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.
President & CEO
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.