Sports Executive of the Year
Arthur Blank, AMB Group
Few owners have had as much success in a single year as Arthur Blank. After a trip to the Super Bowl in early 2017, his Falcons returned to the playoffs last season. His expansion Atlanta United shattered attendance records in MLS, shocking those who saw Atlanta as a fickle sport market. Both teams played in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which offered revolutionary low-priced concessions that have challenged the historic practice of overpriced hot dogs and the lot. And oh, Blank, as chairman of the NFL compensation committee, stared down Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, winning the battle in the fight over Commissioner Roger Goodell’s new contract. Jones wanted to scuttle the deal and threatened to sue; Blank didn’t blink and won the skirmish, raising his leadership profile in the league.
Bill Foley, Vegas Golden Knights
Bill Foley hit the jackpot with the first major pro sports team in Las Vegas, as the Golden Knights not only have had a successful first season in the NHL, but staked their claim as perhaps the best expansion team in any sport. Given 500-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup before the season, the team finished with the league’s fifth-best regular record, was the first true expansion team to win its division in its first season and was playing in the Western Conference Final at press time. Off the ice, the team’s strong community-first approach quickly endeared the new franchise to Nevadans across the state. With a full season of sellouts, high-demand premium seating and strong sponsorship sales, the team is already one of the NHL’s highest revenue-generating teams. Foley delivered on his promise that the team would make the playoffs in three years. A Stanley Cup in six? That’s another bet that Foley is likely to win.
Mark Lazarus, NBC Broadcasting and Sports
For three weeks in January and February, NBC’s Mark Lazarus controlled sports media, overseeing the production of the two biggest events on the calendar. It started in Tampa, where NBC produced the NHL All-Star Game. His road wound through Minneapolis, where NBC carried Super Bowl LII. And it continued through Pyeongchang, where NBC produced the Winter Olympics — winning 18 straight nights of TV. Lazarus’ year was not just defined by those big events. He oversaw “Sunday Night Football,” which was the top prime-time series for a TV-record seventh season in a row. He hired big names — Mike Tirico and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — to work as on-air talent. And he partnered with the International Olympic Committee and U.S. Olympic Committee on an Olympic Channel. Deals with Six Nations Rugby, World Archery, IAAF Diamond League and USA Swimming ensured that NBC would have enough programming for its cable channel and streaming platform.
Michael Rubin, Fanatics
For having the vision, industry acumen, experience and resources to roll up and coalesce what had been a relatively sleepy and disjointed business, Michael Rubin wins the title as the first disrupter in sports licensing history. With a vertical model combining e-commerce, manufacturing, venue and brick-and-mortar retail, Rubin’s Fanatics has pioneered a model intriguing enough that some of the licensors with which it does business — including MLB, MLS, the NFL, NFLPA and NHL — have purchased equity stakes in the company. Fanatics attracted attention globally as well, with a $1 billion investment from Japan-based SoftBank that valued the company at $4.5 billion. Add to that the acquisition of Majestic Athletic, and agreements that have given Fanatics control of sports licensing, and you have a new force controlling the industry. All that took a skilled executive to engineer.
Casey Wasserman, Wasserman and LA 2028
American bids for the Olympics always face an uphill battle, and it took a special combination of political savvy, pragmatism and negotiating instinct for Los Angeles to finally bring the Games home again. At the center of the effort was Casey Wasserman, who along with Mayor Eric Garcetti led an aggressive international charm offensive at the International Olympic Committee to keep pace with favorite Paris. As it became clear the IOC wanted to give both cities the Olympics, Wasserman used his leverage to extract a $180 million cash advance from the IOC to help the local budget. The Olympic victory transformed Wasserman from a national figure to an international one, and it’s paying off at his day job, too. Citing in part Casey’s personal commitment to the Olympic movement, six-time medalist swimmer Katie Ledecky signed with Wasserman to manage her promising commercial career after she went pro. Up next is the sales process for the ’28 Games. Wasserman’s goal? Nearly $2 billion.