As you review our much-debated 50 Most Influential People in Sports Business, (see Page 24), here are a few executives who had a lot of support internally but fell just short this year.
■ Val Ackerman: Outside of her successful leadership of the Big East and a being powerful voice in college sports, what separates Ackerman is how she connects people across sports. She’s indefatigable as an advocate on diversity and inclusion and being a mentor to an entire generation of executives.
■ Josh Harris and David Blitzer: Leading two progressive organizations (the 76ers and the Devils), being an early mover in esports and joining Elevate in a bid to challenge Legends allows Harris and Blitzer to influence sports in multiple ways.
■ John Henry and Tom Werner: The co-owners of Fenway Sports Group spent big and made all the right moves to bring a World Series winner to Boston. NESN (of which FSG owns 80 percent) continues to be one of the crown jewels in the regional sports net business, and Liverpool sits in first in the Premier League. Few executives own such powerful, gold standards in sports.
■ Billie Jean King: She is not as active as the others listed, but she still wields great influence at the highest levels of society and is an outspoken voice for change. We hope her minority stake in the Los Angeles Dodgers paves the way for more entrepreneurial women to get involved in sports.
■ Burke Magnus and Justin Connolly: While the top of the ESPN corporate ranks saw significant change, these two capable veterans revamped and reinvigorated the business. Magnus took the lead on a dizzying number of rights deals that became the programming foundation for ESPN+, while Connolly showed why he’s one of the best distribution executives in the business, miraculously winning the first carriage deal for the fledgling ACC Network.
■ Vince McMahon: He got a massive rights fee increase for WWE’s “Raw” and “Smackdown,” the latter of which will be heavily promoted on the “New Fox,” while he is also trying to recreate football with a relaunched XFL in 2020. Industrywide, McMahon and Co. in Stamford, Conn., are creating content and platforms that certainly have people’s attention.
■ Dan Reed and Peter Hutton: The Facebook duo are at the table with every major league and broadcaster. In addition to several international sports deals, its arrangement with MLB for 26 games on Facebook Watch was novel and could be a template for the future.
■ Stephen Ross: From advancing the fan experience and a bold vision to bring tennis to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, to his support of RISE, to his investments in bringing international soccer to the U.S., Ross is continually innovating and trying new things. Not all of them work, but he’s driven to experiment.
■ Mark Silverman: The former Big Ten Network chief took on a tough task when he replaced the embattled Jamie Horowitz, but he steadied the ship with little drama at Fox. He could be the most powerful behind-the-scenes person in sports media.
■ Dana White: He worked with Endeavor to land a major new deal with ESPN, continued to grow the UFC’s international footprint and saw the largest pay-per-view in MMA history this year. In his first full year without the Fertittas, White is clearly in command.
■ David Zaslav: He is betting big on sports to help grow Discovery Networks (see major deals with the IOC, PGA Tour and Tiger Woods), and the media veteran has the money to spend.
Athletes are a rare presence on our list, and one who should have made it last year and received consideration again this year was Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. With a best-selling book, a much-copied diet and lifestyle regime, a groundbreaking Facebook series and a role as the executive producer of Religion of Sports, a production company, Brady is setting a template for the modern-day successful athlete.
Finally, we expect a number of complaints over the lack of ethnic and gender diversity on our Most Influential list. We agree, and grow more and more frustrated every year. But we see this list as an accurate reflection of the sports business. We pledge to continue to rethink “influence” in hopes this list will be more inclusive in the future.
Abraham Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.