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SBJ/December 13-18, 2010/In-Depth
The 50 most influential list, 11-20
Published December 13, 2010
Gary Bettman has presided over hockey's biggest league for 17 years. He's guided it through two lockouts, team expansion and relocation, and multiple team bankruptcies. Nothing has eroded his role as hockey's biggest power broker — not the lost season of 2004-05, nor the fiasco that was the Phoenix Coyotes' bankruptcy. In every challenge he's faced, Bettman has kept owners in lockstep and behind him as he pushed the league and sport forward.
Tim Leiweke, the indefatigable majordomo of Phil Anschutz's AEG sports empire, gets big things done, it's as simple as that. His track record across multiple sports, venues and countries is well-established, as well as his influence within the entertainment industry and California political community. But it's his aggressive push for a new NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles that has everyone talking, a challenge that significantly tests his "can-do" ability.
If you've talked to David Levy in the past several years, it's a good bet that your conversation turned to the "One TV World" at some point. That's Levy's theory that ad buyers and sponsors should view his cable networks just as they view broadcast ones. 2010 may be the point where that theory finally rings true. Levy made headlines in the entertainment press by hiring Conan O'Brien to do a late-night talk show, and he did the same thing in the sporting press by partnering with CBS to grab one of America's crown jewel events, the NCAA tournament.
The sporting goods category has bounced back, retail traffic has picked up and Nike, whose shares hit an all-time high this year, is still the strongest brand in sports. Other numbers speak eloquently for the brand: Non-footwear revenue now represents 37 percent of total revenue, and more than 60 percent of revenue comes from outside North America. With those kinds of numbers, it’s tough to bet against Nike’s leadership of Charlie Denson and Mark Parker, under the oversight of founder Phil Knight.
The "Big Cat," as Jerry Richardson is called, may have battled heart ailments in recent years, but he has emerged as the voice of the hawks among owners in the NFL labor battle. As co-chairman of the owners' labor negotiating group, Richardson has taken the lead in the fight, and is well-positioned for it.
Rather than vote earlier this year on what sports to add to the 2014 Winter Olympic program, the International Olympic Committee executive board turned the decision over to IOC President Jacques Rogge, who will single-handedly select the sports. After all, who needs consensus when you have a king? Through nine years of leadership, Rogge has solidified his position as the most influential figure in international sports — a kingmaker who influences everything from the sports that are featured at the Games to the cities where the Games are held.
None of the pre-Ted Forstmann veterans left at IMG figured the buyout mogul would still own the place six years after buying it. Yet, it stays in Forstmann's hands, and he's taking on an even larger portfolio, acquiring ISP in a major coup for his growing collegiate business. Whether buying business will eventually pay off is now the No. 2 question at IMG, second only to whether the company that invented much of sports marketing will get a third owner any time soon. Forstmann and George Pyne are working on the answers.
The combination of ratings and attendance declines have taken some of the shine off NASCAR, but the multibillion-dollar industry still enjoys a massive fan base. Brian France is the public leader of that industry and remains the person stakeholders look to as NASCAR tries to recapture the magic that fueled its growth a decade ago.
Steve Stricker was among a handful of golfers who said they wouldn't be surprised if purses dropped in 2011 to account for the tougher economic climate. Tim Finchem bristled at the idea. "That wouldn't be our intention," he said. "So, no, we don't want to go backwards." Tough times or not, Finchem has taken a firm bullish stance on the tour's health, citing 20 new sponsorship agreements or renewals in the last two seasons, while also preparing the tour for its TV negotiations in 2011.
David Hill saw his responsibilities grow in 2010, as he was put in charge of all Fox Sports operations in January, from its broadcast channel to its cable channels to its online assets. Hill almost immediately started tinkering with many of them, taking Fuel off the selling block and adding new shows to Speed. In May, he tapped Eric Shanks to help the broadcast network recapture the Fox attitude. And he has allowed Randy Freer to continue running the most profitable part of the News Corp. empire, the regional sports networks.