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Volume 22 No. 23

Most Influential

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Society long has wrestled with its stance on gambling, conflicted by its economic potential weighed against its societal cost. So while American Sports Gamblers have been around for as long as there have been sports in America, the U.S. sports industry has for the last century worked relentlessly to keep them at arm’s length.

Oh, how that card has turned. 

When the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting in May, the pro sports establishment not only accepted the ruling, it embraced it. The NBA, NHL and MLB landed eight-figure deals with MGM Resorts. William Hill signed up to sponsor two NHL teams. The deal pipeline is flowing, with loads more to come. 


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


Paul Tagliabue


George Bodenheimer


George Bodenheimer


Brian Roberts


George Bodenheimer


Jacques Rogge


Roger Goodell


Steve Burke


John Skipper


Randy Freer / Eric Shanks


Adam Silver


Bob Iger


Adam Silver 


Donald Trump


The American Sports Gambler

So how did the American Sports Gambler go from persona non grata to persona waaaaay grata?

When the Supreme Court issued its ruling, it left leagues little choice but to find their way to a productive coexistence with the regulated gaming industry. That might have gotten them from averse to accepting, but it doesn’t explain eager. To get there, you have to consider the way the American Sports Gambler has evolved in the last few years, and is expected to evolve in the next few.

For those years that the leagues opposed gambling, a bet was something that was placed at a sportsbook, likely in a casino and almost always before the start of a game. A bet placed today most likely will be placed not at a casino, but through an app on a mobile device. That means the American Sports Gambler can place a bet at a stadium or an arena, or from a recliner at home. And those bets aren’t all placed before the game. Mobile wagering has allowed for the development of in-play betting, which allows for wagers on chunks of a game — whether a team will score on a drive in football or in an inning in baseball — or even on an individual, micro-sized outcome, like who will score the next bucket, or the speed of the next pitch.

Proponents in sports envision fans spending the bulk of a game betting $5 or $10 at a time, perhaps dozens of times a game, from their seats or their sofas.

The industry’s approach changed because American Sports Gamblers changed. It’s betting big that they’re about to change even more.

2018’s Top 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business


Photo: getty images

Adam Silver

Commissioner, NBA
Change from 2017: No change

Whether it’s forging a strong bond between the league and its players or taking the lead in the burgeoning sports gambling business, the progressive Silver continues to make all the right moves in leading the NBA to greater heights.

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Roger Goodell

Commissioner, NFL

Change from 2017: +1

Goodell is for many a favorite punching bag, but he has helped guide the league back to firmer ground with the disappearance of politically charged issues. Higher TV ratings surprised many, so it stands to reason to give some credit to Goodell, who has worked to aid players in their social justice initiatives.

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Eric Shanks

CEO & Executive Producer, Fox Sports

Change from 2017: +12

Taking “Thursday Night Football” from CBS and NBC. Renewing Fox’s MLB deal to keep the World Series through 2028. Adding WWE to its programming lineup. As 21st Century Fox got smaller due to the Disney sale, Shanks championed sports with these new rights deals.

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Rob Manfred

Commissioner, Major League Baseball

Change from 2017: -2

Manfred is battling baseball’s lowest attendance in 15 years, less on-field action than ever and an uncertain labor landscape. But industry revenue is still growing, as are youth participation and baseball’s global profile, and owners recently rewarded Manfred with a five-year contract extension.

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David Levy

President, Turner

Change from 2017: +12

“The Match” with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson perfectly captured how Levy’s influence has grown with the AT&T-Time Warner merger. HBO Sports produced a promotional series, Bleacher Report carried shoulder programming, and BR/Live and DirecTV provided the pay-per-view. Throw in AT&T wireless and retail stores — not to mention TBS, TNT and truTV — and Levy can enter any rights deal with an unprecedented array of assets.

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Casey Wasserman

Chairman & CEO, Wasserman; Chairman, LA 2028

Change from 2017: +3

His eponymous agency touches most of the American sports landscape. In 2018, Wasserman fired Papa John’s before the NFL did, and his international clout grows daily as the selling of the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics begins.

