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Volume 20 No. 42

Most Influential

Media moves as well as labor harmony (or the lack thereof) shake up our annual list of the executives who set the agenda for North American sports.

1
STEVE
BURKE

President & CEO

NBCUniversal Holdings

CHANGE FROM 2010: NOT RANKED

It was the biggest question facing the sports industry all year, starting in January when the mega-merger between Comcast and NBCUniversal closed.

Would Comcast — a company that ran its national sports network, Versus, on a shoestring — become a major bidder for rights and a force in sports as the new owner of NBC? Most looked to Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts to chart the course.

Roberts, of course, was intimately involved in many of the deals. But throughout the year, it was Burke who set the direction. The 53-year-old executive from a media-family background clearly values the sports business both as a market mover and content generator. Every major decision he made this year set off a confluence of action or reaction in the industry. The company was at the table for virtually every major sports rights negotiation. It overwhelmed International Olympic Committee executives with its aggressive bid for four Olympic Games, while also winning bids for the NHL and MLS. NBC also is poised to retain the NFL’s “Sunday Night Football.”

Abe Madkour and Tom Stinson talk about who's up, who's down and other notable changes in this year's list.

But Burke has influenced the process even when NBC was outbid — forcing competitors’ hands and paving the way for unlikely alliances. That happened with the Pac-12, where ESPN and Fox Sports teamed up to keep NBC out of the college sports space.

Over the course of the year, Burke moved to instill a Comcast culture throughout NBC. That showed in his influence on personnel matters. In the spring, he made the bold decision to let Dick Ebersol and Ken Schanzer — two executives who ran the network’s sports division for more than two decades — leave the company. The executives left in charge, NBC Sports Group Chairman Mark Lazarus and President Jon Litner, now are assigned to build NBC, NBC Sports Network, Golf Channel and its stable of regional sports networks in Burke’s vision.

Burke doesn’t run in top sports circles and isn’t out glad-handing. Instead, he prefers to be a quiet, under-the-radar leader. Still, this razor-sharp executive is driving some of the biggest moves in the sports business.

Most Influential: 2-10
Most Influential: 11-20
Most Influential: 21-30
Most Influential: 31-40
Most Influential: 41-50
How they stack up: Who's new, who's out, and other rankings

2
BUD
SELIG

Commissioner

Major League Baseball

CHANGE FROM 2010: +2

While much of the sports industry grappled with labor and player safety woes, Selig quietly enjoyed one of the most productive seasons in his 19-year tenure as MLB commissioner, garnering a new collective-bargaining agreement, increases in attendance, revenue and World Series ratings, and even an unexpected settlement with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.

3
GEORGE
BODENHEIMER

President

ESPN

CHANGE FROM 2010: -1

JOHN
SKIPPER

Executive Vice President, Content

ESPN

CHANGE FROM 2010: +19

Bodenheimer shocked the sports world last month when he announced that he would step down at the end of the year, handing over ESPN’s reins to Skipper. Given ESPN’s size and influence in every part of the industry, the move instantly puts Skipper at or near the top of any list like this.

4
ROGER
GOODELL

Commissioner

NFL

CHANGE FROM 2010: -3

Goodell helped ensure labor peace for the next decade in the NFL and has presided over the almost unimaginable continued growth in the popularity of America’s favorite sport. The labor process at times drained him, but the owners got a far bigger share of revenue, as well as the end of judicial oversight and an unheard-of 10-year term. But the battle was ugly at times, and the NFL’s year also got off to a difficult start with a logistical nightmare of a Super Bowl in Texas.

5
DAVID
HILL

Chairman

Fox Sports Media Group

CHANGE FROM 2010: +15

RANDY
FREER

Co-President & COO

Fox Sports Media Group

CHANGE FROM 2010: +15

ERIC
SHANKS

Co-President & COO

Fox Sports Media Group

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMER

Fox’s year started out with the most-watched television show ever: Super Bowl XLV, which had 111 million viewers. And things got better from there. Fox signed a bevy of long-term college deals, including with the Big 12, Pac-12 and the Big Ten Championship Game. But its biggest splash may have been with the UFC, which it brought to broadcast television for the first time.

