The business of sports is undergoing radical change, thanks to globalization, new financial approaches, innovations in media and technology. These are the men and women who make the world of sports turn.
POSITION: As CEO of DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports site valued at about $1 billion, Robins and his team are the leaders in creating a new form of gaming. They are also the target of law enforcement skeptics such as New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman. NEXT STEP: In 2015, massive media spending and surging popularity provoked increased legal scrutiny. As a result, Robins is busy defending the legality of daily fantasy sports. Meanwhile, DraftKings may trail FanDuel in market share in the U.S., but it landed a UK gaming license and will go live soon, giving it a lifeline in European gaming markets.
POSITION: Christie and New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak are leading the fight to legalize sports gambling at their state’s casinos and racetracks. They lost the first round in the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, but that decision was vacated and another hearing will take place soon. NEXT STEP: Most experts believe the legalization of sports gambling is a matter of if, not when. If Christie can make it happen in New Jersey—a difficult task, as the major professional leagues oppose his efforts even as they embrace daily fantasy sports—he’ll set an example for the rest of the country while driving revenue for his state.
POSITION: The Swedish-born Gustafsson (above) became CEO of Zebra in 2007 and helped transform it from a company that made bar codes and tracking devices into “the Official On-Field Player-Tracking Provider” for the NFL. NEXT STEP: In 2014, Zebra spent $3.45 billion to buy Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business, solidifying its grasp on the analytics market that’s changing how coaches coach and fans watch and understand games. The future of football and other sports lies in data and the ability to track player performance, and the radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips that Zebra can embed in uniforms are key.
POSITION: Ronaldo may be the biggest star in global sports—ever. He brings in some $80 million per year from his salary on Spain’s Real Madrid soccer team, endorsements for the likes of Nike, Armani and Tag Heuer, and his underwear line, called, like most things in the Ronaldoverse, CR7, after his jersey number. His hometown of Funchal, in Madeira, Portugal, even has a Ronaldo museum. NEXT STEP: In December, Ronaldo put $40 million into launching four CR7-branded boutique hotels in Funchal, Madrid, Lisbon and New York. The last one is important as there’s chatter that Ronaldo could join the growing number of European players who “retire” to play in the American MLS. His presence on a U.S. roster could be the final kick needed for soccer to truly take hold in one of the world’s biggest sports markets.
POSITION: A former Olympic bronze medalist in judo, Rousey helped women break into the brutal and frenetic world of UFC’s MMA fighting circuit and has gone on to become the sport’s biggest star, male or female. Rousey had fought 12 straight fights without losing—her entire professional career—until she encountered Holly Holm in the ring in November. The short but strikingly violent match became perhaps the most exciting and certainly the most surprising fight of 2015. NEXT STEP: Is the ability to beat the daylights out of another person progress? In terms of expanding our perceptions of what women can do, yes, probably. Even in defeat, Rousey brought enormous attention to her sport and her strength; she and Holm will reportedly fight again in 2016, an event that may acquire “Thrilla in Manila”-like stature for women’s fighting.
POSITION: Best known for raw, violent movies such as El Mariachi, Sin City and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, filmmaker Rodriguez launched his own cable network, El Rey, in 2013 to showcase content that fits his cinematic tastes. NEXT STEP: El Rey is making an ambitious play in the world of professional wrestling with Lucha Underground, a lucha libre-based program fused with the storytelling and drama of a telenovela. Produced by United Artists, Lucha Underground aims to appeal to U.S. Latinos by bringing in stars from the Mexican AAA lucha libre wrestling circuit. Production values and Rodriguez’s filmmaking savvy are challenging WWE’s pro wrestling juggernaut.
POSITION: When Jeter retired from the New York Yankees in 2014 as one of the most beloved players in Yankee history, he quickly pivoted to new ventures, displaying the same speed and sureness that exemplified his baseball career. Immediately after retiring, Jeter launched the Players’ Tribune, a digital media company focused on telling athletes’ stories. NEXT STEP: Jeter’s stature and his famed media discipline have encouraged stars such as Demaryius Thomas and Carmelo Anthony to contribute to the site. In November, basketball legend Kobe Bryant announced his retirement on Player’s Tribune. Jeter’s venture is a challenge to traditional media, an attempt to eliminate the middleman and go directly to fans—giving players more control over their images and, consequently, their ability to profit from them.
POSITION: Wittenberg won the Marine Corps Marathon in 1987 and almost had an Olympic career before being hobbled by injury. A decade later, she left her job in corporate law to join the New York Road Runners executive team, first as VP and COO, then president and finally CEO in 2005. Wittenberg grew NYRR into the largest running club in the world—450,000 people ran in NYRR races in 2014—and made the New York City Marathon the largest marathon in the world. The race had an estimated economic impact of $415 million in 2014. NEXT STEP: In 2015, Wittenberg jumped ship and is now developing Virgin Sport as part of Richard Branson’s sprawling business empire. Virgin provides Wittenberg with a platform for competitive fitness and a way to create a community similar to that of NYRR, but on a global scale.