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Mark Parker

Chairman, President & CEO, Nike Inc.

Change from 2017: +5

Stabilization of the North American athletic footwear market is a boon to Nike, which owns most of it. Many called its use of Colin Kaepernick in a brand campaign risky — then Nike’s stock hit an all-time high. Led by Parker, Nike’s ability to remain relevant is what makes it the top brand in sports.

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Peter Guber & Joe Lacob

Owners, Golden State Warriors

Change from 2017: +12

These visionaries own the blueprint for building championship teams and winning organizations. The glitzy, privately financed $1 billion arena development complex to open next year in San Francisco marks the latest chapter in their ability to drive change.

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Gary Bettman

Commissioner, NHL

Change from 2017: +1

The new member of the Hockey Hall of Fame is not slowing down, guiding the league toward expansion to Seattle and broadening its international reach. Next on his docket is ensuring future labor peace and avoiding what would be the fourth lockout of his tenure.

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Mark Lazarus

Chairman, NBC Broadcasting & Sports, NBCUniversal

Change from 2017: -6

Lazarus oversaw another steady year for NBC, from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang dominating TV ratings and ending this fall with “Sunday Night Football,” which is on pace to finish the year as TV’s top prime-time show for a record eighth consecutive season.

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Ari Emanuel

CEO, Endeavor


Patrick Whitesell

Executive Chairman, Endeavor

Change from 2017: -3

Endeavor’s evolution from talent representation into a broader company with expertise in events, leagues, media distribution and marketing services has been instrumental in its growth and diversification. The more Endeavor owns, like PBR, UFC and college rights, the deeper it will go into developing content.

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Jerry Jones

Owner, Dallas Cowboys

Change from 2017: -7

Jones has his Cowboys back in contention and The Star complex in Frisco, Texas, has redefined the purpose of a team’s training venue. Now most teams are looking at how to build businesses around where they work and train.

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Robert Kraft

Founder, Chairman & CEO, The Kraft Group

Change from 2017: -6

Kraft is arguably the most influential NFL owner, from his perch atop his perennial contender in Foxboro to his voice on the broadcast committee. No one operates the corridors of NFL power quite like Kraft, who has been instrumental in nearly every major league decision of recent years.

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LeBron James

All-star, Activist & Entrepreneur, Los Angeles Lakers

Change from 2017: +8

James’ free-agency move from the Cavaliers to the Lakers only bolstered his powerhouse brand that extends far beyond sports. Whether it’s taking a stand against gun violence or expanding his SpringHill Entertainment venture, his influence both on and off the court is undeniable.

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Don Garber

Commissioner, Major League Soccer

Change from 2017: +1

Next year will mark Garber’s 20th year in charge of MLS, which has been a period of massive growth. With the launch of FC Cincinnati, the opening of Allianz Field in Minnesota and another round of expansion expected in the year ahead, that trajectory should continue upward.

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Sean McManus

Chairman, CBS Sports 


David Berson

President, CBS Sports

Change from 2017: -5

Just weeks after Leslie Moonves left his post in September as CBS chairman and CEO amid sexual abuse allegations, McManus and Berson finalized a deal to keep the PGA Championship on its air through 2030. It showed the duo’s influence, renewing a pact with a longtime partner amid a chaotic atmosphere caused by Moonves’ exit.

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Michael Levine

Co-head, CAA Sports 


Howard Nuchow

Co-head, CAA Sports

Change from 2017: +2

Levine and Nuchow’s influence can be felt across all facets of the industry, from media rights and property sales to project management and corporate consulting. The agency represents 1,700 athletes, but beyond that, if there is a major deal going down, chances are Levine, Nuchow and colleagues are touching it in some form.

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Phil Anschutz

Founder & Owner, AEG

Change from 2017: -4

While the billionaire mogul remains reclusive, AEG continues to be a juggernaut in the sports and entertainment business. Its continued competition with Live Nation, as well as the decision to use its own ticketing subsidiary AXS in 30 of its U.S. venues instead of StubHub, will be worth watching in the year ahead.

