stratospheric TV ratings and his laserlike focus on the in-stadium experience, Roger Goodell has in part the fate of America's most popular game in his hands. The NFL commissioner must hash out a new labor deal to save the 2011 season — in other words, he has the primary influence in what the entire industry is watching most closely.
George Bodenheimer likes to tell a story about ESPN's 3-D launch. After his boss Bob Iger saw several press stories earlier this year from the Consumer Electronics Show documenting ESPN's 3-D plans, he called Bodenheimer and asked to see the business plan. Bodenheimer responded, "I'll send you one as soon as we have one." The exchange perfectly encapsulates how Bodenheimer runs ESPN. Under Bodenheimer's charge, ESPN has never been scared to take risks, which has helped it earn its moniker as "The Worldwide Leader."
As the dean of professional sports commissioners, David Stern continues to pull all the right strings as the NBA enjoys a renaissance not seen since the Jordan era. This year, though, puts Stern under the spotlight as he pushes for huge changes in a new labor deal with the players that could lead to a lockout. But few, if any, can handle the glare as well as Stern.
Already the dominant figure in baseball for years, Bud Selig further solidified his power with the October departure of longtime league President and COO Bob DuPuy. Selig also presided over another solid year for MLB with record revenue, good attendance and continued growth for its league-run media outlets. But big decisions loom with next year's labor negotiations and whether Selig will accept a contract extension beyond 2012.
DeMaurice Smith will be in the national spotlight next year as he leads the biggest sports union in the most popular sport in America through its biggest challenge in 20 years — the NFL collective-bargaining agreement. The NFL CBA expires March 3, and Smith has been the point person in publicly unifying the players and standing firm against any reduction of the salary cap without financial justification. How strongly he'll hold that stance has the entire industry on edge.
As soon as Comcast's NBC acquisition gains regulatory approval, Dick Ebersol will become the most dangerous type of executive to the rest of the media industry: one who combines an unrivaled Rolodex with the deep pockets of Comcast. It should be no surprise that the International Olympic Committee and Pac-10 Conference, among others, have pushed the bidding for their media rights into 2011. Why cut a deal before Ebersol comes knocking with Comcast's cash?
ESPN executives were huddled in Amelia Island, Fla., in the spring, preparing to craft a bid for the ACC's rights, when they heard Chase Carey was with the Fox delegation. That news instantly conveyed that Fox would make a serious bid, causing ESPN to increase its bid to $155 million a year. That's the kind of influence Carey brings to the table, and under his watch Fox has been much more aggressive about obtaining rights.
Over the past few years, it has become nearly impossible for broadcast networks to compete with cable networks — and their dual revenue streams — for sports rights. It has become even tougher for Sean McManus since his boss, Leslie Moonves, said CBS would not bid on "loss leaders" like sports. McManus has managed to remain one of the most influential executives in the business through creative deals that keep CBS in the business, such as his partnership with Turner for the NCAA tournament and his long-term deal to keep a guaranteed ratings winner, SEC football.
Robert Kraft has long been an influential owner, what with his three-time Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots and stints on the broadcast and labor committees. He is also incredibly connected in top social and political circles. Now, he appears to be positioning himself as the ownership vision of hope in the NFL labor talks, with his recent comments of optimism.
Jerry Jones is not going to become the first NFL owner to field a Super Bowl team and stage the game. But he remains one of the league's most influential voices, with his revenue-rich stadium, seats on powerful committees and, notwithstanding this year's disappointing on-field product, ownership of one of the top brands in sports.