SBJ/December 10-16, 2012/Most Influential

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  • 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business

    Our annual list of the executives who make the industry tick, who take it to new heights and, in some cases, can even bring it to a stop.


    joe faraoni / espn
    1
    John
    Skipper

    President

    ESPN

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +2

    It’s difficult to replace a legend, particularly one as well-liked as George Bodenheimer, but that’s exactly what Skipper has done in the last year. ESPN hasn’t skipped a beat under Skipper, cutting huge rights deals with the NFL, Major League Baseball, the Bowl Championship Series, ACC and Big 12, and investing more money in the content side of the business through the launch of Grantland, the hiring of two Pulitzer Prize winners and the expansion of “30 for 30.” (For more on Skipper, read his candid chat with Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and Media Writer John Ourand.)

    New and notable on this year's list

     

    SBJ's Abe Madkour and Tom Stinson on who rose, who fell, and who's new on the list.


    Most Influential: 2 through 10

    Most Influential: 11 through 20

    Most Influential: 21 through 30

    Most Influential: 31 through 40

    Most Influential: 41 through 50

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  • 50 Most Influential: 2-10


    Getty Images
    2
    ROGER
    GOODELL

    Commissioner

    NFL

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +2

    Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Goodell’s influence over the landscape of sports. In season or out of season, the NFL commissioner sets the tone almost invariably for what will dominate the sports news cycle, whether replacement referees, player safety or the length of the season, to name only a few major headlines.


    AP Images
    3
    BUD
    SELIG

    Commissioner

    Major League Baseball

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -1

    Selig’s late-career ascendancy continues to accelerate with a 2012 that featured another season of record revenue and improved attendance, lucrative new national TV contracts, a highly successful expansion of the playoff format and a two-year contract extension. Twenty years into the job, critics still attack his deliberate style, but the results speak for themselves.


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    4
    DAVID
    STERN

    Commissioner

    NBA

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +2

    Stern plans to retire in February 2014 after 30 years at the helm, but until then he will continue to lead the NBA through one of its healthiest periods in history as the league posts record revenue and ratings. In a classic sign of his power, NBA owners swiftly and unanimously approved his hand-picked replacement, Adam Silver.


    AP Images


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    5
    PHIL
    ANSCHUTZ

    Founder & Owner

    AEG

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NOT RANKED

    TIM
    LEIWEKE

    President & CEO

    AEG

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +6

    Normally, this list features only AEG’s indefatigable Leiweke, but that changed after the surprising news in September that Anschutz was putting his sports and entertainment giant in play. Anschutz will be calling the shots on easily the biggest transaction of 2013, and that decision will influence the future of so much in sports — from the NFL in Los Angeles and additional development of L.A. Live, to its stronghold in soccer and the dozens of buildings around the world that AEG either owns or operates. Any deal — whether sold as one or broken up — also will affect the future of Leiweke and what he has so impressively built.


    shana wittenwyler


    marc bryan-brown
    6
    Eric
    Shanks

    Co-President

    Fox Sports Media Group

    Randy
    Freer

    Co-President

    Fox Sports Media Group

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -1

    When it comes to buying sports rights, no media company has been as aggressive as Fox Sports in the past year. Under the leadership of Freer and Shanks, Fox has secured long-term rights to Major League Baseball, NASCAR and the Big 12, in addition to buying a stake in YES Network. Those rights should help in 2013, when Fox unveils its new national allsports cable channel.


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    7
    Robert
    Kraft

    Founder, Chairman & CEO

    The Kraft Group

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +1

    With the departure of Dan Rooney for Ireland as U.S. ambassador, Kraft has quickly assumed the mantle of most influential NFL owner. Whether it was sealing the deal in ending the NFL lockout, perennially fielding a Super Bowl-caliber team or getting out front and saying the NFL would have a franchise in London, Kraft is always front and center in the important matters of the day in America’s top sport.


    icon SMI
    8
    Mark
    Walter

    Chairman, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Founder & CEO, Guggenheim Partners

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    The Dodgers, thanks to Walter and his partners’ historic purchase in May, have redefined the sports market. Phil Anschutz cited their $2.15 billion price as the impetus for putting AEG on the market, and with the fractious bankruptcy saga over and unprecedented TV riches on the cusp of arriving, the Dodgers under Guggenheim Baseball Management are poised to become baseball’s top-spending team.


    patrick e. mccarthy
    9
    Sean
    McManus

    Chairman

    CBS Sports

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +4

    Now that Dick Ebersol and David Hill have left their posts at NBC and Fox, McManus is the last of the traditional broadcast sports executives. His influence comes through the massive deals he cuts, of course. But it’s his deep relationships in the business that really are influential. It’s no surprise that CBS has the longest relationships with its properties compared with other networks.


    marc bryan-brown
    10
    David
    Levy

    President of Sales, Distribution and Sports

    Turner Broadcasting

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +2

    Levy’s influence extends beyond the deals that he cuts, which this year included $325 million per year for a Major League Baseball package and $175 million for Bleacher Report. His influence comes from the fact that he has taken a leadership position in every sports media conversation, from rights deals to digital developments, including a rollout of TV Everywhere around the NCAA basketball tournament.