POSITION: NBA China launched in 2008 with a $253 million investment from the league, Disney and several Chinese investing firms. In 2011, the NBA tapped Shoemaker, who had been running the Women’s Tennis Association’s Beijing office, to take the helm of the league’s Chinese venture. Shoemaker went straight to work getting NBA games on China Central Television and putting together training facilities with superstar Yao Ming. NEXT STEP: An estimated 300 million Chinese play basketball, and NBA China has at least 93 million social media followers. Shoemaker aims to grow that number by putting games in front of even more Chinese basketball fans. Chinese internet giant Tencent started streaming NBA games in July and two preseason games were played in China, all of which positions the NBA to be the first major American pro sport to successfully export itself to the world’s largest economy.
POSITION: Lau, who previously worked as executive director of Goldman Sachs Asia’s investment banking division and as a management consultant at McKinsey, joined Tencent in 2005. He quickly rose from chief strategy and investment officer to president and executive director of the board at the internet giant. NEXT STEP: In January 2015, Tencent spent $700 million on streaming rights to show NBA games in China for the next five seasons. Expect other leagues to pursue similar deals given the massive potential audience in China, and Lau and Tencent will no doubt be major players in the bidding process.
POSITION: Oracle founder and billionaire Ellison stepped down as CEO of his software company in 2014, leaving him free to focus on a new passion: America’s Cup yacht racing. Ellison first assembled the Oracle team in 2000. In 2013, the Oracle team came from behind—having lost eight races in a best-of-17 series—to win the oldest prize in organized sports. NEXT STEP: Ellison is revolutionizing the America’s Cup, transforming an elite, traditional sport into an elite, modern one. Gone are the relatively slow-moving single-hull yachts; Ellison has pushed all the teams to embrace ultrafast catamarans, propelled by massive vertical wings, which can hit speeds up to 50 miles per hour. As Ellison has poured money into the sport, the cost of competing has risen to approximately $100 million per team. And now Ellison—who, as head of the team that won the last Cup, has the authority to pick the next location—has moved the 2017 Cup to Bermuda, which will spend a record-breaking $77 million to host and promote the event.
POSITION: Over nearly four decades in tech, Paul has worked as senior vice president at Dish Digital and senior vice president and general manager at Netscape. He founded VenueNext in 2013. NEXT STEP: VenueNext offers digital platforms for stadiums that bring together services such as ticketing, concessions and location data into apps. For guests, vendors and venue owners, the apps can boost both engagement and revenue. The firm’s first effort, at San Francisco 49ers’ home Levi’s Stadium, went online in 2014 and nearly two-thirds of season ticket owners connected to it. The system is scheduled to go live in dozens more venues this year.
POSITION: Hershkowitz, the son of Holocaust survivors, grew up speaking Yiddish in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He went on to get a PhD in political economics from City University of New York and spent decades at the Natural Resources Defense Council before founding the Green Sports Alliance in 2010. NEXT STEP: If big sports and their arenas are successful in doing their part to fight global warming, much of the credit will be due to Hershkowitz. Since 2010, he has signed 134 teams, 142 arenas and venues, and nine leagues to his “Green Sports Alliance,” pushing them to reduce power and water consumption and improve recycling through incremental steps. It seems to be working. Since 2012, the NHL has offset 38 million pounds of emissions, and the San Francisco Giants now compost or recycle 96 percent of garbage at their stadium.
Co-owner, Milwaukee Bucks, CEO, Avenue Capital Group
Co-owner, Milwaukee Bucks, CEO, Avenue Capital Group
POSITION: After graduating from New York Law School, Lasry founded hedge fund Avenue Capital in 1995. He entered the world of sports in a big way when he and Fortress Investment Group cochair Wesley Edens bought the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks for $550 million in 2014. NEXT STEP: Coming from finance, Lasry and Edens are part of a new breed of sports owner. They plan to spend $150 million on a new arena for the Bucks, but Lasry is also betting on the emerging e-sports trend. Alongside Bob Kraft and David Bonderman, Lasry joined a $15 million Series B funding round for e-sports startup Skillz in September.
POSITION: Dudley worked on the business side of the NBA, NFL and NHL prior to joining Octagon as CEO in 2002. Today, he manages agents and marketing reps for 900 athletes and personalities around the world. Across the spectrum of professional sports, Octagon manages roughly $3 billion in sponsorships. NEXT STEP: Octagon has 68 global offices, but its Brazilian practice may be most important this year. The company has worked closely with AB InBev, Johnson & Johnson and a host of Brazilian brands since 2010, and it’s riding a wave that started with the 2014 FIFA World Cup and will crest with the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, particularly with client Michael Phelps coming out of retirement.
