The 50 Most Influential People Behind The Scenes In Sports
- Aug. 1, 2014, 3:57 PM
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So much of the way we watch and enjoy sports is determined by people who have never participated in a professional athletic event in their lives. Casting a wide net, we searched the sports world for the 50 most influential people who operate behind the scenes. This includes presidents, owners, managers, coaches, agents, doctors, and reporters.
These are the coaches who change the way the games are played, the commentators who shape the national conversation about sports, the agents who decide which stars play where, the owners who build juggernauts from scratch, and executives who alter the trajectories of their leagues over a huge period of time.
In short, these are the behind-the-scenes people who are responsible for what we watch when we watch sports.
Go to our Most Influential People Behind the Scenes In Sports homepage to learn more about the people on the list.
This list was compiled by Emmett Knowlton, Tony Manfred, Cork Gaines, and Leah Goldman.
#50 Erin Andrews
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
FOX College Football host; FOX lead NFL sideline reporter
Andrews is one of America's best-known female sportscasters and a true veteran of the business. She started working for ESPN in 2004 as a reporter for ESPN National Hockey Night, before moving to FOX Sports in 2012. On July 14, it was announced that Andrews would be replacing Pam Oliver as the sideline reporter on FOX's lead NFL broadcasting crew.
#49 Phil Jackson
New York Knicks president
The Zen Master's back in basketball! Jackson in March inked a five-year, $60 million deal with the Knicks as the new president of basketball operations, returning from a three-year hiatus from basketball. Jackson's life in professional basketball began with the Knicks, where he won two championships as a player in the 1970s. As a coach, he won 11 titles (six with the Bulls and five with the Lakers), giving him 13 rings overall.
#48 Mike Murphy
NHL senior vice president, hockey operations
The NHL's review system is one of the coolest processes in sports. Whenever officials need a review, they call the Situation Room in Toronto, where it's Murphy's job to watch every game. When a play is in question, Murphy issues the final verdict upon review.
#47 George Whitfield Jr.
Screen grab from YouTube
Private quarterback coach
Whitfield is responsible for helping shape many of the NFL's premier quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, and most recently Johnny Manziel all developed under his tutelage. Before Manziel's freshman season at Texas A&M, Johnny Football worked with Whitfield and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
#46 Gregg Popovich
San Antonio Spurs coach
Despite his brusque sideline interviews and jabs at Craig Sager's sartorial selections, Popovich is said to be one of the most insightful and interesting men in sports. His five championship rings speak for themselves. Four current or former NBA coaches served under Pop, and another three played for him.
#45 Amelie Mauresmo
Julian Finney/Getty Images
The former women's world No. 1 is now coaching one of the best men's tennis players alive, Andy Murray. In a time when coaching positions are dominated by men, Mauresmo is helping break the ceiling for female coaches in sports with her partnership with Murray.
#44 DeMaurice Smith
T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images
NFL Players Association executive director
THE NFLPA is happy to have a guy who spent nine years with the U.S. attorney's office on their side. Whenever NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gives the owners' side, Smith is there giving the players' rebuttal.
Smith is the voice of every NFL player.
#43 Stéphane Quintal
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
NHL director of player safety
Quintal took over Brendan Shanahan's job as the NHL executive who hands down disciplinary action. Each time a player is fined for a dirty play in the NHL, he sends him a ticket and a video explaining why his actions were an infraction of the rules.
#42 Jay Z
Al Bello/Getty Images
Mogul/Roc Nation Sports founder
Let's see, he started a sports agency last April and signed New York Yankees All-Star second baseman Robinson Cano as his first client. A little over a year later, Jay Z now represents several other A-list athletes, like C.C. Sabathia, Geno Smith, Victor Cruz, Skylar Diggins, and Kevin Durant.
#41 Stan Kroenke
Kroenke Sports Enterprises owner
Kroenke Sports Enterprises owns the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth (Major League Lacrosse), St. Louis Rams, and English Premier League's Arsenal. He also owns the Pepsi Center Arena in Denver. Married to Ann Walton, the daughter of Wal-Mart cofounder Bud Walton, he's estimated to be worth $4.1 billion by Forbes.
#40 Bob Arum
David Becker/Getty Images
Top Rank chief executive
Many see Arum as the Godfather of boxing. The founder and CEO of the promotion company Top Rank, Arum decides who fights whom in the boxing world. The plagues of controversy and backroom deals that ail boxing frequently tie back to Arum.