    Most Influential: 11 through 20

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  • 50 Most Influential: 11-20


    GETTY Images
    11
    Tim
    Finchem

    Commissioner

    PGA Tour

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +3

    For a PGA Tour that was enjoying quite a strong run of good play from its stars and strong sponsorship sales, the status quo would have been just fine. But Finchem worked with the players to shake up the schedule and qualifying procedures, again putting his indelible stamp on the tour.


    john ourand / staff
    12
    Mark
    Lazarus

    Chairman

    NBC Sports Group

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +4

    2012 was the year that Lazarus oversaw the biggest audiences to ever sit in front of a television in the United States. NBC set a viewership record with Super Bowl XLVI, set another viewership record with its coverage of the London Olympics, and set yet another one, as “Sunday Night Football” became the first sports series to win U.S. TV’s prime-time ratings crown.


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    13
    Brian
    France

    CEO

    NASCAR

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +4

    NASCAR’s TV ratings and viewership may have dipped in 2012, but its power as a media property was on full display when Fox paid $2.4 billion, a 33 percent increase, to lock up rights to the first 13 races of the season through 2022. France will try to build on that next year when NASCAR sells the rights to the season’s other 23 races.


    Marc Bryan-Brown


    Roxxe Ireland
    14
    Mike
    Dolan

    Chairman & CEO

    IMG

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    George
    Pyne

    President

    IMG Sports & E ntertainment

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +4

    The largest question surrounding the company that invented sports marketing continues to be when IMG will be sold. Dolan, spearheading a global push, has flipped larger companies, while Pyne has helped orchestrate a huge investment in college properties that has the industry’s attention. Whether those huge collegiate guarantees pay off will ultimately decide the fate of the industry bellwether.


    AP Images
    15
    Gary
    Bettman

    Commissioner

    NHL

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -6

    After reporting $3.3 billion in league revenue for the 2011-12 season, Bettman instituted a lockout Sept. 16, the third of his almost 20-year tenure. The lockout has now cost the league its first two months and two of its marquee events, the Winter Classic and All-Star Game. But while players and fans may have their complaints, Bettman has the support of his bosses — the owners of the NHL’s 30 clubs.


    NEWSCOM


    GETTY IMAGES
    16
    Charlie
    Denson

    President

    Nike Brand

    Mark
    Parker

    President

    Nike Inc.

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -1

    Nike’s culture is culled from Eastern philosophers and Stanford MBAs, and it takes a pair of Nike lifers — Parker and Denson — to consistently brew that heady mix and keep the brand relevant to a consumer base ever ready to jump. NFL rights, a buoyant Olympic year and being closer to its biggest retailers than ever has Nike maintaining its usual lead position.


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    17
    Jacques
    Rogge

    President

    International Olympic Committee

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -10

    Next year will bring an end to the Belgian’s 12-year leadership of the Olympics. And when he walks away in September, he will leave behind an organization in far better shape than when he began. The IOC has amassed a huge cash reserve, signed a new revenue-sharing agreement with the U.S. Olympic Committee, and entered the emerging markets of China and Brazil.


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    18
    Jerry
    Jones

    Owner

    Dallas Cowboys

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -8

    His team may struggle, he lost a battle with the league over salary cap penalties, and sometimes the media may not be kind, but in the end it’s still the Cowboys and he is still Jerry Jones. Cowboys Stadium continues to set the standard for NFL facilities, and win or lose, the franchise remains a proven ratings winner for the NFL’s network partners.


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    19
    Don
    Fehr

    Executive Director

    NHL Players’ Association

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +28

    Fehr’s stature has grown as he has been locked in a labor showdown with the NHL that becomes more tense with each passing day. In fighting what he calls the lockout “playbook” used by most of the leagues, some believe how he steers the players through the NHL’s third lockout in 18 years could even influence player rights and pay in other sports.


    Getty Images
    20
    Adam
    Silver

    Deputy Commissioner

    NBA

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +6

    Silver’s already sizable influence only increases as he adds NBA commissioner-elect to his duties after owners unanimously voted him to succeed David Stern in February 2014.