POSITION: Denson spent more than three decades at Nike, retiring in early 2014 as president of the Nike brand. He helped grow the swoosh into the giant it is today. At Teneo, Denson oversees the sports arm of the massive holding company that helped Vancouver, Canada, and Sochi, Russia, win their Olympic bids. With the consultancy expanding to work with individual athletes, Denson signed Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. NEXT STEP: FIFA retained Teneo to help the soccer association fight the bad press from scandals plaguing international soccer’s governing body. For FIFA to regain its credibility, Denson will have to demonstrate profound and far-reaching change at the discredited organization.
POSITION: During their 25-year partnership, Horowitz and Tilliss have worked with leagues and teams all over the world. During the past decade, Inner Circle Sports founder Tilliss and partner Horowitz have advised on the sales of teams in major sports including hockey (Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils), basketball (Philadelphia 76ers) and soccer (Liverpool, Columbus Crew). NEXT STEP: If you’re an owner looking for a buyer or a buyer searching for a team, Horowitz and Tilliss have established themselves as key players in the global transaction market. Their connections, and track record of success, mean the boutique firm will continue to win business, and its clout may grow as financiers begin looking at teams as investments rather than just toys.
POSITION: After taking 10 years to get a marketing degree from the Vienna University of Economics, Mateschitz got his start marketing Blendax, a German toothpaste. He founded Red Bull, the energy drink company, in 1984. Since then, the company has sold 50 billion cans in 167 countries. NEXT STEP: Red Bull isn’t just an energy drink, whatever that means; Mateschitz has branded it as part of a lifestyle of extreme sports. He and Red Bull are trendsetters in blending sports, media and merchandizing to reach a predominantly millennial audience. Red Bull’s website doesn’t even mention the energy drink; instead it has sections devoted to motorsport, surfing, biking, winter sports, “adventure,” e-sports and music. In 2015 alone, the company sponsored motocross races, skydiving over a volcano in East Java and base-jumping off of Mount Kilimanjaro.
POSITION: Rubin started selling sports gear when he was 12, and although he never completed college, e-commerce came easily and he sold his company, GSI Commerce, to eBay for $2.4 billion in 2011. Fanatics was the piece of the company focused on sports apparel, which he kept, and it has grown into a multibillion-dollar business in its own right. He’s also a co-owner of the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers. NEXT STEP: Fanatics manages e-commerce for the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA and 150 pro and college teams, and in 2015, the company moved into selling collectibles such as signed balls and game jerseys by creating exclusive partnerships with athletes. In December, Fanatics opened the NBA’s retail operation on Fifth Avenue in New York, fusing brick-and-mortar and online retail in what will likely be a trendsetting move for professional leagues.
POSITION: Billionaire Newell spent over a decade at Microsoft before joining with fellow Microsoft veteran Mike Harrington to found video game company Valve. Their hits include Half-Life, Counter-Strike and Portal, as well as the gaming platform Steam. NEXT STEP: Another of Valve’s games, Dota 2, has been at the core of the emergence of e-sports (competitive video-game playing). In spring 2015, more than 1 million players were simultaneously logged on to the game through Steam, and the prize pool for Valve’s annual competition in August came in at more than $18 million. More than 1 million people watched live streams of the final. Particularly for young people, that kind of engagement is changing the definition of what a sport can be.
POSITION: Wilson spent 13 years at video-game company Electronic Arts, including as head of EA Sports, before taking the reins as CEO in September 2013. NEXT STEP: Some of EA’s biggest titles are sports games such as the FIFA series, Madden NFL, and NHL and NBA Live, and the company works closely with leagues and teams to develop the games. EA launched a new “competitive gaming division” in December to bolster its presence in the e-sports space, putting it in a prime position to bring bro-ier elements into e-sports through its pro sports titles.
POSITION: France’s grandfather founded NASCAR, the Middle American stock car racing juggernaut, and his father ran it until France took over as chairman in 2003. Since then, he’s negotiated major national TV deals for the racing series, including a $4.5 billion contract that began in 2007 and a 10-year $8.2 billion deal that starts next year. NEXT STEP: Attendance at races was down 15 percent in mid-2014 and TV ratings were slumping. So if motorsport is able to remain relevant in the 21st century, it will be in part due to France’s political and environmental efforts. Ratings began to improve in 2015 as NASCAR boosted its social media presence and shortened races. Perhaps most important, France is trying to temper some of the antiquated politics, such as flying the Confederate flag, until recently associated with the sport. Last year NASCAR publicly supported removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse, and France has said that NASCAR will be “as aggressive as we can to disassociate ourselves with that flag.” There’s also a nascent green initiative: The cars run on biofuel now, and some tracks are going solar.
POSITION: The most powerful agent in baseball, Boras represents nearly 200 players including Max Scherzer (who signed a $210 million contract in 2015), Jacoby Ellsbury ($153 million in 2013) and Jake Arrieta (2015 National League Cy Young Award winner). NEXT STEP: The sheer number of Boras’ clients gives him immense leverage over team owners and general managers. MLB teams, now worth an average $1.2 billion each, have record revenues, and Boras is an expert at extracting cash; he’s pushed forcefully for high school and college players to be represented by agents during contract negotiations.
