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The Most Influential People in Sports Business in 2021

MEASURING INFLUENCE

As the economic recovery continues across the sports business, the definition of influence in the industry is evolving. The growth of sports betting and cryptocurrency is evidence of that. In 2021, the importance of mental health emerged as a major storyline, and calling out abuse of those in power resulted in much change across one league.

These aspects of the sports industry are reflected in our 2021 list of the Most Influential People in Sports Business. After not including rankings in 2020 — a nod to the tumultuous year — we return to a ranking, but unlike what we undertook in the past.

In the pages ahead, you will find our No. 1 overall ranking along with top influencers in categories ranging from industry drivers to media influencers. Within the seven categories are individuals and groups whose influence was noteworthy in 2021. 

Stories by Mark J. Burns, Josh Carpenter, Ben Fischer, Bill King, Terry Lefton, Bret McCormick, Liz Mullen, John Ourand, Chris Smith, Michael Smith and Adam Stern.

No. 1 Most Influential Person in Sports Business

Dealmakers

Athlete Influencers

Industry Drivers

Labor Leaders

Media Influencers

Sports Property Influencers

Team Influencers

Past No. 1 rankings: 2004 — Paul Tagliabue (NFL); 2005, 2006, 2008 — George Bodenheimer (ESPN/ABC); 2007 — Brian Roberts (Comcast); 2009 — Jacques Rogge (IOC); 2010, 2019 — Roger Goodell (NFL); 2011 — Steve Burke (NBCUniversal); 2012 — John Skipper (ESPN); 2013 — Randy Freer / Eric Shanks (Fox Sports); 2014, 2016 — Adam Silver (NBA); 2015. — Bob Iger (Disney); 2017 — Donald Trump; 2018 — The American Sports Gambler; 2021 — Michael Rubin (Fanatics).

Note: 2020 list was not ranked.

SBJ Spotlight: TikTok’s threat to traditional sports media

While tech companies are consumed with finding ways to compete with TikTok, almost no one in conventional media “spends any time talking about it,” said Recode senior correspondent Peter Kafka in an Spotlight interview with SBJ’s John Ourand. “To me, that’s just an obvious disconnect.” Kafka authored a recent column headlined, “It’s TikTok’s world. Can TV live in it?” He said the main response to TikTok’s growth from traditional media execs has been to “punt and hope it’s someone else’s problem a quarter from now or two years from now.” But Kafka said that ignores the trend of conventional broadcast audiences growing older while a billion younger consumers spend most of their media time watching short video after short video. “If you’re in the business of getting anyone under the age of 30 to look at what you’re putting on a screen, you have to think about the fact that you’re probably asking them to put down TikTok and watch your thing instead,” said Kafka. “That’s a very difficult ask. … [TikTok] is insanely addictive.”

SBJ Morning Buzzcast: June 29, 2022

BioSteel makes a major move with the NHL, while the USFL looks for additional investors.

SBJ Unpacks: Thaddeus Young, NBA forward and venture capitalist

SBJ's Austin Karp posted up with NBA power forward Thaddeus Young. The 15-year veteran discussed his venture capital strategy, his investment in technology and much more.

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