    Most Influential: 21 through 30

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  • 50 Most Influential: 21-30


    GETTY Images
    21
    Bernie
    Ecclestone

    President & CEO

    Formula One

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    Ecclestone single-handedly turned F1 into one of the most powerful international properties in sports, third in many brands’ eyes to the Olympics and World Cup. One of the few markets the property hasn’t penetrated is the U.S., but that’s changing. The inaugural race in Texas this year drew more than 250,000 spectators over three days, and the series hopes to hold a race in New York-New Jersey in 2014.


    marc bryan-brown
    22
    Melinda
    Witmer

    Executive Vice President & Chief Video and Content Officer

    Time Warner Cable

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NO CHANGE

    Witmer’s influence in 2012 extended beyond deciding which sports networks the country’s second-largest cable operator would carry. This year, Witmer made a big splash with the launch of two regional sports networks in Los Angeles with programming from the Lakers and Galaxy. Despite some early pushback, the channels have carriage deals with the main Los Angeles-based distributors and have produced big ratings so far.


    roxxe ireland
    23
    Casey
    Wasserman

    Chairman & CEO

    Wasserman Media Group

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +1

    Long recognized for his clout and connections in sports, politics, finance and pop culture, Wasserman saw his vision for the NFL’s return to Los Angeles inch closer while his Wasserman Media Group had arguably its most successful year. The agency landed the first overall picks in the NBA, NFL, MLB and MLS drafts, while further building upon its strong media rights and corporate consulting division. Wasserman’s powerful advocacy for sports, mixed with his strong philanthropy and social responsibility initiatives, continue to elevate his standing.


    Marc Bryan-Brown


    getty images
    24
    Rob
    Manfred

    Executive Vice President, Economics & League Affairs

    Major League Baseball

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    Tim
    Brosnan

    Executive Vice President, Business

    Major League Baseball

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +3

    Brosnan and Manfred are two key lieutenants under Commissioner Bud Selig, each with growing importance and stature in league affairs. Brosnan posted a career year with the new national TV deals, a major sponsorship extension with Anheuser-Busch and a marked expansion of the MLB Fan Cave. Manfred, meanwhile, has run point on a bevy of critical issues, including the Dodgers bankruptcy, the Nationals/MASN dispute and the Giants/A’s Bay Area territorial fight.


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    25
    Mark
    Emmert

    President

    NCAA

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +4

    For those who thought that the NCAA’s leader had no influence in college football, Emmert dropped a sanction-filled bomb on Penn State’s football program. Under his watch, the NCAA also is working on ways to commercially modernize March Madness and revise the page-heavy and often confusing NCAA rule book, all of which is leaving a very clear imprint of his administration.


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    GETTY IMAGES
    26
    Jerry
    Buss
    Jeanie
    Buss

    Owners

    Los Angeles Lakers

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -6

    Jerry Buss owns the team while his daughter, Jeanie, runs the Lakers’ business operations. The Lakers drew flak for snubbing Phil Jackson in replacing the fired Mike Brown, but off the court the team remains a powerhouse. Their 25-year deal reportedly worth nearly $200 million annually with Time Warner Cable continues to set the bar.


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    27
    Mike
    Slive

    Commissioner

    Southeastern Conference

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +8

    The SEC’s power on the field is never questioned, and neither is Slive’s influence off the field. He is carefully and methodically building an SEC channel that will further legitimize the conference’s leadership position in college sports, all the while dictating the look of the new college football playoff.


    icon smi
    28
    Don
    Garber

    Commissioner

    Major League Soccer

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +2

    MLS set an attendance record for the second straight year, another sign of the rising popularity of the league and building upon Garber’s strong operating foundation. On his agenda for 2013: helping struggling franchises such as Columbus and Chivas USA at the gate,
    improving TV ratings and solidifying
    a New York franchise in Queens.


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    29
    Jim
    Delany

    Commissioner

    Big Ten Conference

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NOT RANKED

    The Big Ten has a history of setting the pace in college athletics, and Delany was at it again this year, taking a founding member — Maryland — from the ACC without anyone even suspecting it. The influence of Delany’s baby, the Big Ten Network, ensures that the conference will be one of the power players in the college space for years to come.


    anheuser-busch inbev


    NEWSCOM
    30
    Maarten
    Albarda

    Vice President, Global Connections

    Anheuser-Busch InBev

    Carlos
    Brito

    CEO

    Anheuser-Busch InBev

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +3

    Along with being omnipresent in U.S. sports, the world’s biggest brewery has the rights to the most important global sports sponsorships over the next four years in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both in Brazil. Can this duo use the power of global sports to expand the reach of worldwide labels Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois and Brahma? It’s a heady task.