POSITION: Emmert served as the 30th president of the University of Washington before taking the top spot at the NCAA from Myles Brand in 2010. Before joining UW, he was chancellor at Louisiana State University. NEXT STEP: The movement to pay college athletes gains steam with each passing season, but Emmert, who made $1.8 million in 2013, is charged with holding back the tide. He argues that paying athletes would require schools to cut sports that aren’t revenue drivers, hurting less popular ones in favor of basketball and football.
Senior U.S. Federal Judge, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
Senior U.S. Federal Judge, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
POSITION: Wilken ruled in favor of plaintiff Ed O’Bannon in an antitrust case against the NCAA in 2014, finding that the NCAA violates antitrust laws. Her decision was a victory for those who believe college athletes should be compensated. NEXT STEP: Wilken’s decisions will go a long way toward determining if and how student-athletes will be paid for playing, and she will hear cases that could eliminate compensation limits and award hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to former college athletes.
POSITION: Kroenke’s portfolio of teams includes the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, NBA’s Denver Nuggets, NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, English Premier League’s Arsenal, MLS’s Colorado Rapids and National Lacrosse League’s Colorado Mammoth. NEXT STEP: In January, Kroenke beat out San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos and Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis to win approval for a Rams move from St. Louis to Los Angeles, where he plans to build an 80,000-seat stadium.
POSITION: The billionaire has stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) and Los Angeles Kings (NHL), as well as a significant interest in Major League Soccer (he owns the Los Angeles Galaxy). He also controls part of the Staples Center, London’s O2 Arena and the StubHub Center. NEXT STEP: Anschutz decided not to sell concert and arena business AEG in 2013, choosing instead to focus on building out his ownership stakes in other venues. He’s helped transform downtown Los Angeles with L.A. Live, a venue for sports and concerts, and an example of how arenas can revitalize downtowns.
POSITION: Leonsis, a billionaire who spent 13 years as a senior executive at AOL, owns the Washington Capitals (NHL), Washington Wizards (NBA), Washington Mystics (WNBA) and the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. NEXT STEP: Leonsis has been pushing his teams to make better use of data and analytics, which could lead to more wins and greater profits. In October he joined Mark Cuban and Michael Jordan in investing $44 million in Sportradar, a Swiss sports-data company that provides analytics to teams as well as to bookmakers and the fantasy-sports industry. Also in 2015, he entered into a multiyear deal with STRIVR Labs to provide virtual-reality tech to his teams as a coaching tool.
Executive Director, National Basketball Players Association
Executive Director, National Basketball Players Association
POSITION: Roberts (left), called the “finest pure trial lawyer in Washington” by Washingtonian magazine, took over as head of the NBPA in 2014 after former leader Billy Hunter’s disastrous strategy during the 2011 lockout led to massive concessions from the players. NEXT STEP: Roberts hasn’t been afraid to challenge NBA commissioner Adam Silver, arguing that the players deserve a bigger slice of the growing revenue, which has been bolstered by the new $24 billion television deal. She’ll attempt to negotiate a new deal with Silver before both sides can opt out in 2017. If she’s successful, it could signal a resurgence of the power of players’ unions in pro sports.
POSITION: The grandson of Hollywood heavyweight and former Music Corporation of America head Lew Wasserman, Casey made his own name in Los Angeles, founding Wasserman Media Group in 2002 and transforming it into a sports marketing and entertainment powerhouse. NEXT STEP: Wasserman’s company represents big names like Anthony Davis, Abby Wambach, Jason Day and Tim Howard, and its understanding of the movie, television and sponsorship worlds helps it to transform the athletes into entertainment icons, a feat that will be increasingly important as teams and leagues seek to project themselves internationally and across multiple media platforms. Next up: Wasserman, chairman of the Los Angeles 2024 Olympic bid, is trying to bring the games to the West Coast.
POSITION: After playing football at the University of Maryland, Plank founded sportswear company Under Armour in 1996, and has since turned it into a behemoth with a $17.5 billion market capitalization. Though it’s still overshadowed by Nike, which had a market cap over $100 billion in 2015, Under Armour is charging ahead. NEXT STEP: Plank is putting the brand where people point their eyes more than anywhere else—on their phones—and that may be a crucial battlefield in the athletics-wear war. In February 2015, Under Armour shelled out $560 million for MyFitnessPal and Endomondo, two companies that make fitness apps, and users soon found the apps’ icons graced with the company’s logo.
POSITION: Parker rose from footwear designer, a job he landed in 1979, to Nike CEO starting in 2006. Since then he’s more than doubled annual revenue from $15 billion to $30.6 billion, while the stock price has skyrocketed more than 500 percent. NEXT STEP: Parker has said he expects to increase revenue another $20 billion by 2020. To do so, he’ll have to fight off Adidas and upstart sportswear and shoe company Under Armour. His company will spend more than $1 billion on sports sponsorships in 2016, enriching athletes and teams while increasing the visibility of the ubiquitous swoosh in an attempt to beat back the competition.
