SBJ/December 12-18, 2011/Opinion

A Most Influential list that may surprise you

As we put together our annual 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business list, a certain mind-set gets established. Last year, the philosophy in shaping the list was rooted in labor and management relations, and key executives in those areas had strong positions within the 50. This year, we’re looking at the remnants of the year in labor negotiations — for better (MLB) or for worse (NBA). Some executives who made the list last year are not present this year because, as we see it, their heavy lifting is done and their influence doesn’t extend without their role in labor relations. Other executives have seen their position rise or fall depending on how we viewed their ability to influence labor negotiations.

Outside of that theme, we continued to look for new people shaping the industry, as we’ve been criticized for a list that at times has become stagnant and predictable. Here’s a look at the names and rankings that may surprise you:

STEVE BURKE: The write-up on Burke clearly encapsulates why he’s atop our list for the first time.

BUD SELIG: This will cause the most head-scratching, raised eyebrows and passionate debate. We’re ready for it. We’ve long ranked Selig lower than his counterparts at the NFL and NBA, annual decisions that grated top executives in baseball who cite a lack of respect. It was never a lack of respect; it was recognition that other commissioners wielded more power and set the agenda with a stronger vision. We don’t find that to be the case this year. In a year when his counterparts dealt with lockouts, internal ownership battles and criticism from their top talent (their players), Selig quietly established a record high in league revenue at $7 billion, nailed a five-year labor deal without a hint of locking any doors, pushed MLB to become the first sport to implement HGH testing, realigned his leagues and expanded the playoffs. Selig won’t win awards for charisma, but this isn’t a ranking of people based on how dynamic they are. Selig has put together an effective management and leadership team that innovates.

ROGER GOODELL/DAVID STERN: Both dropped this year, largely for their inability to deliver labor peace. While the NFL continues to be the bellwether for the industry, issues around the Super Bowl in Dallas and a four-month lockout were factors in Goodell dropping three spots. For Stern, the fact the NBA, under his stewardship, lost nearly two full months of action — the second time in 13 years the league has lost games — chipped away at the level of his influence.

JERRY BUSS/JEANIE BUSS: The father/daughter combo makes the list for the first time for their aggressive business strategy with the Lakers that includes a mega-deal with Time Warner Cable that significantly alters the local rights landscape.

LARRY SCOTT: Another first-timer, the Pac-12 commissioner may not have achieved everything he wanted, but time and again people are pointing to his ambitious and innovative growth strategy.

LORENZO FERTITTA/DANA WHITE: The duo behind the UFC finally got the broadcast TV deal they’ve been looking for and are now involved in business dealings at the highest levels.

CHRIS TSAKALAKIS: What’s keeping teams, properties and business partners up at night? The secondary market and the future of ticketing — and Tsakalakis leads StubHub, the company that is scaring the hell out of most of those people.

These lists are meant to foster debate and discussion. So, let us know where you think we’ve hit and — better yet — where we’ve missed the mark.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.


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