    Most Influential: 31 through 40

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  • 50 Most Influential: 31-40


    SHANA WITTENWYLER


    SHANA WITTENWYLER
    31
    Michael
    Levine

    Co-Head

    CAA Sports

    Howard
    Nuchow

    Co-Head

    CAA Sports

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +3

    Born in Hollywood, CAA is now fully established in sports representation, with the likes of David Beckham and Shaun White. But led by Levine and Nuchow, new business for the agency this year included the consulting assignment for JPMorgan Chase and the selection by UEFA of the CAA Eleven subsidiary to sell TV and sponsorship rights — wins that show it’s also building its influence elsewhere in sports.


    greg puime/UMD Athletics
    32
    Kevin
    Plank

    CEO & Founder

    Under Armour

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +5

    That Under Armour is a serious challenger to Nike in terms of cachet to youthful core consumers — at less than 1/12th its size — is a tribute to Plank’s vision and Under Armour’s corporate culture. To make a serious run at Nike’s dominance, success in non-cleated footwear and continued expansion outside of North America are vital.


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    33
    Larry
    Probst

    Chairman

    U.S. Olympic Committee

    Scott
    Blackmun

    CEO

    U.S. Olympic Committee

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +6

    The No. 1 priority for the U.S. Olympic Committee this year was negotiating a new revenue-sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee. Not only did Probst and Blackmun get that done, the USOC also fielded the top medal-winning team at the London Games and brought on new sponsors including Liberty Mutual. Now, they have to bring the Olympics back to the U.S.


    AP Images
    34
    Sean
    Bratches

    Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing

    ESPN

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -3

    Bratches is the executive who oversees all revenue coming into ESPN, but his influence extends beyond the deals he cuts. It’s more how he’s cut them. Cable carriage deals generally get played out in the press. But in 2012, Bratches oversaw complicated long-term deals with Comcast and Cablevision without a whiff of public dissension.


    pac-12 conference
    35
    Larry
    Scott

    Commissioner

    Pac-12 C onference

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -12

    Scott’s vision for multiple Pac-12 networks came to life this year, and while distribution issues are a fact of life with new channels, there’s no disputing that Scott continues to be a leading innovator in what traditionally has been a conservative and slow-to-move space. Now if he can just breathe some life into his new championship football game.


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    36
    Jeff
    Pash

    Executive Vice President & General Counsel

    NFL

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +12

    Insiders call Pash the unofficial No. 2 executive at the NFL. Pash was front and center for years because of the labor standoff, but he retains a high profile and is a key adviser to Commissioner Roger Goodell as the league navigates tricky legal terrain. It’s not always easy to understand how important Pash is because he’s not necessarily quick with one-liners or forceful rhetoric. Instead, he abides by the maxim “Don’t get into a spitting contest with someone who shows up in a raincoat.”


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    37
    Herbert
    Hainer

    Chairman & CEO

    Adidas

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -5

    Hainer and Adidas are riding high. However, the company is still struggling to justify the billions it paid in 2006 for Reebok, which is weighed down in the U.S. by share losses; its loss of NFL rights; the NHL lockout; and massive problems in India. Even then, Adidas has had strong recent results, and Hainer insists Reebok, repositioned as a fitness brand, will rebound.


    tony florez photography
    38
    Larry
    Baer

    President & CEO

    San Francisco Giants

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    Move over Los Angeles and New York, baseball’s most powerful franchise arguably plays by the Bay. Baer oversees an attendance and merchandising power with two World Series titles in the last three seasons, plus a thought leadership role on emerging industry issues such as dynamic ticket pricing.


    kristina paumen/limelight photography


    guerry redmond photography
    39
    Alison
    Lewis

    Senior Vice President of Marketing

    Coca-Cola North America

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +4

    Sharon
    Byers

    Senior Vice President, Sports and Entertainment Marketing Partnerships

    Coca-Cola North America

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    Coke continues to rule the cola war, and even though Pepsi’s carbonated drinks have recovered some of their U.S. share, Wall Street is still more impressed by Coke’s leadership, which includes the marketing acumen of Lewis and Byers, as Coke has outperformed Pepsi by truckloads in terms of stock performance during the past five years.


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    40
    John
    Henry

    Owner

    Fenway Sports Group

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -15

    More on-field woes arrived this year for Henry in both Boston and Liverpool, as did fan anger. But with Anfield Stadium and the Red Sox roster poised for significant renovation and Fenway Sports Group maintaining a large, powerful portfolio of assets, Henry’s coming moves will still shift the marketplace.