POSITION: Before taking his current job in February 1993, a stint that makes him the longest-serving commissioner in American professional sports, Bettman was senior vice president and general counsel at the NBA. NEXT STEP: Bettman slowly rebuilt the NHL after a 2012 lockout caused the cancellation of more than 500 regular-season games; revenue reached an all-time high of almost $4 billion in 2014-2015. He’s now focused on expansion, and an NHL team is being considered for Las Vegas, a first for pro sports. But he remains deeply unpopular with many fans who blame him for work stoppages, and was recently deposed in a class-action lawsuit over concussions.
POSITION: The 85-year-old Brit rose from racing motorcycles to CEO of the Formula One Group, the company that oversees and manages the popular global sport. He’s the executive face of the series and has been richly rewarded for his efforts—he’s worth approximately $3.8 billion. NEXT STEP: F1 finds itself in a bit of a crisis as television audiences dwindle and team owners such as powerful Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz complain that the sport is too expensive. Ecclestone has overseen expansion of races to rich countries like Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Malaysia, but risks losing teams and fans amid high costs, rules spats and environmental backlash against gas-guzzling race cars—though he’s begun to combat the last issue with electric boosters and new fuel-efficiency rules implemented in 2014.
POSITION: In 1978, as a junior at UC Berkeley, Baer was the sports director at student-run radio station KALX. Despite the station’s small size, he cut a deal to make it the official home of the Oakland A’s. When he graduated, he was immediately hired by the Giants as marketing director. He left to attend Harvard Business School, then returned to the Giants in 1992 and took over as CEO in 2012. NEXT STEP: The Giants have won three of the last six World Series and their popularity—and ticket prices— are at record highs. Baer is using this largess for a major redevelopment of the area around AT&T Park, building 1,500 high-rise apartments and 1.5 million square feet of commercial space. The development is a continuation of a recent push to integrate stadiums more thoroughly into urban life.
POSITION: Carey graduated from Harvard with a BA in economics in 1983 and has spent more than 30 years working to finance public infrastructure projects, first for two decades at Citigroup and now at Goldman Sachs, which he joined in 2004. NEXT STEP: If someone needs millions for a stadium, there’s a good chance Carey can help, as the deals he structures are reputed to favor team owners at the expense of taxpayers. Carey’s group at Goldman has helped finance around 30 stadium deals in the U.S.—worth at least $11 billion—and, following a trend of globalization in all things sports, is expanding to Europe, recently helping Italian soccer giants Inter Milan and AS Roma secure debt financing of €230 million (about $250 million) and €175 million ($190 million), respectively, for new or upgraded venues.
POSITION: As the head of Bank of America’s sports advisory division, Nash has taken the lead in billions of dollars’ worth of sports transactions over the past two decades. In addition to funds for the new Yankee Stadium, Busch Stadium and the Air Canada Centre, Nash helped raise half of the $1 billion used to finance AT&T Stadium in Dallas. NEXT STEP: When the NBA pushed Donald Sterling to sell the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014, Nash and Bank of America handled the $2 billion transaction. His team helped secure the record-setting sale—12 times the expected 2014 revenue—to Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, dramatically boosting the value of every other NBA franchise in the process. Following that monster return for Sterling, it’s a sure bet that Nash will be a player in future sales.
POSITION: Henry made his money through his trading firm, John W. Henry & Company, and now serves as the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club while co-owning Roush Fenway Racing with Jack Roush. NEXT STEP: Henry uses his access to high-profile players and huge franchises to create synergies across his sports properties. He helped LeBron James, a Fenway Sports Management client, purchase a minority stake in Liverpool FC, a move that increases the international appeal of both the player and the team. Henry’s companies also represent Cleveland Browns (at least for now) star Johnny Manziel and Boston College, and work with sponsors such as Dunkin’ Donuts.
POSITION: Smoller (above), who got her start in 1996 in the mailroom of Los Angeles agency ICM, has become perhaps the most successful woman in the male-dominated field of sports agents. She’s repped Serena and Venus Williams, Pete Sampras, Dennis Rodman and Tim Tebow. NEXT STEP: If future female athletes are able to demand higher salaries, more equitable prize monies and bigger endorsement deals, it will be in large part because of Smoller’s management of Serena Williams; Smoller has helped Williams become the second-highest-earning female athlete ever.
POSITION: Williams, the top-ranked woman in tennis, is also on the cusp of being the winning-est; she is just one Grand Slam title short of tying Steffi Graf. Over the course of her career she’s won $74 million in prize money, roughly double that of the number-two winner, Maria Sharapova. There’s little doubt that she’s the greatest player in the history of the women’s game. NEXT STEP: As she nears the end of her career, Williams has demonstrated the earning potential of women’s tennis—the most successful women’s sport in the world, and the only pro sport where the women’s side routinely outdraws the men’s—and women players. But she’s also established herself as a feminist icon, a civil rights leader and a role model for young girls and boys. Her athletic and financial success are immense, but her cultural importance is even greater.