6
DAVID
STERN

Commissioner

NBA

CHANGE FROM 2010: -3

The dean of the Big Four league commissioners was tested throughout the NBA’s recent labor battle. The result of the deal is a significant player payroll cut that favors the owners, but the league still was dark for several weeks and will see its regular season reduced by 16 games. Stern didn’t fare very well publicly during the ugly battle, either.

7
JACQUES
ROGGE

President

International Olympic Committee

CHANGE FROM 2010: +9

Coming into his last Olympics as IOC president, Rogge can look back on his decade of leadership with pride. He created the Youth Olympic Games, added new sports like golf and free skiing to the Games, and secured the financial future of the IOC with NBC’s $4.4 billion rights deal.

8
ROBERT
KRAFT

Founder, Chairman & CEO

The Kraft Group

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

Kraft’s summer of sorrow, losing his beloved wife, Myra, also may have seen his greatest accomplishment. The picture of Colts center Jeff Saturday hugging Kraft, a key member of the NFL’s negotiating committee, on the day the new collective-bargaining agreement was announced showed the world who may have been most responsible for saving the NFL season.

9
GARY
BETTMAN

Commissioner

NHL

CHANGE FROM 2010: +2

Bettman had reason to smile in 2011, as the NHL earned just shy of $3 billion in revenue, posted its best TV ratings for the Stanley Cup playoffs, and closed a 10-year, $1.9 billion TV deal with NBC. The commissioner even strengthened his tenuous relationship with Canadian fans by allowing the struggling Atlanta Thrashers to move to Winnipeg. He must now address similar situations in Phoenix, Florida and New Jersey.

10
JERRY
JONES

Owner

Dallas Cowboys

CHANGE FROM 2010: NO CHANGE

The first Super Bowl at the Cowboys’ new home may have not gone as planned, but that’s hardly slowed Jones. Whether on the labor committee that negotiated the new NFL collective-bargaining agreement or on the high-profile broadcast committee negotiating the wave of mega TV deals, Jones has a say in the NFL’s most critical decisions.

11
TIM
LEIWEKE

President and CEO

AEG

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

The phrase “Tim Leiweke” comes up nearly 110 times during a search of SportsBusiness Journal/Daily archives for 2011 alone. But it’s not just the frequency, it’s the diversity that shows Leiweke’s authority. From the staggering Farmers Field deal and bid for the NFL in Los Angeles, to shaking up the ticketing business, to an MLS championship for the Galaxy, to international arena projects — Leiweke is always in the middle of big stories, and the focus of everyone’s attention.

12
DAVID
LEVY

President of Sales, Distribution and Sports

Turner Broadcasting

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

Levy has been at the table for every major sports rights negotiation over the past several years. Under his guidance, Turner has amassed an enviable bucket of rights, including MLB postseason, NBA postseason, the NCAA tournament and NASCAR. Expect Levy to be in the mix when the NFL shops its planned Thursday night package next year.

13
SEAN
MCMANUS

Chairman

CBS Sports

CHANGE FROM 2010: -5

In February, McManus shed his CBS News responsibilities to focus exclusively on sports. The result was an NCAA tournament that went off without a hitch, even though competing networks shared the event. McManus quietly renewed CBS’s PGA Tour deal at the end of the summer. And he’s been negotiating to renew the network’s NFL deal.

14
TIM
FINCHEM

Commissioner

PGA Tour

CHANGE FROM 2010: +5

Despite a down economy and Tiger Woods’ continued playing woes, Finchem came through by working at the CEO level to bring millions of new sponsorship dollars into the sport. He also generated raises in new nine-year TV contracts with CBS and NBC, while embracing the tour’s youth movement, which helped shift the conversation away from Woods.

15
MARK
PARKER

CEO

Nike Inc.

