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Volume 23 No. 18
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No. 1 — Roger Goodell

Defying dire predictions from recent years, Roger Goodell has led the NFL to a new era of prosperity.
Photo: getty images
Photo: getty images
Photo: getty images

Roger Goodell

Commissioner, NFL

Change from 2018: +2


A few weeks after the NFL announced the sale of its Thursday night television package to CBS in 2014, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban predicted doom: “Just watch,” he said. “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.” 

Six years later, there’s scant evidence to suggest anything of the sort. The NFL maintains its ironclad grip on the hearts and minds of the American sports fan, with near total control of the country’s most-watched broadcasts and the public relations crisis of the 2017 season now a distant memory.


Sports Business Journal’s past No. 1 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


Roger Goodell

In a cultural era when the most revered business minds are those who “disrupt,” Commissioner Roger Goodell has kept the top dog on top. Now in his 14th year, his tenure has seen more than its share of controversy and challenges, but as the calendar turns to the next decade, no single executive drives more decisions across media, Fortune 500 brands and competing sports properties.

Industry insiders universally anticipate massive increases to the NFL’s media revenue when the league sells its next round of rights in 2022, with robust interest from every broadcaster and sincere interest from streaming players. While the players union contract is far from settled, many believe a lucrative 17th game — the NFL’s first expansion of the regular season in four decades — is close at hand.

Two years ago, it looked as if Cuban might have a point. The 2017 season, beset by President Donald Trump’s criticism of player protests and modest ratings declines, featured predictions that perhaps the NFL had peaked. Now in the middle of a two-year comeback, Goodell has moved the NFL subtly away from its conservative reputation in search of more fans, bringing content to TikTok and bridging cultural gaps by enlisting influencers such as gamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. This year, he stood with Jay-Z to announce a cross-cultural partnership between the league and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation.

Did “Thursday Night Football” spread the NFL too thin? Consider this: This year, the price of a 30-second spot on Fox’s “TNF” broadcast rose 24%.

Goodell still has high-stakes work to do. But look no further than NBC Sports President Pete Bevacqua’s explanation of how he puts together his company’s sports portfolio:    

 “We are absolutely working backwards from an NFL deal. It influences every decision we make along the way. It has to.”


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