#39 Doris Burke
Screen grab from YouTube
ESPN NBA analyst
In a time when women are still largely relegated to sideline duty, Burke works the mic with the men. Starting as a radio announcer for women's basketball games for her alma mater, Providence University, Burke has become a trailblazer for female analysts. She was the first woman to do color commentary for men's Big East games and the New York Knicks, and she continues to become a more prominent NBA voice for ESPN.
#38 Billy Beane
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Oakland Athletics general manager/minority owner
The Moneyball revolution still reverberates today. Beane changed not just baseball culture, but sports culture; league offices around the world court more Ivy Leaguers and mathematicians than ever before because of him. This season, Beane's A's own baseball's best record.
#37 Dr. James Andrews
Screen grab from YouTube
Dr. Andrews is the alpha and omega when it comes to sports surgeons. His client list reads like a who's who of the sports world — Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Jack Nicklaus, Emmitt Smith, Roger Clemens, and many more.
#36 Tim Tebow
ESPN college football analyst (SEC Network)
Go ahead, laugh all you want, but ESPN's decision to hire Tebow as an analyst is a smart one. He's mostly set to appear on the SEC Network, where he'll co-host SEC Nation, a traveling pregame show that's an SEC-only version of College GameDay. The SEC Network's main challenge is to get on as many cable providers as possible, and Tebow is a key selling point on that front.
#35 Jurgen Klinsmann
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
U.S. men's soccer coach
After snubbing Landon Donovan from his 23-man roster, Klinsmann faced major questions entering the World Cup. You know what happened next: the USMNT made it out of a brutally hard group and nearly pulled off a crazy comeback against Belgium in the Round of 16. JK is here to stay!
#34 Masai Ujiri
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Toronto Raptors general manager
Ujiri became the first African-born general manager for an American sports team when he took over the Denver Nuggets' front office in 2010. Ujiri concocted the Carmelo Anthony trade with the Knicks, which prevented Denver from losing Anthony with nothing in return and instead landed them four players and a first-round draft pick. He won NBA Executive of the Year in 2013 before signing a five-year, $15 million deal to become GM of the Raptors that offseason.
#33 Nick Saban
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
University of Alabama football coach
Saban's Alabama teams have claimed three of the past four national championships, and if imitation is the highest form of flattery, Saban can count nearly every coach in the nation as an admirer. Saban started expanding his coaching staff, with more "special assistants to the film manager" now than ever. Coaches throughout the nation work to replicate Saban's "Process."
#32 Carol Stiff
Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images
ESPN vice president, multimedia strategy and integration
Stiff is one of ESPN's top executives, with over 20 years of experience at the company. She has become one of the most influential people in women's college sports, helping land women's college hoops on ESPN. She also spearheaded the 2013 Nine for IX series and is working to better establish espnW across ESPN's other platforms.
#31 Media Insiders (Jay Glazer, Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Ramona Shelburne)
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
FOX, ESPN, Yahoo Sports
Ages: 44, 47, 45
When news breaks in the sports world, one of these guys is usually behind it. Voraciously followed on Twitter, these insiders announce trades, signings, and other news first thanks to their wide-ranging access and connections.
#30 Robert Kraft
Rob Carr/Getty Images
New England Patriots owner
While his wife suffered through her final days battling cancer, Kraft spent his nights beside Myra Kraft's side and his days hammering out the finer points of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement during the 2011 lockout. When a deal was finally struck, NFL Players Association representative Jeff Saturday said it was the owner of the league's model franchise who "saved football."
#29 Mike Krzyzewski
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Duke University men's basketball coach
Coach K's coaching and management tree is one of the broadest in sports. Five of his former assistants currently coach for other colleges. Two NBA general managers, Danny Ferry of the Atlanta Hawks and Billy King of the Brooklyn Nets, were coached by Coach K. With four national championships and two Olympic gold medals on his coaching resume, it's no wonder his proteges are always in demand.
#28 Michael J. Garcia
FIFA head of the investigatory chamber of the ethics committee
Garcia is a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, best known as the man who prosecuted Eliot Spitzer. In 2012, FIFA appointed Garcia as the head of its investigatory chamber of the ethics committee, and he's tasked with compiling a report into allegations of corruption in world soccer for FIFA. Basically, it'll largely be up to Garcia whether Qatar will keep the 2022 Word Cup.
#27 Bill Simmons
Rob Loud/Getty Images
Simmons went from writing an emailed sports blog for his friends while working as a bartender to analyzing NBA Finals games for ESPN alongside Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose, and Doug Collins. His website Grantland.com is a daily stop for big-time sports fans, and his book "The Book of Basketball" was universally praised, making a debut at No. 1 on The New York Times bestseller list.