CHARLIE
DENSON

President

Nike Brand

CHANGE FROM 2010: -1

The only argument concerning the extent of Nike’s influence across sports is whether Nike or ESPN is more influential. Each could lay claim to rivaling Coca-Cola in appeal with the under-25 set that advertisers covet. Even 39 years in and at nearly $21 billion in revenue, Nike remains remarkably relevant to that fickle demo.

16
MARK
LAZARUS

Chairman

NBC Sports Group

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMER

When industry icon Dick Ebersol resigned from NBC Sports in May, Lazarus was picked to guide the merger of Comcast and NBC Sports’ corporate cultures. The network did not miss a beat, renewing Olympic and PGA Tour rights and preparing for Versus’ rebrand into NBC Sports Network.

17
BRIAN
FRANCE

CEO

NASCAR

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

No sport was punished more by the recent recession than NASCAR. Attendance, TV numbers and sponsorship declined. But France is charting the way forward with a five-year plan designed to build the sport’s young and multicultural fan base, improve its digital and social media offerings, raise its driver profiles and enhance the race-day experience.

18
GEORGE
PYNE

President

IMG Sports & Entertainment

CHANGE FROM 2010: -1

Despite the tragic loss of Ted Forstmann in November, the company now controlled by Pyne and new Chairman and CEO Mike Dolan continues to be the biggest kid on the block. Under the direction of Pyne, IMG recently placed most of its chips on a huge bet across college marketing. Whether that bet will pay off is one of the most asked questions across the industry.

19
SEPP
BLATTER

President

FIFA

CHANGE FROM 2010: +2

FIFA again posted impressive television metrics this year, with the Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and Japan becoming the second-highest-rated women’s soccer match ever in the U.S. Then, in October, Blatter helped FIFA secure $1.85 billion in television revenue for the 2018 and 2022 men’s World Cups, with the lion’s share coming from Fox and Telemundo.

20
JERRY
BUSS

JEANIE
BUSS

Owners

Los Angeles Lakers

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMERS

The Lakers have changed the local television rights landscape with their new 25-year blockbuster deal with Time Warner Cable reportedly worth nearly $200 million a year. Here’s more proof of the Lakers’ influence: The NBA’s plan to dramatically alter team economics by siphoning local revenue from the big-market teams to small-market teams is more easily done with the Lakers’ support.

21
STEVE
BORNSTEIN

President & CEO, NFL Network

Executive Vice President of Media, NFL

CHANGE FROM 2010: NOT RANKED

How did the NFL convince ESPN to pay an average of nearly $2 billion a year for “Monday Night Football”? How has the league convinced CBS, Fox and NBC to pay an average of $1 billion or more for their NFL packages? Let’s just say there’s a reason why Bornstein is the league’s highest-paid executive, making more than even Commissioner Roger Goodell.

22
MELINDA
WITMER

Executive Vice President
& Chief Programming Officer

Time Warner Cable

CHANGE FROM 2010: +24

Forget about the fact that Witmer is the programming gatekeeper of the cable industry’s second-biggest operator, behind Comcast. Her decisions to set up Time Warner Cable Sports, pick off the rights to the Los Angeles Lakers and agree to launch the Pac-12’s networks are among the boldest moves in sports media.

23
LARRY
SCOTT

Commissioner

Pac-12 Conference

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMER

Who isn’t talking about the Pac-12 these days? Scott established the roots for the conference’s new TV networks, lured Gary Stevenson across the country, and oversaw the expansion to 12 teams. In the process, he has single-handedly changed the way industry insiders look at college conferences and their commissioners.

24
CASEY
WASSERMAN

Chairman & CEO

Wasserman Media Group

CHANGE FROM 2010: NO CHANGE

This gifted relationship builder can call on his friendships at the highest levels of politics, sports, film, music, entertainment and philanthropy to make introductions, foster ideas and close deals. It’s that influence — beyond growing his Wasserman Media Group agency and his pursuit of the NFL in Los Angeles — that has him on the call list of every major executive in sports.

