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Volume 20 No. 46
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Champions 2017: They saw the future of sports

Visionaries are hard to find. Sure, with the wonderful gift of hindsight, you can look back through history and identify visionaries of all sorts. But identifying true visionaries while they’re actually working their magic — and whose work and vision turn out to be spot-on — is a different story.

That’s what makes this year’s class of The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business so special. Across the board, all six displayed amazing vision throughout their careers and, more importantly, the leadership and ability to establish that vision.

Whether defining the college sports landscape for generations, or securing the baseball future in a vital market; whether making sports’ biggest events even bigger on TV, or bringing fine dining to stadiums and arenas; or whether putting a modern stamp on some of baseball’s most revered ballparks, or being a pioneer in both coaching diversity and athletic shoe marketing — the common theme through it all was vision.

In its eighth year, Champions recognizes the architects and builders of sports. This year’s recipients are:

DeLoss Dodds

DeLoss Dodds’ vision set the agenda for University of Texas athletics and the Big 12 Conference for more than 30 years.

The former track and field coach established the Longhorns as one of the richest and most successful athletic programs in the country by hiring some of the nation’s best coaches and winning consistently in the highest-profile sports of football, men’s and women’s basketball, and baseball.

Dodds’ legacy as an innovator was entrenched when Texas and ESPN formed the Longhorn Network in 2011 as part of a $300 million agreement over 20 years, making the university one of a very few institutions to brand a linear TV channel. Along the way, Dodds became the most influential figure in the Big 12 and one of the most powerful administrators in college athletics.

Bill Giles

Bill Giles was born into baseball.

The son of Warren Giles, the Cincinnati Reds president who later headed the National League, Giles started off known for outlandish on-field stunts and ended up becoming an influential owner across Major League Baseball. While with the Philadelphia Phillies early in his career, he brought in racing ostriches and the famed high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, and once even hired a man to ride horseback from Boston to Philadelphia to deliver the game ball.

Giles worked his way up to president and in 1980 won the franchise’s only World Series title. A year later, he put together a group that bought the team for $32.5 million.

As an owner, he was among the first in baseball to speak credibly about expanding each league to three divisions and adding a wild card. He also led negotiations for a new ballpark that secured the Phillies’ financial future.

Ed Goren

Ed Goren helped define “big-event” sports television as we know it.

A fixture in television since 1966, Goren started at CBS as a copy boy in the news division. But it’s his sports TV career in which he’s best known for being one of the architects of the launch of Fox Sports in 1994.

Goren helped launch the network as executive producer before rising to vice chairman. Along the way, he pioneered Fox’s “big-event” strategy, which has been copied across television, and oversaw deals that saw the group carry the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup and Daytona 500.

Goren, who still consults for the network, has picked up 47 Emmy awards across CBS Sports and Fox Sports.

Larry Levy

Larry Levy has created a sports food empire over the past 40 years.

Levy is founder and chairman emeritus of Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, and under his leadership, the company has become a leading food and retail provider at dozens of arenas, stadiums and racetracks. In 1982, Levy Restaurants signed the Chicago White Sox as its first sports client, handling the fine-dining operation at Comiskey Park. The company went on to carve a niche in premium catering for luxury suites before expanding to general concessions at multiple NBA arenas in the late 1990s.

In the past 15 years, Levy expanded its business to include running merchandise at arenas and stadiums as well as all aspects of food service at historic college football venues such as Notre Dame Stadium, Ohio Stadium and Kyle Field.

George Raveling

After a lifetime in basketball, George Raveling is a man with considerable achievements on and off the court.

Having played for Villanova, Raveling went on to be an assistant coach at both his alma mater and Maryland before holding the head coaching position at Washington State, Iowa and Southern Cal between 1972 and 1994 — the first African-American coach in the ACC and the first black head coach in the Pac-8. Along the way, he was a leader in establishing boys and girls basketball camps on the West Coast.

Those accomplishments earned him induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

As a second career, after his retirement from coaching in 1994, Raveling joined Nike, initially as director of grassroots basketball before eventually rising to director of international basketball.

Janet Marie Smith

Janet Marie Smith’s fingerprints are on some of the seminal ballpark projects in the game’s history: the original design of Camden Yards, the conversion of the Atlanta Olympic stadium to Turner Field, and the renovations that saved Fenway Park.

An architect and urban planner by education, Smith broke into sports in 1989, hired by Baltimore Orioles President Larry Lucchino to serve as owners rep on the ballpark that would come to be known as Camden Yards, a project that awakened a design style that would influence ballparks across the country.

From Baltimore, she went on to work with Turner Sports on a ballpark for the Braves, then to the Red Sox, where she was point person on the renovation of Fenway.

From there it was back to the Orioles for Camden renovations, and then west to the L.A. Dodgers, for whom she has worked since 2012, focusing on improvements to beloved but outdated Dodger Stadium.

SportsBusiness Journal/Daily will tell the stories of each honoree in separate issues throughout the months of February, March and April. In addition, the Champions will be honored April 19 at the CAA World Congress of Sports in Dana Point, Calif.

Past Honorees

2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Jerry Colangelo Val Ackerman Bill Battle Donald Dell Joan Cronan Donna de Varona Joseph Cohen
Jim Host Deane Beman Don Ohlmeyer Rosa Gatti Wayne Embry Len Elmore Jeremy Jacobs
Ron Labinski Barry Frank Steve Sabol Roy Kramer Rick Hendrick David Falk Bob Lanier
Donna Lopiano Marvin Miller Ed Snider Harvey Schiller Mike Ilitch Russ Granik Roger Penske
Neal Pilson Bill Rasmussen Judy Sweet Ron Shapiro Verne Lundquist Tom Jernstedt Jerry Richardson
Tony Ponturo Alan Rothenberg Humpy Wheeler Pat Williams Bill Schmidt Mike Trager Lesley Visser