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Volume 21 No. 2
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The Class of 2012

Members have been widely recognized for success in sports business

Storytellers, entrepreneurs, risk-takers and colorful personalities make up the 2012 class of The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business, an award from SportsBusiness Journal/Daily recognizing the architects and builders of sports. Each of these individuals will be honored during a special ceremony at the IMG World Congress of Sports, March 20-21, in Laguna Nigel, Calif.

This year’s recipients are licensing pioneer Bill Battle, TV visionary Don Ohlmeyer, NFL Films’ storyteller Steve Sabol, facility and team entrepreneur Ed Snider, college sports executive trailblazer Judy Sweet and longtime motorsports promoter Humpy Wheeler.
Each was selected for their achievements and body of work throughout their careers.


Quite simply, Battle was a visionary in seeing the potential in sports licensing. The Alabama native had a successful playing career at the University of Alabama and was a part of Bear Bryant’s first national championship team. In 1966, he went on to the University of Tennessee and was an assistant coach for four years until he was named head coach in 1970, becoming the youngest college head coach in the country. After leaving coaching, he focused on the business side and sensed a void in sports licensing. He founded Battle Enterprises in 1981 and signed Bryant to a licensing agreement, while the University of Alabama signed on as the first university client to his Collegiate Licensing Co. He later became the exclusive licensing representative for NASCAR and the PGA Tour. He served as CLC president and CEO until 2002, when he turned the day-to-day operations over to his son, Pat. In 2007, CLC was acquired by IMG for a reported $100 million.


Ohlmeyer has been one of the most influential forces in sports television over the last 40 years. He started his career at ABC Sports, where Roone Arledge served as his mentor in working on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” and later as the first producer of “Monday Night Football.” He went on to create “The Superstars” series and produced and directed three Olympic Games for ABC, including the tragedy-marred Munich Olympics in 1972. He later ran NBC Sports for five years and then set out with his own production company, Ohlmeyer Communications. He returned to produce “Monday Night Football” for one more season and served as ombudsman of ESPN for nearly two years. A charismatic personality with a great eye for talent and stories, Ohlmeyer has been honored with 16 Emmys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award and two Peabody Awards. He has been inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.


Sabol brings a filmmaker’s eye to the Champions class, serving as president and one of the founding members of NFL Films. He began working at NFL Films as a cameraman for his father, Ed Sabol, in 1964 and served mostly in that capacity through the 1970s. He worked alongside his father to develop NFL Films’ signature style, and pioneered such groundbreaking programs as “Inside the NFL.” He later became an on-air talent after ESPN worked with NFL Films as the network’s production company. Sabol and NFL Films worked with HBO Sports in 2001 to launch the critically acclaimed “Hard Knocks” reality series. Sabol’s work has been praised — and set a model for sports films — for years. His gifted eye for storytelling led to him winning 27 Emmys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also received the Pete Rozelle and Lamar Hunt awards for his contributions to the NFL, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Daniel F. Reeves Pioneer Award.


Snider brought an entrepreneurial mind-set to the sports business in Philadelphia. He emerged as a leader in the market in 1967, when he founded the Flyers and brought the team to the city, where it began playing that fall. He was the driving force behind the construction of the Spectrum and assumed control of the building in 1971. He saw the opportunity for a larger sports management company and, in 1974, he created Spectacor to oversee the Flyers and Spectrum. Over the next 20 years, he turned Spectacor into a national company serving the sports and entertainment marketplace. In 1996, Snider merged Spectacor with the Comcast Corp. to form Comcast-Spectacor. The new venture initially consisted of the Flyers, Philadelphia 76ers, Wells Fargo Center, The Spectrum and the Philadelphia Phantoms. Comcast-Spectacor then joined with the Philadelphia Phillies to form Comcast SportsNet. Most recently, Comcast-Spectacor developed Global Spectrum, an international facilities management company; Ovations Food Services, an international concessions company; New Era Tickets.


Sweet broke barriers throughout her respected career in intercollegiate athletics. In 1975, she became one of the first women in the nation selected to direct a combined men’s and women’s intercollegiate athletics program when she led the University of California, San Diego, where she served for 24 years. She served on more than 20 NCAA committees, was elected secretary-treasurer of the NCAA in 1989 and, in 1991, was elected to a two-year term as membership president, becoming the first woman to serve in each of those positions. She most recently served as NCAA senior vice president for championships and education services, retiring in 2006. During her tenure at the NCAA, Sweet’s responsibilities included oversight for 84 NCAA championships and serving as a primary contact for Title IX and gender equity initiatives.


Wheeler has been one of the most colorful personalities in all of sports business. After graduating from the University of South Carolina, he worked at Darlington Raceway before being hired in 1975 to run Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he became known as one of the most successful promoters in racing. He became president of Speedway Motorsports Inc. in 1994, and over the years he and Bruton Smith worked to build and acquire tracks and grow the footprint of NASCAR. Wheeler left SMI and formed motorsports management firm The Wheeler Co. in 2008 with his son and daughter. Wheeler was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

SportsBusiness Journal/Daily will profile each of these honorees and tell their impressive stories in our March 26 issue. In addition, the six Champions will be honored at the World Congress of Sports during a luncheon and subsequent panel discussion, where they will discuss their careers and their views on the business of sports, including how it has changed over the years.

The 2010 class of Champions: Tony Ponturo, Jim Host, Donna Lopiano, Jerry Colangelo, Neal Pilson and Ron Labinski.
The 2011 class of Champions: Deane Beman, Alan Rothenberg, Val Ackerman, Bill Rasmussen, Barry Frank and Marvin Miller (below).