    Most Influential: 41 through 50

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  • 50 Most Influential: 41-50


    millercoors


    millercoors
    41
    Andy
    England

    Chief Marketing Officer

    MillerCoors

    Tom
    Long

    President & Chief Commercial Officer

    MillerCoors

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -3

    Losing NFL marketing rights after 10 years was supposed to cost MillerCoors, but early this year Coors Light surpassed Budweiser as the No. 2 U.S. beer brand. Now it’s the NHL lockout costing MillerCoors profits in Canada, but England and Long continue to deftly pilot Anheuser-Busch’s biggest domestic rival.


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    42
    DeMaurice
    Smith

    Executive Director

    NFL Players Association

    CHANGE FROM 2011: -6

    More than a year after agreeing to a collective-bargaining agreement that will ensure labor peace for 10 years, Smith continues to fight for player rights on the field in health and safety matters and in court with the union’s collusion case against the NFL. Also, in March, Smith was unanimously re-elected as head of the largest union in sports.


    tony florez photography


    Getty Images
    43
    Ed
    Snider

    Chairman

    Comcast-Spectacor

    Peter
    Luukko

    President & COO

    Comcast-Spectacor

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMERS

    Snider and Luukko have been tied at the hip for almost 30 years, mostly in Philadelphia where they have developed Comcast-Spectacor into a powerful entity covering facility services for about 100 arenas, stadiums and other venues. Snider is Comcast-Spectacor’s chairman; Luukko, his chief lieutenant, is its president and COO. Over the past year, they also led the successful transformation of the old Spectrum site into Xfinity Live!, a retail and entertainment complex.


    shana wittenwyler
    44
    Bob
    Bowman

    President & CEO

    MLB Advanced Media

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NO CHANGE

    It’s almost easy now to take Bowman and MLBAM for granted as each year brings more revenue and innovation. More broadly, though, every one of baseball’s key avenues of growth, including youth and international audiences, emerging content platforms and digital ticketing, fundamentally involves Bowman and his team.


    shana wittenwyler
    45
    Chris
    Tsakalakis

    CEO

    StubHub

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +5

    Nothing has changed the ticket-buying world more in the last decade than the emergence of StubHub, under the guidance of Tsakalakis. Love it or loathe it, the line between sale and resale has gone from clear to fuzzy to all but invisible. Whether viewing it as a sales channel, a sponsor, a barometer or a competitor, anyone who sells an event ticket better keep an eye on the Stub.


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    Getty Images
    46
    Bill
    Daly

    Deputy Commissioner

    NHL

    Bob
    Batterman

    Partner

    Proskauer

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NOT RANKED

    Daly is the league’s most consistent communicator with the media and often is its top representative in collective-bargaining negotiations with the NHLPA. Batterman, a partner at Proskauer, is part of the legal firm’s sports law group that works with the NHL, NFL and MLS. Their influence on NHL labor talks and the league’s lockout has been immense.


    shana wittenwyler
    47
    Rick
    Dudley

    President & CEO

    Octagon Worldwide

    CHANGE FROM 2011: +2

    Overseeing an agency of 800-plus employees that quietly has a role in virtually all areas of the sports business, Dudley continues to build upon Octagon’s basic framework by expanding it into new areas — namely Brazil — and by building out areas of business. The agency’s consulting division, Olympic talent business and research group are consistently among the best in class, and Dudley formed a new event group that should provide opportunities for growth in both the events and hospitality space.


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    48
    John
    Mara

    Co-Owner, President & CEO

    New York Giants

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    It’s not just the two Super Bowl-winning teams in the last five years, or his easy way with the media and fans. Mara has now fully taken over for his late father, Wellington, as a trusted source of advice and counsel in elite NFL circles.


    tony florez photography
    49
    Nathan
    Hubbard

    CEO

    Ticketmaster

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    Long the dominant player in the primary ticketing market, Ticketmaster has expanded its view of the business under Hubbard, chasing the secondary market more aggressively and positioning itself as an e-commerce company that can provide clients with unrivaled data. This year’s deal with the NBA that puts tickets — including resales — from all 30 teams on one Web portal bears watching.


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    50
    Brad
    Drewett

    Executive Chairman & President

    ATP

    CHANGE FROM 2011: NEWCOMER

    For years, it was no secret that tennis’ Grand Slams paid the players an astonishingly low percentage of revenue, at least compared with most other sports. And a succession of ATP and WTA leaders did almost nothing to change the situation, until Drewett took over the ATP in 2012. He already has won huge concessions from the Australian Open. Look for a pitched battle with the other three Slams in 2013.