#26 Philip Anschutz
Harry How/Getty Images
Entrepreneur/Major League Soccer cofounder
Anschutz helped found MLS and started multiple teams, including the Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Houston Dynamo, San Jose Earthquakes, and D.C. United. Although he has since sold his shares in the teams, he has helped the league in other ways, like pushing to build soccer-specific stadiums.
Outside MLS, Anschutz also owns stakes in the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, along with the Staples Center and O2 Arena. AEG — the Anschutz Entertainment Group — is the world's largest owner of sports teams, sports events, and sports venues.
#25 Jeanie Buss
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Los Angeles Lakers executive vice president of business operations
Following the death of her father, Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Jeanie assumed the role as team governor. Along with her five siblings, Jeanie shares the controlling ownership of the team. Her brother, Jim, is expected to take over the basketball operations while she handles the business of the Lakers brand.
#24 Ed O'Bannon
AP Photo/Isaac Brekken
Lead litigant in lawsuit against NCAA
O'Bannon leads an anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA that could radically and permanently alter the way college sports operate. O'Bannon's suit argues that players should earn royalty payments from money the NCAA earns from players' likenesses.
#23 John Calipari
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
University of Kentucky men's basketball coach
No one has benefitted from "one-and-done" like Calipari. Paradoxically, the Kentucky coach says he hates the rule. Nonetheless, year after year there are stories of Calipari ripping last year's major recruit's scholarship to shreds when discussing whether he should go pro. Polarizing as Calipari may be, there is no denying his ability to recruit top talent and feed it to the pros.
Back in June the Cleveland Cavaliers offered him a 10-year, $80 million deal, which he turned down. One month and one key signing for Cleveland later, you wonder if Coach Cal might be having some regrets ...
#22 Kevin Plank
J. Meric/Getty Images
Under Armour founder/chief executive
Frustrated by sweaty cotton T-shirts, Plank set out to create a clothing brand using a material that would wick sweat to keep athletes lighter and more comfortable. Using $17,000 he had made selling roses on Valentines Day as an undergrad at the University of Maryland, Plank founded Under Armour, one of the most well-known and popular brands in sports today. Forbes estimates his net worth at approximately $1.05 billion.
#21 Bill Belichick
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
New England Patriots coach/general manager
The Mad Genius went 5-11 in 2000 in his first season at the helm. Since then he has won three Super Bowls, three Coach of the Year awards and amassed a 181-69 record, including playoffs. Not only is Belichick one of the game's greatest strategists, he is also one of the shrewdest general managers.
#20 Lesa Kennedy
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images
International Speedway Organization chief executive
Kennedy oversees a company that counts more than $750 million in annual revenue and is widely credited for helping expand the sport. Forbes ranked her the most powerful woman in sports in 2009.
#19 Joel and Avram Glazer
Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United, owners
Ages: 45, 53
The two sons of the late Malcolm Glazer own the English soccer giant Manchester United and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL. The Glazer family also controls First Allied Corporation and the Zapata Corporation. According to Forbes, the brothers are together worth an estimated $4.4 billion. Manchester United, the most valuable soccer club in the English Premier League, is worth approximately $2.2 billion.
#18 Gary Bettman
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
League revenues grew from $400 million when he was hired to $3 billion. There is no denying the sport's expansion under his 20-year tenure, but many purists argue he has changed the game too dramatically. Whether the allowance of the two-line pass is a good thing is in the eye of the beholder.
#17 Scott Boras
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
MLB super agent
No one gets contracts like Boras. His most recent major splash was the nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers he negotiated for Prince Fielder. Of the four $200 million deals in baseball history, Boras has been behind three.
#16 Jogi Löw
Joern Pollex/Getty Images
German men's soccer manager
Löw was brought into the German coaching system when Jurgen Klinsmann took over at the helm in 2004. After Klinsmann stepped down following Germany's failure to reach the World Cup final in 2006, Löw took over and has been incredibly successful since, arguably the best manager in international soccer. In 2010 the Germans again reached the semifinals and in 2014 won the World Cup in extra time against Argentina.
#15 Dana White
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
The outspoken White has led mixed martial arts out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Once a struggling company, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is now estimated to be worth around $2 billion.
#14 Mark Emmert
Emmert has served as president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association since 2010 and has been in the public spotlight ever since. In 2012, Emmert struck Penn State's football program as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal, fining the university $60 million and suspending it from postseason play. More recently, Emmert has been at the center of the O'Bannon trial, which will decide whether student-athletes will legally be allowed to earn money.
