THE SPORTS PAGE 64: The Most Influential People In Sports Business

Sports Page 64

There’s still time for one more bracket contest this season and this one is for all the Tostitos. It’s our definitive list of the most influential business people in the world of sports: The Sports Page 64.

In the spirit of the NCAA Tournament Final tonight, we broke our tourney down into four “regions” — Athletes, Team and League Executives, Media, and Related Business — in order to cover the whole spectrum of our wild world of sports.

With only 16 slots per region, there were some notable omissions (and some upsets!), but these are our favourite heroes and villains that shape the games we love so much.

Click here to scroll through this year’s list →
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The Full Bracket

The Complete List 1-64

In Alphabetical Order

Breakdown By “Region”

Disagree with our choices? Leave a comment below or on Twitter with #sp64.

George Bodenheimer

President, ESPN/ABC Sports

Love 'em or hate 'em, ESPN is the dominant force in sports today.

With seven cable networks, an online network, a Big 3 broadcast partner, a major website, and full or partial broadcast right to nearly every major sport on the planet, it is truly the gatekeeper for fans who want to watch just about game imaginable. By the end of the 2011, they could also control the NHL and the Olympics, further cementing their place as the only sports network that matters.

Meanwhile, their news arm provides unprecedented access to athletes and teams. Some call that a conflict of interest, others call it synergy.

And Bodenheimer has been there through it all, starting in the mail room shortly after the company was founded in 1980. He became president in 1998, eventually adding ABC Sports and co-chairman, Disney Media Networks to his titles.

Phil Knight

Founder and Chairman, Nike

No single company (that is not actually a team or league) has had a bigger influence on sports than the apparel giant that puts footwear on more than half the NBA, puts uniforms on hundreds of college and pro teams, and sells everything from golf balls to hockey skates to the workout gear that gets millions of Americans through their weekend warrior routines.

He also personally built the University of Oregon athletic department (his alma mater) into a national powerhouse, giving millions in donations and technical support.

In addition to clothing athletes and enriching them with million-dollar endorsement contracts, Knight and Nike have created a cultural phenomenon with ad campaigns that have turned into life mantras.

Tiger Woods

Golfer

Once the most dominant athlete in his (or any) sport, Woods has not won a single golf tournament in 16 months.

But his failures on the course only underscore his influence off it, as he continues to remain the focal point for any and all coverage about the sport of golf. One need only watch the buildup to this week's Masters to see how thoroughly he controls the conversation.

Of course, as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Nike's largess, Tiger is also believed to be the first professional athlete with over a billion dollars in lifetime earnings. 2010 was an awful year for Tiger, personally and professionally, but that hasn't dimmed his influence in the slightest.

David Stern

Commissioner, National Basketball Association

Despite a looming labour war Stern, continues to rule the NBA with his special brand of savvy and fear. Stern orchestrated a league takeover of the struggling Hornets to keep them in New Orleans, kept billionaire Larry Ellison from raiding the league for his personal toy box, and will safely guide the Sacramento Kings to a new home in L.A.

What he seeming won't be able to do is guide the league away from a lockout this summer. But Stern -- who reportedly told a meeting of NBA All-Stars that he 'knows where the bodies are buried' -- seems prepared to sacrifice an entire season to rebuild the NBA (again) and if anyone can keep the owners united (even those who are drowning in debt), it's Stern.

Dick Ebersol

Chairman, NBC Sports Group

NBC's influence had been on the wane in recent years, but last fall's merger with Comcast will at least re-invigorate its sports department. Ebersol now controls Versus, the Golf Channel, and Comcast's regional networks that continue to benefit from the cable giants massive reach into American homes.

Plus, NBC stills control the Olympics (for now), the NHL's fortunes are on the rise, and their Sunday Night Football franchise was the most popular program on all of television last fall.

Roger Goodell

Commissioner, National Football League

As the unchallenged leader of America's biggest sport, Goodell would have seemed like a lock to head this list.

But by failing to bridge the gap between the players and the owners the future of the league is in doubt, and now a court ruling will decide if we'll even have pro football this year. That he couldn't some how find a way to negotiate labour piece for a $9 billion a year business will not boost his legacy.

Tim Leiweke

President, Anschutz Entertainment Group

AEG isn't well-known to most sports fans ... yet. But as the world's largest owner of sports arenas and events, there's a pretty good chance that you've attended, watched, or even participated in some sporting event that AEG had a hand in.