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Ted Leonsis

Founder, Chairman & CEO, Monumental Sports & Entertainment

Change from 2017: +4

One of the most creative and forward-thinking owners in sports, Leonsis’ innovative business approach in all areas of his ever-growing Monumental Sports organization helps set the pace in the industry. He’s a winner on the ice, too, as his Washington Capitals won their first Stanley Cup this year.

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Michael Rubin

Founder & Executive Chairman, Fanatics

Change from 2017: -2

Expertly rolling up what was a disjointed sports-licensing industry into a billion-dollar company, Rubin now must prove Fanatics has endurance. The dissolution of Fanatics’ venue sales agreement with NASCAR shows it doesn’t work everywhere. Questions about the unquestioned industry leader’s end game persist: Is it an IPO, sale or status quo?

Photo: walt disney co.
Photo: walt disney co.

Jimmy Pitaro

President, ESPN; Co-chair, Disney Media Networks


Kevin Mayer 

Chairman, Direct-To-Consumer and International, Walt Disney Co. 

Change from 2017: Newcomers

ESPN’s representation dropped on this year’s list because they are so new to their positions. But when Pitaro took over as ESPN’s president in the spring, one of his goals was to improve the company’s relationship with the NFL. By all accounts, he has succeeded. Meanwhile, Mayer has overseen the successful launch of ESPN+.

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Jim Murren

Chairman & CEO, MGM Resorts International

Change from 2017: Newcomer

Even before the Supreme Court cleared the way for sports betting beyond Nevada, Murren had emerged as an influential player in sports on the local scene. Tack on a trio of deals with the NBA, NHL and MLB in the newly opened sportsbook category and you’ve got a meteoric rise into the upper echelons of influence that reaches well beyond the Vegas strip.

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Michael Rapino

CEO, Live Nation

Change from 2017: Newcomer

There is no shortage of challengers and upstarts in sports ticketing. There also is no confusion as to who is still the undisputed industry top dog, as Rapino along with Jared Smith powered Live Nation’s Ticketmaster to a series of company sales records and continued to innovate around mobile ticketing.

Photo: USOC

Sarah Hirshland

CEO, U.S. Olympic Committee


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Susanne Lyons

Incoming Chairman, U.S. Olympic Committee

Change from 2017: Newcomers

Lyons navigated a difficult period as acting CEO after Scott Blackmun resigned in February and now takes over as board chair on Jan. 1 with more tough reforms on the horizon. Hired as the successor, Hirshland delivered a decisive moment in her first months, embracing the “nuclear option” for USA Gymnastics by revoking its status as the governing body at the Olympics level. All eyes are on these two leaders.

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Arthur Blank

Owner & Chairman, AMB Group

Change from 2017: +1

Blank has built a sports juggernaut in Atlanta. While his Falcons had a down year on the field, his MLS Atlanta United did not, and Mercedes-Benz Stadium continues to impress a year after opening.

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Jay Monahan

Commissioner, PGA Tour

Change from 2017: -2

Monahan has wasted no time in pushing the PGA Tour forward with bold moves that include a revamped tour schedule, the addition of new tournament markets and a push to draw younger viewers to the sport.

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Jim Delany

Commissioner, Big Ten Conference

Change from 2017: +2

The Big Ten continues to set the pace financially among power five conferences and it’s because of Delany’s vision on media rights. He’s a master at seeing around the corner to determine what the conference’s next move should be, whether it’s in the boardroom or on the field.

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Michele Roberts

Executive Director, National Basketball Players Association

Change from 2017: -3

Roberts is one of the most powerful women in sports as the top executive of the union that represents 450 NBA players. She recently was re-elected to another four-year term, and under her leadership the league and players agreed to a deal that ensures labor peace until 2023.

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Stan Kroenke

Owner, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment

Change from 2017: Not ranked

Kroenke could be on this list for owning an NBA, MLS, NHL and EPL team, but that was the case for many years. Returning the NFL to L.A., opening up his usually hard-to-open checkbook to field a winner in the Rams and spending over $4 billion to build a stadium clearly makes him a top — yet quiet — influencer in sports.