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  • A candid chat with ESPN’s chief


    A sk John Skipper to list his proudest accomplishment in the year that he’s been ESPN’s president, and he won’t mention the company’s billion-dollar rights deals or its industry-changing cable carriage agreements. Instead, he’ll talk about the smooth transition he oversaw while taking over for George Bodenheimer.

    Skipper tops our Most Influential list this year, in part, for that transition. It’s never easy to replace a legend. Even then, we can’t ignore those rights deals, which saw ESPN remain the most aggressive sports network in the country, or the cable agreements that help it maintain its place atop the sports business industry.

    Skipper sat down for a 90-minute interview with Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and media reporter John Ourand to talk about his experiences in 2012 and what he expects for 2013.

    In a year when ESPN spent billions of dollars renewing its NFL, MLB and BCS deals and continued to established itself as the country’s most powerful sports media brand, Skipper said he’s most proud of the fact that the company’s transition from George Bodenheimer went smoothly.

    “I don’t think yet I’m comfortable with the notion that I put my stamp on anything,” he said. “My stamp so far is that we had a great transition. People feel good. I was already deeply involved in the rights deals. That was consistent. I really couldn’t take much credit for the affiliate deals. I want to maintain, make sure I don’t misstep, establish my relationship with Bob Iger and Disney. I think it’s a little early for a stamp.

    “Transitions can be hard and tricky. I believe that generally, there’s been a maintenance of the culture and people’s feeling about the company. George, remember, was beloved. There was no better symbol of ESPN. He started in the mailroom. He never worked anywhere else. As he walks around the campus, people feel great. They feel like George stands for the company. You have the perfect personification of ESPN and a leader. I’m proud to be able to have that transition, have people continue to feel good about our company, which I think they do.”

    Skipper said he’s been surprised by the level of responsibility that is attached to the president’s title at ESPN, a responsibility he did not feel as the executive vice president of content.

    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    “In my last job, I would have laughed and said, ‘No, I’m not going to change. I want to be the same: off-the-cuff, make jokes,’” he admitted. “But I’m more careful. I still try to be candid. I still try to bring in a sense of humor. But you feel a responsibility to be a spokesperson for the company. I could have said things in the past that were sort of funny or slightly off color, and there’s no chance anybody does anything with them. Now you worry that somebody takes it slightly out of context, or I use an obscenity, and it doesn’t feel right anymore. It makes you a little bit more cognizant of the status of the company and the stature of the position. It makes you a little bit more careful.

    “Sometimes in the old days with George, I’d wonder why he’s being cautious. Now, I get it. It’s a little different when you are the final stop, even if you are one of the guys who advises on the final stop.

    “There’s a little more genuflecting than I need. I have to rely upon long-term relationships that I’ve had to say to people, ‘Really, tell me.’ We just had a management meeting where we set our priorities. I say to people, ‘How do you think the meeting went?’ They say, ‘Great. Great!’ The good news is that I have a few people who actually tell me the truth because you do realize the filter gets harder and harder as you get more responsibility. It’s just harder to get people to really tell you what they really think.

    “On the other hand, I find that I tell people more than I ever have what I really think. It’s time management. I find more and more that I have no choice but to say to people, ‘No, I’m not going to hire you to be a consultant for me.’ I don’t have 10 minutes to meet to hear something that I already know that I’m going to say no to.”

    ----------------------------

    Though ESPN launched Longhorn Network in August 2011, it still hasn’t convinced any of the biggest cable or satellite distributors in Texas to carry it. But Skipper predicted that situation should change within the next two years.

    “We signed a 20-year deal,” he said. “There’s no contemplation of doing anything except keeping on. We will get agreements in the next year or two. It won’t be five or six years. We will figure it out in the next year or two.”

    Skipper blames the impasse on cable and satellite operators that are worried that a successful Longhorn Network would open the door for other universities to try to launch expensive individual college channels. Distributors want to stop that trend before it starts.

    ESPN’s Longhorn Network has had a shaky start since it launched in August 2011.
    Photo by: JOE FARAONI / ESPN
    “Some of our partners worry that the single-school model will be replicated,” he said. “And it won’t. It’s a one-off for us and, I think, everyone else, given the population of Texas and given the rights landscape where most schools have given their media rights to their conference.”

    In the 16 months since Longhorn Network launched, ESPN has signed deals with distributors AT&T, Verizon, Cablevision and Grande Communications, putting it in more than 5 million homes. But the biggest distributors in the state — Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Dish Network — have not cut deals. Interestingly, ESPN cut a programming deal with Comcast earlier this year that did not involve Longhorn Network, even though Comcast owns systems in Texas.

    “We’re very happy with our relationship with Texas,” Skipper said. “We’re happy with the quality of the network. We are not where we thought we’d be on distribution.”