POSITION: Ex-Goldman Sachs partner Ravitch, along with former UBS senior banker Jeff Sine, launched the Raine Group in 2009. The $400 million private equity fund invests in sports, entertainment and media deals on a global scale, and also serves as an advisor. NEXT STEP: As the values of teams rise into the billions and the potential revenue generated by tertiary sports companies also continues to rise, financiers like Ravitch will be key to getting deals done and developing new products. Raine helped Microsoft billionaire CEO Steve Ballmer purchase the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, a price nearly four times the previous league record, and his firm has invested in startups like daily fantasy-sports unicorn DraftKings.
POSITION: Sheikh Mansour bought the Premier League’s Manchester City soccer team in 2008 for $330 million, but as of mid-2013, he had only been to one game. Instead, he’s used the team as an investment vehicle, growing it into an international enterprise called the City Football Group, with teams in the UK, New York, Melbourne and Yokohama. NEXT STEP: Manchester City cleared a £10.7 million (about $16.5 million) profit for the 2014-2015 season, and Sheikh Mansour sold a 13 percent stake to a Chinese conglomerate for £265 million ($400 million) in December, further proof that sports franchises can be great investments even for owners who seem to have little personal interest in the sport. Sheikh Mansour is also betting on the growth of soccer in the U.S. He joined the Yankees in spending $100 million for the rights to the MLS team that would become NYCFC in 2015, and he reportedly plans to build a stadium for the team with an estimated cost over $100 million.
POSITION: Rolapp, who’s been with the NFL for more than a decade after a short stint at NBCUniversal, oversees the media arm of America’s most popular sports league. He’s in charge of the NFL Network, the RedZone channel and the league’s push into digital properties including NFL.com. NEXT STEP: The NFL has the advantage of massive scale, but its digital offerings fall behind organizations such as the NBA, particularly as more people leave cable TV for streaming options. Rolapp needs to bolster the NFL’s online presence in an effort to battle cord cutting and improve international exposure. The league is considering selling global digital rights for its three-game International Series in 2016 as well as streaming rights to the Thursday Night Football package. Yahoo paid $20 million to stream a 2015 game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars at London’s Wembley Stadium, which drew 15.2 million viewers.
POSITION: Levine and Nuchow run Creative Artists Agency’s massive sports division. CAA’s football section alone manages over $2.6 billion in contracts, and the total for the entire sports division is around $6.4 billion, making it the largest sports agency in the world. NEXT STEP: The value generated by CAA’s sports division is pushing other talent agencies to diversify beyond TV and movies and represent athletes alongside movie stars. CAA Sports has made a string of acquisitions in the past year, including Five Star Athlete Management, which added 50 football players to CAA’s existing roster of 130. Levine and Nuchow also cut big deals for their football players: $84 million for Eli Manning, $95.1 million for Marcell Dareus and $61.8 million for Luke Kuechly.
POSITION: Emanuel made his career as a hard-charging, do-anything-for-his-clients agent, first with Endeavor Talent Agency and then at William Morris Endeavor after a merger. Now at WME-IMG after a subsequent merger, he oversees nearly 3,000 employees and reps talent including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Denzel Washington. NEXT STEP: Hollywood talent agencies are diversifying beyond their core of TV and movie stars, and Emanuel, like others in the business, sees sports as a major source of potential revenue. In late 2013, WME bought rival agency IMG Worldwide for $2.4 billion, giving Emanuel and his team access to clients such as sprinter Usain Bolt and mixed martial arts star Ronda Rousey. The plan’s success rides on WME-IMG’s ability to turn athletes into global superstars with reach beyond their core fan bases.
President, International Association of Athletics Federations
President, International Association of Athletics Federations
POSITION: After eight years as VP of IAFF, the governing body for track and field, former Olympian Coe ascended to president in 2015. Officials had arrested Coe’s predecessor, Lamine Diack, along with anti-doping head Gabriel Dollé and legal advisor Habib Cissé, on corruption charges stemming from a cover-up of systemic doping programs in the Russian Federation. NEXT STEP: In November, the IAAF provisionally banned Russia from international track and field competitions. With the Summer Olympics right around the corner, the indefinite ban could be the first volley in a barrage of international sports sanctions against Russia. Coe still needs to clean house at the IAAF while hanging on to sponsors including Adidas, Toyota and Canon.
POSITION: McManus, the son of legendary broadcaster Jim McKay, helped CBS win back NFL broadcast rights in 1998; CBS has them locked up through 2022. The network also owns the rights to popular programming including the Masters, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and SEC football. NEXT STEP: This winter McManus has to decide how much to bid for the NFL’s Thursday Night package, which will likely cost around $600 million a year and include rights to one game a week and possibly a piece of NFL Network. He’s also under pressure to expand digital initiatives such as CBS All Access, an on-demand and live streaming service that’s certified for TV ratings by Nielsen Digital, in order to please advertisers fearful of cord cutters.