25
JOHN
HENRY

Owner

Fenway Sports Group

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

It was obviously a September to forget for the Red Sox, but the Fenway sports empire and Liverpool FC remain important and highly watched industry pillars. Even LeBron James looked to FSG this year for brand elevation.

26
ADAM
SILVER

Deputy Commissioner

NBA

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

Silver took a lead role in the NBA’s labor negotiations as Commissioner David Stern continues to give his heir apparent more power. The growing influence is seen not just in labor issues but also in all of the league’s key business strategies.

27
TIM
BROSNAN

Executive Vice President, Business

Major League Baseball

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

With baseball’s business operations continuing an extended upswing in 2011, Brosnan pushed ahead in new directions, helping put the sport more squarely in the social media and pop culture landscapes with the successful MLB Fan Cave effort.

28
DEREK
CHANG

Executive Vice President,
Content Strategy & Development

DirecTV

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMER

Chang took the lead on DirecTV’s biggest programming disputes this year, with Fox, Golf Channel and YES Network. But it was DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket promotion that really worked, helping the satellite operator gain 327,000 subscribers in the third quarter, blowing away analyst expectations.

29
MARK
EMMERT

President

NCAA

CHANGE FROM 2010: +3

In his first full year as head of the NCAA, Emmert seemed to find his footing. He used his influence to take on tough topics like pay-for-play, the NCAA’s overly officious rule book and even tougher academic eligibility requirements, but his drawback remains the lack of a position on the postseason football argument.

30
DON
GARBER

Commissioner

Major League Soccer

CHANGE FROM 2010: +4

A decade ago, Major League Soccer was struggling. Today the league’s legitimacy is inarguable, with a nationwide footprint, average attendance that surpasses both the NBA and NHL, and a new TV deal with NBC. Garber has led the charge, and his next task is to solidify stadium plans in New York City for a 20th team.

31
SEAN
BRATCHES

Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing

ESPN

CHANGE FROM 2010: -9

Bratches is the executive who oversees all the revenue that comes into ESPN, from ad sales, which still is weathering the economic downturn, to affiliate sales, where ESPN still commands the highest carriage fees in the business.

32
HERBERT
HAINER

Chairman & CEO

Adidas

CHANGE FROM 2010: -9

Nike has made inroads, but Adidas still rules soccer, the world’s most popular sport. Some scoffed at Hainer’s prediction last year of 45 to 50 percent growth by 2015. They’re not laughing anymore, as Adidas’ results have been strong across the board.

33
CARLOS
BRITO

CEO

Anheuser-Busch InBev

CHANGE FROM 2010: NOT RANKED

MAARTEN
ALBARDA

Vice President, Global Connections

Anheuser-Busch InBev

CHANGE FROM 2010: -4

Anheuser-Busch has long been the principal corporate patron of American sports. Despite much hand-wringing when InBev purchased the business, that doesn’t seem to have changed. Anheuser-Busch InBev emptied its pockets in securing an NFL league sponsorship and litigated hard to keep its long-held MLB and NHL rights, although it ultimately lost the NHL. Perhaps it’s time to stop worrying about whether the King of Beers is still King of Sports.

34
MICHAEL
LEVINE

Co-Head

CAA Sports

HOWARD
NUCHOW

Co-Head

CAA Sports

CHANGE FROM 2010: +2

With the addition of Greg Luckman on corporate consulting and adding agent Jimmy Sexton to its roster, Nuchow and Levine continue to build by bringing on senior talent. The duo has CAA Sports quickly becoming the most talked about agency in sports.

35
MIKE
SLIVE

Commissioner

Southeastern Conference

CHANGE FROM 2010: NOT RANKED

Slive and the SEC were quiet on expansion in 2010, but that wasn’t the case this year. The league started a new round of realignment by taking Texas A&M, followed by Missouri. Now there’s talk that the SEC is again investigating its own TV network at a time when its football value couldn’t be higher.