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Bobby Kotick

CEO, Activision Blizzard

Change from 2017: +7

The Overwatch League lapped the esports field in its inaugural season, striking a major media deal with Twitch, several blue-chip sponsorships and eight more expansion franchises at big premiums over the price a year ago. Much of corporate America is still kicking the tires on esports, but Kotick gets deals done and is the leader to watch.

Marcel Marcondes

U.S. Chief Marketing Officer, Anheuser-Busch InBev 


Joao Chueiri

Vice President, Consumer Connections, Anheuser-Busch InBev

Change from 2017: +3

Any business founded on full-calorie beverages is challenged by shifting consumer tastes. Even with Bud Light being America’s top-selling beer, ABI is no exception. It’s still among the top domestic sports spenders and its effort to change sponsorships through incentive-laden property deals is being scrutinized closely by the entire industry.

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Serena Williams

Cultural icon, WTA Tour

Change from 2017: Newcomer

Perhaps it’s a testament to Williams’ influence that everyone was talking about her in a year she actually didn’t win a Grand Slam. Through fashion, philanthropy, and a revealing HBO documentary series chronicling the highs and lows of her pregnancy and new motherhood, she’s become a cultural icon and role model, dominating the conversation in tennis, and frequently elsewhere.

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DeMaurice Smith

Executive Director, NFL Players Association

Change from 2017: -5

Smith leads the largest sports union composed of players in the most popular sport in America. He also has said that the players want changes to the collective-bargaining agreement, which could portend a work stoppage when the deal ends in 2021.

Photo: imsa

Jim France

Chairman & CEO, NASCAR

Change from 2017: Not ranked


Lesa France Kennedy

CEO, International Speedway Corp.

Change from 2017: Newcomer

France is in his 70s, but that hasn’t slowed him down since he replaced his nephew, Brian France, as NASCAR’s top executive in August. He’s been at every race since he took over, and he and Kennedy are restructuring the sport with a shellshocking $1.9 billion bid by NASCAR to acquire ISC.

Photo: arthur mola / ap images for upper deck

Donald Fehr

Executive Director, NHL Players' Association

Change from 2017: Not ranked

Fehr has long been the most respected sports labor leader, and he will have his hands full this year deciding whether to agree to another NHL collective-bargaining agreement or opt out of the deal in September 2019.

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George Pyne

CEO, Bruin Sports Capital

Change from 2017: +4

The former NASCAR and IMG leader has grown Bruin into much more than an investment vehicle. Bruin’s companies touch many facets of the sports world, from hospitality to media and marketing, and the number of deal opportunities presented to Pyne puts him in the mix across various sectors and at the forefront of sports business.

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Bea Perez

Senior Vice President & Chief Communications, Public Affairs, Sustainability and Marketing Assets Officer, Coca-Cola

Change from 2017: -1


John Mount

Vice President, Marketing Assets and Activation, Coca-Cola North America

Change from 2017: Newcomer

Perez and Mount total more than 40 years at Coke — one of the biggest marketing spenders across sports. Coke Zero Sugar is helping blunt the “sugar is the enemy” consumer sentiment, while BodyArmor, which recently secured NCAA sideline rights, is gaining in an isotonic market dominated by Pepsi’s Gatorade.

Greg Brown

President & CEO, Learfield

Change from 2017: -17

The engineer of the Learfield-IMG College merger has been challenged by the lengthy Department of Justice investigation of the deal, but Brown’s leadership throughout what’s been a difficult year has further established him as one of the key figures in college athletics.

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Thomas Bach

President, International Olympic Committee

Change from 2017: -26

With no North American bids in play before at least the 2030 Winter Games, Bach’s U.S. influence had a market adjustment this year. Still, from ruling on Russian doping scandals to the selection of future Olympic hosts, it’s clearer than ever that the IOC president — not athletes or the IOC membership — calls the shots in international sports.