#13 Mark Cuban
Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images
Dallas Mavericks owner
The model for the playboy sports owner, Cuban comes across as the everyman who fully appreciates his billionaire lifestyle. In 2006 he said referee Eddie T. Rush would "not be able to manage a Dairy Queen." When DQ management took offense and offered him an opportunity to be a manager for a day, Cuban was a good sport and led a Texas DQ for a day.
#12 Maverick Carter/Rich Paul
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images/Instagram
LMRM head, Klutch Sports Group head
These two members of LeBron's inner circle are growing more powerful by the second. Maverick Carter is the head of LeBron's marketing management firm, LRMR. When the Cleveland Browns drafted Johnny Manziel, LRMR quickly signed him. Paul, the founder of Klutch Sports, serves as James' agent and is starting to collect an impressive stable of young talent to his client list. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Eric Bledsoe, and Tristian Thompson are all represented by Paul.
#11 Phil Knight
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Knight runs the biggest sports apparel company in the world. He also personally donates millions of dollars to fund Oregon's suddenly powerful and influential athletic program.
#10 Michael Jordan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty IMages
Charlotte Hornets owner
MJ's sneaker brand is still going strong long after his retirement as a player. In addition, he's the owner of the Charlotte Hornets, one of the league's youngest and most exciting teams. MJ had a hand in setting the terms of the NBA's newest collective bargaining agreement and never seems to stray too far from the spotlight.
#9 Mark Lazarus
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
NBC Sports Group chairman
Lazarus oversees the Olympics, Sunday Night Football, The Golf Channel, and Versus. With the combination of Comcast and NBC, the NBC Sports Group is a legitimate threat to potentially overtake ESPN as the preferred American sports network.
#8 Randy Freer
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Fox Networks Group president, chief executive
Fox Sports has greatly shaped the sports media marketplace and is only getting bigger, having recently won the bid to broadcast the 2018 and '22 World Cups. Between college football, MLB, NASCAR, and the NFL, Fox Sports is a broadcasting powerhouse right up there with ESPN.
#7 Bud Selig
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Selig became the acting commissioner in 1992, and he has changed the game in several ways since. The Wild Card, interleague play and the use of instant replay all started under Selig. Baseball's transformation from complicit to militant in relation to player drug use will most likely be Selig's lasting legacy.
#6 Thomas Bach
Scott Halleran/Getty Images
International Olympic Committee president
Bach assumed office in 2014 and will serve as president of the IOC until 2021. After winning the election, Bach said he planned to change the Olympic bidding process to make sustainable development a larger priority. He's a decent athlete, too: In 1976 he won a gold medal in fencing for West Germany at the Montreal Olympics.
#5 Steve Ballmer
Former Microsoft chief executive
Ballmer's $2 billion bid for the Los Angeles Clippers has totally altered the value of professional sports franchises and their sales. The projected sale price is nearly four times the next-highest price paid for a professional basketball franchise, the $550 million sale of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014. Although an ongoing legal battle between Donald Sterling and his estranged wife, Shelly, delayed the sale, a court ruling on July 28 approved the sale to Ballmer.
#4 Sepp Blatter
Harold Cunningham/Getty Images
For 15 years, Blatter has been the head of the international governing body of the world's game. Never far from controversy, Blatter and FIFA's Executive Committee raised eyebrows and claims of corruption when they voted to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
#3 Adam Silver
Silver took over as commissioner this season following the retirement of David Stern. He earned his law degree in 1988 from the University of Chicago and began working for the NBA in 1992. Silver's biggest test as commissioner came just months into the job, and his decision to ban Sterling from the NBA for life earned him praise from around the league and media. After the end of the 2014 season, he also announced that the NBA was looking into a mid-season tournament, similar to the F.A. Cup in England.
#2 Roger Goodell
Al Bello/Getty Images
In his seven years as commissioner, Goodell has worked to make a game of 240-pound men running into one another safer. The unenviable task has drawn criticism from across the board, but he has mostly made good on his word: stiff penalties for Bountygate, a broad expansion of fines for helmet-to-helmet hits. Goodell has taken an aggressive stance on player safety. But Goodell's recent decision to suspend Ravens running back Ray Rice for only two games following alleged domestic violence has proved unpopular.
#1 John Skipper
Screen grab from YouTube
You've heard of that network out in Bristol, Connecticut, right? The Worldwide Leader is the lens through which most Americans see sports, and that means major bucks: Forbes estimates ESPN's value at $40 billion, making it the world's most valuable media property.