36
DEMAURICE
SMITH

Executive Director

NFL Players Association

CHANGE FROM 2010: -31

Smith led players through the NFL’s first work stoppage in 25 years. The league sought major concessions from the players, and though the league is viewed as having won the labor battle, it didn’t get everything it was seeking. Going forward, Smith’s contract is up in March and he’s been mum about his future plans.

37
KEVIN
PLANK

CEO & Founder

Under Armour

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

The two biggest brands in sporting goods retail are Nike and Under Armour. Any company that can carve out a piece of Nike’s hard-earned brand equity and market share has our admiration, and Plank is the heart and soul of Under Armour. The company just cracked $1 billion in annual revenue, and that’s without a significant amount of overseas sales.

38
ANDY
ENGLAND

Chief Marketing Officer

MillerCoors

TOM
LONG

President and Chief Commercial Officer

MillerCoors

CHANGE FROM 2010: +6

England and Long are the hands at the reins of the only real domestic competitor to Anheuser-Busch, which has around a 50 percent market share in the U.S. Sales of flagship brand Miller Lite have dipped recently, and while MillerCoors/Coors Light locked up U.S. NHL rights and Molson Coors the Canadian rights after a legal battle, it remains to be seen whether the loss of NFL rights to A-B will hit Coors Light like a blind-side safety blitz.

39
LARRY
PROBST

Chairman

U.S. Olympic Committee

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

SCOTT
BLACKMUN

CEO

U.S. Olympic Committee

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMER

After returning stability to the U.S. Olympic Committee, the two executives at the organization’s helm are concentrating on the future: a new revenue-sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee; retaining more than $140 million in domestic sponsorship; and perhaps most importantly, ensuring Team USA wins medal after medal at the London Games.

40
HAL
STEINBRENNER

Managing General Partner & Co-Chair

New York Yankees

CHANGE FROM 2010: -5

It was a quieter year in Yankeeland, with perhaps the exception of milestone marches by Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. But under Steinbrenner, the Yankees remain by far baseball’s most popular team, its most powerful revenue producer, and a leading measuring stick for industry success.

41
LORENZO
FERTITTA

Chairman

Ultimate Fighting Championship

DANA
WHITE

President

Ultimate Fighting Championship

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMERS

In the last decade, the Las Vegas billionaire and his bombastic front man have taken the UFC from outlawed to in thing. A move to the Fox family of networks, coupled with expansion into South America and Asia, made 2011 a watershed year.

42
MICHAEL
WEINER

Executive Director

MLB Players Association

CHANGE FROM 2010: +1

In a year dominated by labor strife, Weiner was able to negotiate his first collective-bargaining agreement as head of the MLBPA, not only avoiding a work stoppage but also maintaining a system that leaves baseball as the only major U.S. sports league without a salary cap. Weiner has been called less militant than past MLBPA leaders, but those who know him say he is as tough as he is smart.
43
ALISON
LEWIS

Senior Vice President
of Marketing, North America

Coca-Cola Co.

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMER

Anyone at the world’s most indelible brand has more influence than most. With the Olympics and FIFA World Cup rights in their marketing portfolio, Coke and Lewis have two of the most powerful global sports sponsorships in their pocket, backed by one of the biggest ad budgets for any brand. Oh, and did we mention they continue to kick butt in the ongoing cola wars?

44
BOB
BOWMAN

President & CEO

MLB Advanced Media

CHANGE FROM 2010: -11

It is virtually impossible to discuss any key emerging digital trend, from tablets and social media to analytics and ticketing, without mentioning MLBAM’s trailblazing efforts, again proving the organization’s restless spirit under Bowman.

45
MARK
CUBAN

Owner

Dallas Mavericks

CHANGE FROM 2010: NOT RANKED

Cuban has moved past his reputation as a free-wheeling owner willing to take on the establishment. Now, he’s earned respect that comes from his consistent approach in running the Mavericks. His team not only boasts an NBA title, but also is considered one of the best-run operations in sports.