    ----------------------------

    Every time a sports network pays a rights fee, small cable operators and consumer advocates clamor for a la carte. That’s the idea that consumers will pay only for the channels they watch, rather than for an entire package of channels.

    It’s a way for distributors to mitigate the prices that sports channels are charging. As the price of rights increase, so, too, do the price of channels buying them. But Skipper says we’re no closer to seeing a la carte than we are to seeing pigs fly.

    “I don’t think it’s on the ascendancy in Washington,” he said. “I don’t think there’s impending legislation or likely to be in the short term. It’s mostly discussion within the sports business.”

    At a rate of more than $5 per subscriber per month, cable operators pay more for ESPN than any other cable channel. TNT, which carries the NBA, NASCAR and NCAA tournament, is the next most expensive national channel at $1.21, according to SNL Kagan.



    IN HIS WORDS

    On life as ESPN president …
        “I’ve got several offices. I work here in New York City, I work in Bristol, I work in Los Angeles. I come into this New York building 100 times a year, and every day I’ve had to show my ID. If I didn’t have my ID with me, I’d have to sign in and tell them my boss and his extension. At the Disney lot, if you’re a senior executive, you get to park in the lot by the Team Disney building. If I had my ID, I’d get to park there.
        “The first time I come into this building after I get my new job? ‘Mr. Skipper. Nice to see you. Come on in.’ I never have to pull out my ID. I get to Disney in Los Angeles. I pull up in the lot. The guy comes out. ‘Mr. Skipper. Nice to see you. Come right into the executive parking lot.’ There just is a difference.
        “I remind myself of this every day. It’s the office, not the person in the office. I hope to make a difference that the person in the office lives up to it, makes changes, does the right things. But it’s the president of ESPN that is that reason I don’t have to show my ID. I did have to show my ID before, and I’m no better looking.”



    But Skipper disputed the idea that cable operators want to put expensive channels like ESPN on a sports tier.

    “I haven’t heard anybody recently say ‘like ESPN.’ They say sports channels, not ESPN,” he pointed out. “ESPN is the greatest value they have. I don’t have any issue with the correlation between what we charge the distributors and what the value of ESPN is. Nor, really, do they. We have not had a significant conflict with any of our distributors for a number of years. There’s been no hint of any disruption in service. Nor will there be. You’ll see us do other deals. They will happen very quietly. You won’t hear anything about us having contentious discussions with Time Warner Cable, Comcast or Cablevision. The same thing will be true of Charter, AT&T and Cox.”

    Rather, Skipper pointed to regional sports networks as the sports channels that are causing the most angst among the pro-a la carte crowd. Skipper referenced Los Angeles as an example. That’s where two Fox Sports RSNs, two Time Warner Cable RSNs and two Pac-12 Networks channels cost distributors around $10 per subscriber per month. A year ago, before the two Time Warner Cable RSNs and two Pac-12 Networks launched, distributors paid around $5 for two RSNs that carried much of the same programming.

    “The real story right now in terms of increase in cost are the regional sports networks,” he said. “ESPN’s average minute rating is double all of the regional sports networks added together, and it’s four times higher in the men 18-49 demo. That’s why you don’t really hear Time Warner and Comcast saying that they have a big issue with ESPN. We provide significant value.”

    Much of the problem comes down to marketing. Skipper said the cable industry has not done a good job promoting the value of the service it provides.

    “It’s the greatest entertainment value there is,” he said. “It costs you and your family of four more to go to the movies one Saturday night and see ‘Skyfall’ and buy some popcorn and Coke than it does for a full month of cable. It’s just a fact. We haven’t done a good job of telling people what a good value it is.”

    ----------------------------

    ESPN has committed an average of $1.9 billion per year for the rights to the NFL. It will pay Major League Baseball an average of $700 million per year and the BCS another $500 million per year, a figure that doesn’t even include the money it’s paying the Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls.

    To some outside observers, the amount of money being spent on sports rights these days has the look and feel of a financial bubble that could burst at any time. But Skipper says ESPN is protected no matter what.



    IN HIS WORDS

    On ESPN’s culture …
    “If it’s good for fans, it’s good for us. Fans want to get their news and information on the Internet? We’ll do that. They want to get it on their mobile device? We’ll do that. We don’t have that moment of hesitation that I think everybody else has where they ask if it is going to be good for our business. It would be great if you could lock the doors and nobody gets to come in. That’s not how it works. Your end consumer ultimately has the final say.”

    On league-owned networks …
    “We worry about two things with the league networks. Will it impede our ability to acquire the rights that we need? It has not. There’s nothing that we’ve wanted to buy that the leagues wouldn’t sell to us. … The second question is whether they are taking share from us. For the most part, the answer to that has been no. They really haven’t. If you look at the per-minute rating, we haven’t lost any share.”