POSITION: Named to the post in 2010 at age 38, Shanks is just the third president of Fox Sports. He has significantly increased the amount of programming with the launch of additional channels Fox Sports 1 and 2. NEXT STEP: Shanks must continue to shepherd the growth of the all-sports cable channels that Fox hopes to position as competitors to ESPN while capitalizing on its slate of sports rights, such as the next three World Cups (more than $200 million per tournament), MLB ($500 million per season) and the NFL (more than $1 billion a year). The network’s international arm is in 73 million homes in 88 countries.
POSITION: The longtime ESPN executive took over as network president and cochair of Disney Media Networks on the first day of 2012, and he’s helped bring the network into the future by focusing on multiplatform technology. In some respects, it’s working: The $7.5 billion that SNL Kagan estimated ESPN earned from subscriber fees in 2015 is nearly seven times FS1’s haul. NEXT STEP: In October, ESPN cut 350 jobs because of falling revenues due to cord cutting and increasing costs from skyrocketing rights fees. Skipper’s task is to convince users to stick with the “worldwide leader” while finding new revenue streams online to cover costs that include Monday Night Football ($15.2 billion), Major League Baseball ($5.6 billion) and college football playoffs ($7.3 billion). ESPN is facing a ticking clock; it’s reportedly lost 7 million subscribers in the past two years, and may be forced to release a stand-alone app this year.
POSITION: Goodell, a star athlete in high school, missed out on playing at Washington & Jefferson College due to injury, but he didn’t let that deter him from a career in football. He started out as an intern for the NFL in 1982 and eventually rose to COO in 2001 and then commissioner in 2006. NEXT STEP: While the NFL remains the world’s most valuable sports league, it has been dogged by scandals from cheating to domestic abuse to the ever-present cloud of concussions. And though Goodell still seems to enjoy owners’ support, he is losing the goodwill of the public, at least for the six days of the week that aren’t Sunday. In response to the Deflategate scandal, the NFL suspended Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, but handled the situation so clumsily that Brady sued the league and won (the NFL is appealing). On the concussion front, the league still looks like it is merely papering over the problem—if not covering it up—especially in light of December’s news that that the NFL reportedly backed out of a Boston University and NIH study on concussions because the lead researcher had been critical of the league. The slow response to the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal in 2014 was a media disaster, and the league still won’t pay its cheerleaders a living wage—two issues that are more connected than they might seem. Yes, football is hugely popular today. But even titans falter—look at Coke and McDonald’s—and what of an up-and-coming generation whose parents aren’t letting their kids play the sport?
POSITION: Under The current Mandalay Entertainment CEO and former Columbia Pictures and Sony executive has his hands in the sports world as co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, and owner of the Los Angeles Football Club. NEXT STEP: In May, Guber took a seat on NextVR’s board, and in November, he co-invested in the company’s $30.5 million Series A round. Guber believes virtual reality is the way fans will get a firsthand, immersive sporting experience from the comfort of their couches, and NextVR has already worked with the NBA and NHL.
POSITION: In 2000, as the first tech bubble was bursting, then-MLB commissioner Bud Selig turned to Bowman to make sure the league wouldn’t wind up paying third parties massive fees down the road to put its content online. With $77 million from the teams, Bowman founded MLB Advanced Media and streamed the first baseball games in 2002. MLB Advanced Media is now one of the most successful tech companies in the country. NEXT STEP: At the close of the 2015 baseball season there were around 3.5 million subscribers to MLB.tv, an increase of roughly 25 percent for the year, and earlier in the year MLB Advanced Media reportedly explored the possibility of an IPO with a valuation of around $10 billion. But it’s not just about baseball; MLBAM provides the streaming infrastructure for HBO Now, WWE Network, WatchESPN, the World Cup, NHL and NCAA, placing Bowman at the center of the fight for viewers who are increasingly cutting the cable cord.
POSITION: The Glazer family, led by father Malcolm, took over a controlling interest in Manchester United, one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world, in 2005 with a debt-laden transaction. Since then, they’ve floated an IPO that brought in $233 million, making Manchester United the most valuable publicly traded pro team—it paid a nearly $4 million-per-year dividend (its first) to Avram and his five siblings last September. NEXT STEP: The sun never sets on United jerseys; they’re fashion statements from the U.S. to China. So the Glazers will continue to expand the Manchester United brand into Asia, the United States and elsewhere internationally while selling more stock if they need to raise funds.
POSITION: The son of a teenage single mother in Akron, Ohio, James entered the NBA out of high school in 2003 and never looked back. Since then, he’s played for the Cavaliers, Miami Heat and, as of 2014, the Cavs again, becoming an international superstar along the way—he might be as popular in China as he is in the U.S. James’ success on the court has translated into massive financial returns. As of mid-2014, he had banked $126 million in salary, but his total earnings, including endorsements, were over $450 million, according to Forbes. NEXT STEP: ames is on track to become the first billionaire athlete. He’s invested in the Liverpool Football Club alongside Fenway Sports Group, secured a $16 million investment from Warner Bros. in December to develop a sports-focused digital video platform with Turner Sports and Bleacher Report, and (also in December) signed a lifetime deal with Nike, which could ultimately pay more than $500 million. All that money means power—not just for himself, but for future athletes who see the James brand as a model for their own sports business endeavors.