46
JEREMY
JACOBS SR.

Owner, Boston Bruins

Chairman & CEO,
Delaware North Cos.

CHANGE FROM 2010: NOT RANKED

After waiting 36 years, Jacobs finally saw his Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup this year. Jacobs bought the franchise in 1975, and has become one of the most influential owners in the NHL, sitting on the executive committee of the board of governors. As chairman and CEO of Delaware North, he also oversees one of the most important venue management and concessions firms in the industry.

47
DON
FEHR

Executive Director

NHL Players' Association

CHANGE FROM 2010: NOT RANKED

Since taking over the NHLPA in December 2010, Fehr has brought calm and order to a union that was in chaos. Since the last collective-bargaining agreement was reached in 2005, players have fired three union chiefs. But all has been quiet since Fehr took over. The league’s CBA expires in September, and the big question is whether there will be a peaceful settlement or another work stoppage.

48
ERIC
GRUBMAN

Executive Vice President,
Business Ventures

NFL

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMER

JEFF
PASH

Executive Vice President
& General Counsel

NFL

CHANGE FROM 2010: NOT RANKED

Pash, the league’s chief labor negotiator, helped bargain a new labor pact that gives the NFL great incentive to generate more local and non-media revenue, while Grubman is charged with helping make it work by increasing revenue toward the commissioner’s goal of $25 billion, from around $9.5 billion now.

49
RICK
DUDLEY

President & CEO

Octagon Worldwide

CHANGE FROM 2010: NO CHANGE

Dudley leads a company that touches various sports — and platforms — around the world, and it’s that global reach and multiple offerings that differentiates this agency from many of its competitors. Dudley touts diversification — representation across multiple sports under Phil de Picciotto, a heritage with top Olympic athletes, corporate consulting and activation for major brands around the globe, and deep roots in global soccer on the brand and property side — all while he makes new business plays in the digital and hospitality business. He also has positioned the company well in the emerging sports market of Brazil.

50
CHRIS
TSAKALAKIS

CEO

StubHub

CHANGE FROM 2010: NEWCOMER

Friends of StubHub say the company helps them sell season tickets to buyers who fear getting stuck with those they don’t use. Foes see it as a competitor that has torched their pricing models. Like it or loathe it, Tsakalakis’ company has become part of the ticket sales discussion for every front office in sports.

HOW THEY STACK UP

Top Dogs

SBJ’s selections as the most influential person in sports business

2004 Paul Tagliabue
2005 George Bodenheimer
2006 George Bodenheimer
2007 Brian Roberts
2008 George Bodenheimer*
2009 Jacques Rogge
2010 Roger Goodell
2011 Steve Burke

* President-elect Barack Obama was named as #1(a).

Getting The Call

First-time honorees on this year’s Most Influential list

Eric Shanks #5
Mark Lazarus #16
Jerry Buss #20
Jeanie Buss #20
Larry Scott #23
Derek Chang #28
Scott Blackmun #39
Lorenzo Fertitta #41
Dana White #41
Alison Lewis #43
Eric Grubman #48
Chris Tsakalakis #50

 

Not Making The Cut

Executives who dropped off this year’s Most Influential list, and where they ranked in 2010

Dick Ebersol #6     Mark Wright #29     Greg Shaheen #32     DeLoss Dodds #42     Phil de Picciotto #49
Chase Carey #7     Billy Hunter #30     Ted Leonsis #37     Indra Nooyi #45     Jeff Shifrin #49
Jerry Richardson #15     Bob Batterman #31     Joel Ewanick #39     Sal Galatioto #47     Ross Greenburg #50
Jim Delany #25     Jeffrey Kessler #31     Bea Perez #41     Suzy Deering #48        

 

League Bosses
1 Bud Selig
2 Roger Goodell
3 David Stern
4 Gary Bettman
5 Tim Finchem
6 Brian France
7 Larry Scott
8 Don Garber
9 Mike Slive
10 Lorenzo Fertitta/Dana White