    On the Big East …
    “We’ve had a long-term relationship with them, and our preference would be to continue to have a relationship with them. We were not successful at concluding something during our exclusive negotiating period. But we’re continuing to talk.”

    On NASCAR …
    “We just finished a very successful year with NASCAR. It’s the sixth year of our eight-year deal. We’d like to stay in. Our preference would be to stay in.”

    On competitors’ moves that he admires …
    “The aggressive move by Fox to buy the World Cup took us a little by surprise. I think it was smart because it’s clear that soccer’s on fire. I think NBC’s acquisition of the EPL was smart.”



    “I have no idea what’s going to happen with sports rights and whether in the long term they will continue to appreciate at the rate they’ve been appreciating,” he admitted. “I can tell you that we’re not in a bubble. We have paid a lot of money for rights. But we are very confident that we will be able to grow and absorb those costs.”

    Skipper said ESPN is better able to absorb those costs because its multiplatform strategy (TV, Internet, broadband and mobile) is well developed.

    “I don’t think we’re in a bubble that’s going to burst because we have a large portfolio of platforms that we’ve used those rights to build,” he said. “We’re highly confident that they’re going to sustain us as we go forward.

    “It is a more pertinent question if you have a single revenue stream as to whether you can continue to sell ads at a rate to pay for the accelerated rights increases. At ESPN, we don’t have to match our ad increases to the increase in rights fee. We not only have a different rate with the distributor, but because of multiplatform and the way we go to market, our ad increases tend to outpace the market. Then we also can get money for mobile and for Internet and for Spanish language. We’ve got more places to offset those increases.”

    Skipper believes the cost of sports rights will continue to increase for the foreseeable future.

    “It only takes two people to make a market,” he said. “I’ve never been in a negotiation where I didn’t have somebody I was bidding against. As long as there are two, they will continue to accelerate. To what rate, I don’t know. At the end of the day, my responsibility is to make sure that when we pay an accelerated rate, it’s something we can do and sustain growth. And I’ve got no concern about that.”

    ----------------------------

    When Fox Sports rebrands Speed into Fox Sports 1 in mid-August, it will be the latest in a growing line of potential competitors to ESPN. Earlier this year, NBC Sports Group dipped its toe in the water, rebranding Versus as NBC Sports Network to better compete with ESPN. CBS Sports has its own cable channel, too.

    What’s different about these channels, Skipper said, is that their strategies look like they came from ESPN’s playbook.

    “We’ve always had competition,” he acknowledged. “But there’s a little more overt strategy from our competitors to look a little more like ESPN than they have in the past. They’re going to launch a 24/7 network. Internet’s really important. They have to worry about mobile. It feels like singing from the same hymnal. That’s OK. It’s a free market. I’m happiest about the fact that we have about a 30-year head start, and we’ve taken a leadership position.

    “There’s an acute awareness to the value of sports rights. Everybody gets it. They are really valuable. But they are really expensive. So they have to figure out what the business model is.”

    Skipper praised Fox Sports, specifically, saying that the company’s move to buy the World Cup rights “took us a little by surprise.”

    “We think the Fox guys are pretty smart. We pay attention to what they’re doing,” he said. “Fox Sports 1 is a pretty smart idea. They have the product to do it. I tip my hat to them … even though they haven’t announced it.”

    But he also suggested that the pending launch may be tougher for NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network than ESPN.

    “People always assume that competition always has to do with us,” he said. “We really care about whether our share of sports’ fans time, energy and share of the ad market — we only care about if ours goes down. If Fox starts a 24/7 network, it doesn’t mean that whatever they do will come from us. Maybe the other guys should be worried. Maybe it would come from them.”


    IN HIS WORDS


    On league-owned rights …
    “Because of the acceleration of the rights costs, I don’t think you’ll ever get to the point where the leagues make the calculation that they keep the World Series and do it themselves. They get too much money from us.”

    On the MLB deal …
    “Baseball is a very important sport for us. The fact that we were able to improve our position, get the wild card, get the play-in games, get more regular-season games, get more exclusive games, was a pretty big deal. We worried that with all the potential bidders, that we could end up with less. We paid a nice increase for it, but we did improve our position.”

    On a la carte …
    “There’s only one certain thing about a la carte: People will get less. They will either pay more and get less or they’ll pay less and get less.”

    On if he worries about the cost of sports rights …
    “In the job I’m in now, I worry about everything. It’s impossible to answer no, you don’t worry. I don’t mean that to be flippant. Of course we worry.”



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