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Volume 25 No. 51
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The Champions, Class Of '13: Pioneers & Innovators In Sports Business

A mix of negotiators and visionaries who have excelled in virtually every corner of the sports industry make up the '13 class of The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business. The award recognizes the architects and builders of sports, and this year’s honorees include a group that any organization would love to have on its side of the table, both in terms of negotiating skill and being able to figure out the future. This year’s recipients are:

  • DONALD DELL, a negotiating expert who played a major role in the evolution of both pro tennis and sports marketing in general
  • ROSA GATTI, one of the voices behind ESPN’s unmatched ability to tell its own story as well as provide a blueprint for diversity
  • ROY KRAMER, a visionary in the college sports world whose decisions have proved to be decades ahead of their time
  • HARVEY SCHILLER, a true sports business renaissance man if there ever was one
  • RON SHAPIRO, arguably the original baseball power agent
  • PAT WILLIAMS, a builder of successful NBA franchises for the last 45 years.

They join an exclusive group of entrepreneurs, risk-takers and colorful personalities as the fourth installment of The Champions. Each will be honored during a special ceremony April 3 at the IMG World Congress of Sports in Naples, Fla., and will share their story from a career that helped shape the sports business industry.

As one of the first sports agents, Dell co-founded ProServ, and along with IMG founder MARK MCCORMACK, he is considered one of the fathers of both sports marketing and the sports agency business. During the golden age of tennis, Dell represented stars such as ARTHUR ASHE, STAN SMITH, JIMMY CONNORS and IVAN LENDL. He co-founded the ATP and is Vice Chair of the Int'l Tennis HOF.

It is impossible to talk about the history of ESPN without talking about Gatti, a communications exec who joined ESPN in '80, soon after it launched. During the '70s, Gatti was one of the few women in sports, working in the athletic departments at Brown and Villanova. Those early experiences played a major role in Gatti’s career. She founded ESPN’s diversity committee in '92, and it is not a coincidence that ESPN has one of the most diverse staffs of any company in sports.

Kramer was a coach and administrator who became one of the most influential figures in college athletics. As Southeastern Conference Commissioner from '90-'02, Kramer expanded the conference to 12 schools with the addition of Arkansas and South Carolina in the early ’90s. He also formed the first conference championship football game and created the vision for the controversial Bowl Championship Series that, like it or not, for the first time in the history of college football ensured that No. 1 would play No. 2 at the end of the season.

The Citadel graduate and former chemistry professor at the Air Force Academy has a résumé stacked with jobs in virtually every area of the sports industry. In college sports, he served as SEC Commissioner for four years ('86-90), a member of the NCAA Exec Committee and Western Athletic Conference President. In the Olympic world, he served as USOC Exec Dir from '90-94, and has served as Int'l Baseball Federation President. He also was Turner Sports President from '94-'00, and YankeeNets Chair & CEO from '00-02.

Known best as the agent for Baseball HOFers CAL RIPKEN JR., JIM PALMER and KIRBY PUCKETT, Shapiro used that platform as a means to expand beyond the realm of sports representation, establishing himself as a sought-after expert in all forms of negotiation. The consulting firm he founded in '99 has trained more than 350,000 execs and other professionals in negotiation. In recent years, Shapiro has expanded the firm’s programs to offer sales training, including seminars for staffs at professional sports teams.

Williams has spent nearly 50 years in sports, mostly in the NBA where his contributions have put him into the Basketball HOF. He began his NBA career in '68 as 76ers Business Manager. In '69, at age 29, he joined the Bulls as GM. He later returned to the Sixers as GM, where he won an NBA title in '83. He then played an integral role in bringing the NBA to Orlando and has been a leading exec with the Magic since the franchise’s inception in '87. His success as an executive also has made Williams an acclaimed motivational speaker.