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Tony Clark

Executive Director, MLB Players Association

Change from 2017: +2

Players recently voted unanimously to extend Clark’s deal to lead players through the next collective-bargaining agreement in what could be a challenging time for baseball, including a potential threat to its streak of 25 years of labor peace.

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Adam Harter

Vice President, Marketing and Cultural Connections, PepsiCo

Change from 2017: -2

Pepsi and Coke are relatively even in terms of stick-and-ball pro team sponsorships, but Pepsi grabs the national spotlight with its NFL, NBA and NHL league deals. Marketing expenses are up, but so are North American beverage sales for the first time in more than a year.

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Carlos Cordeiro

President, U.S. Soccer Federation

Change from 2017: Newcomer

The new U.S. Soccer president found early success, helping land the 2026 World Cup for the joint bid of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. While he continues to revamp the federation, the performance of the U.S. at the 2019 Women’s World Cup and the improvement of the men’s team will begin to define his tenure.

Photo: eric stocklin / baltimore business journal

Kevin Plank

Founder, Chairman & CEO, Under Armour

Change from 2017: -10

After two years of steep declines, Under Armour sales returned to the growth side in 2018 and shares were up more than 50 percent at press time. Plank and UA still have to prove they can get non-cleated athletic footwear right and adjust to an “athleisure” trend that’s far from the brand’s performance roots.

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John Skipper

Executive Chairman, Perform Group

Change from 2017: -38

After unexpectedly resigning from ESPN in December 2017, Skipper announced his arrival back into the sports business by joining Perform in May. In the fall, he made a $365 million deal with popular boxer Canelo Alvarez for DAZN, and he followed that up with a $300 million contract with MLB. The message from both deals was clear: Skipper’s back and open for business.

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Mark Emmert

President, NCAA

Change from 2017: Not ranked

Emmert moved decisively and swiftly — something the NCAA isn’t known for — to assemble the commission on college basketball. His voice registered an urgency to enact new rules right away and showed just how influential he can be in times of crisis.

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Marie Donoghue

Vice President of Sports Video, Amazon

Change from 2017: Newcomer

Amazon, which has designs on growing its sports business, tapped the former ESPN executive in August to oversee that strategy. The company is rumored to have put in a bid to buy YES Network, and leagues are hoping that Donoghue will take a similar interest when their rights come up.

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Joe Asher

CEO, William Hill U.S.

Change from 2017: Newcomer

Asher was years ahead of the curve when he attached William Hill’s name to a sports bar at Monmouth Park in 2013. That positioned the company to be the first U.S. sportsbook outside of Nevada to take a bet and the first to sign sponsorship deals with major pro teams. Facing a steep brand-building challenge, William Hill figures to be front and center as new markets open.

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Rick Welts

President & COO, Golden State Warriors

Change from 2017: Newcomer

The recently enshrined member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame leads the operation of one of the hottest brands in sports. But the savvy Welts also is one of the most well-respected and inclusive voices in the industry, adding even more influence to his already strong presence.

Photo: getty images

Sister Survivors

USA Gymnastics

Change from 2017: Newcomers

They were already the most successful team in modern gymnastics history. Through their brave personal accounts, unified collective voice and rare moral clarity, the gymnasts who were abused by Larry Nassar — led by Aly Raisman and other Olympic gold medalists — have emerged as a powerful political force across the Olympic movement and beyond.


Making their debut

Newcomers to this year’s 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business


1. The American Sports Gambler

22. Kevin Mayer

22. Jimmy Pitaro

23. Jim Murren

24. Michael Rapino

25. Sarah Hirshland

25. Susanne Lyons

33. Serena Williams

35. Lesa France Kennedy

38. John Mount

43. Carlos Cordeiro

47. Marie Donoghue

48. Joe Asher

49. Rick Welts

50. Sister Survivors

This week, writers Bill King, John Ourand, John Lombardo, Daniel Kaplan and Eric Fisher have a roundtable discussion on one of our most-talked about and debated lists of the year: The 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business.