POSITION: The fencing gold medalist succeeded Jacques Rogge at the top of the IOC in 2013. The German Bach took over during a tumultuous time when few cities wanted to bid on hosting the Olympic Games because of rising costs due to IOC bidding requirements. NEXT STEP: Bach wants to further streamline the Olympic bidding process, lowering potential costs while focusing on sustainable development, which should help ensure that the games continue through the 21st century. While overseeing upcoming events in Rio (2016), Pyeongchang, South Korea (2018), Tokyo (2020) and Beijing (2022), he also needs to reassure sponsors that doping concerns won’t affect the sanctity of the Games.
POSITION: The nation’s top attorney received her JD from Harvard and soon went to work as a prosecutor in New York. She took the job of AG in early 2015 and immediately went after systemic corruption within FIFA, the global governing body of soccer. NEXT STEP: FIFA officials are falling like dominoes: Lynch’s charges against the notoriously insular organization have spurred global investigations, longtime FIFA head Sepp Blatter was barred from the sport for eight years by an ethics committee, and charges of soliciting more than $200 million in bribes were leveled at 16 more FIFA officials in December. Lynch’s investigation may finally purge international soccer of the taints of corruption and illegitimacy.
POSITION: Levy first joined Turner Broadcasting as a junior account executive and, after 27 years at the company, became president in 2013 following a long stint running the company’s sports division. As president he’s responsible for seven cable networks with sports programming covering the NBA, NCAA, MLB, golf, boxing and the NFL. NEXT STEP: Levy is pushing sports media into new niches such as e-sports and toward new technologies including virtual reality. In September, Turner teamed up with talent agency WME-IMG to create a new e-sports league centered on Valve’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive video game with plans to broadcast the competitions on Turner-owned TBS in 2016. And in October, Turner, working with NextVR, broadcast an NBA game in virtual reality, a first in professional sports.
POSITION: Under Lazarus’ leadership, the NBC Sports Group saw Sunday Night Football take over as the highest-rated prime-time show and the 2012 London Olympic Games become the most-watched event in U.S. television history. NEXT STEP: Lazarus must continue to deliver strong ratings with the NFL, the English Premier League, the NHL and other properties while expanding the regional Comcast SportsNet and returning the investment on the more than $10 billion NBCUniversal paid for the rights to the Olympic Games through 2032. Success with the Olympics will depend in part on driving users, especially those obsessed with niche sports that don’t get heavy prime-time coverage, to the NBC Sports Live Extra streaming app.
POSITION: Kraft oversees a diversified holding company that includes investments in real estate, paper and packaging, private equity—and professional sports teams including the NFL’s New England Patriots and Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution. NEXT STEP: Kraft is setting a trend of treating sports franchises not as isolated businesses, but rather as the centers of commercial and urban ecosystems. Patriot Place, the $350 million shopping and entertainment complex next to Gillette Stadium, boasts 1.3 million square feet of retail space and more than 10 restaurants, and demonstrates how sports franchises can create added value near their stadiums and improve the integration of new stadiums into cities.
POSITION: Silver earned a BA from Duke and a law degree from the University of Chicago, then practiced media law at Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York before joining the NBA in 1992. Since then he’s served as COO of NBA Entertainment, NBA deputy commissioner and COO, and, beginning in February 2014, commissioner. In just two years he’s demonstrated a nimbleness in dealing with crises and a penchant for innovation. In 2014, just months into his tenure, Silver fined Donald Sterling $2.5 million and banned him for life from the NBA in response to the then Clippers owner’s racist tirade, caught on tape. Then Silver pivoted and succeeded in turning the potential crisis into a boon for the league: He helped push through the sale of the Clippers to former Micro soft executive Steve Ballmer for a record $2 billion, boosting the value of all teams in the process. NEXT STEP: Silver is looking to grow the league internationally and create new distribution channels. The NBA’s clout abroad, especially in China, continues to grow, particularly following a major 2015 streaming deal with Chinese internet behemoth Tencent valued at around $700 million. On the domestic front, Silver also secured a nine-year, $24 billion TV deal with ESPN and Turner set to begin later this year, though the riches are also setting up a potentially bruising battle between the league and the players’ union. And on the technological front, Silver’s been a booster of virtual reality; the first NBA game was broadcast in VR in October in a partnership with NextVR and Turner Sports. Regular VR streaming of games may be just two or three years away, and the revenue they could generate in ad sales or pay-per-view fees could be astronomical, while simultaneously increasing overall fan engagement with the sport, particularly among people who are rarely able to attend live games.