They own the L.A. Kings, built the Staples centre (they also have a stake in the Lakers), help staged the Tour de France, tennis tournaments, boxing matches, the X Games, created the MLS from scratch and managed more than 100 venues all over the world.

And they're just getting started. Leiweke has been instrumental in the push for a downtown football stadium in L.A., putting him and the company in a position to own an NFL team in the very near future.

Peyton Manning

Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts

Now that Tiger Woods has been exposed a not-so-family-friendly family man, Peyton Manning is the clear No. 1 choice for athlete endorsements, selling TVs, Oreos, Gatorade, and anything else that you need a photogenic quarterback can deliver.

As a pending free agent, he's also poised to become the best-paid player in NFL history -- if this lockout thing ever gets sorted out.

Bud Selig

Commissioner, Major League Baseball

Sixteen years ago, Selig was the man who took away the World Series.

Nine years ago, he was the man who called the All-Star Game a draw.

Now he's the only commissioner running a league that isn't about implode in a labour war. Teams and players are both rich, the future looks bright, and despite a long list of public relations nightmares during his tenures, the 76-year-old appears ready to ride off into the sunset, leaving the game better than when he found it.

Jim Delany

Commissioner, Big 10 Conference

In the college world, conferences are king and Delany is the monarch of the richest and most powerful of them all. By creating the Big 10 Network four years ago, Delany took the financial power of college sports to the next level, setting off a chain reaction as competitors nearly tore themselves apart trying to keep up.

Last season, the Big 10 poached Nebraska from the Big 12, allowing them to set up an even more lucrative conference championship game in football. Delany's championing of the BCS is also the biggest reason there's no college football playoff.

Scott Boras

President, Boras Corporation

By specializing in baseball (the one major sport without a salary cap), this sports agent has been able to wield an usual amount of influence over the direction of the game, while making his 175 or so clients filthy rich in the process.

On more than one occasion, Boras has secured a client the richest contract in baseball history. He even did it twice for Alex Rodriguez.

Last year, he got $100M+ contracts for Jayson Werth and Matt Holliday, signed No. 1 draft pick Bryce Harper, and managed his way out of a rather slippery scandal involving allegations of improper loans to prospects. He's the man no team wants to deal with and every player wants in their corner.

Jimmy Sexton

Sports Agent, Athletic Resource Management

In college football, players can't have agents. But coaches can, and Sexton is the man who represents the best and the brightest.

He works for most of the SEC's biggest names like Nick Saban, Will Muschamp, ex-Tennessean Lane Kiffin, current Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, as well some NFL coaches like Rex Ryan and Jim Schwartz.

Some conspiracy theorists like to believe that Sexton personally orchestrates most big coaching changes, but the truth is that he mainly just ensures his clients benefit from them.

LeBron James

Forward, Miami Heat

The two-time MVP blew up the sports world with 'The Decision' last summer, instantly going from one of the most loved sports figures in the world to most the hated.

But that hasn't stopped fans from lining up to buy tickets to Heat road games and snap up his jerseys. He may never repair the damage done in Cleveland, but LeBron is still the face of today's NBA and no one puts butts in the seat the way he does -- even if they're coming just to boo him.

Lionel Messi

Forward, Barcelona F.C.

He's only 23 years old, but Messi has already been named the best soccer player in the world twice, and has four Spanish league and two Championship league crowns under his belt.

While slightly less recognisable in the States than the Englishman Wayne Rooney, Messi still has the world of soccer at his command and a long future ahead of him.

Bill Simmons

Writer, ESPN.com

The most successful sportswriter of his generation, Simmons rose from a little-known Boston blogger to one of the biggest brands on the Internet.

In addition to his prominent perch on ESPN.com, Simmons has written two best-selling books, created a wildly successful podcast, produced a Peabody-award winning documentary series, secured a couple million followers on Twitter, and spawned an army of copycat bloggers.

Later this year, he'll launch his own 'sports and pop culture' website (free of the ESPN brand) that just might give him a place among the internet's new media moguls.

Gus Johnson

Announcer, CBS Sports

Johnson must wait in line as more senior colleagues get the best assignments -- to the chagrin of many fans who wish they could hear his 'excitable' calls at the end of every close contest. (Some say his very presence wills those exciting finishes to happen. See: 'The Law of Gus.')

Unlike most of his colleagues, however, Johnson has a trademarked catchphrase that he's turned into a nice side business.

Jerry Jones

Owner, Dallas Cowboys

His new billion-dollar stadium and revolutionary marketing deals have set the standards by which all sports franchises are to be judged.

The last Super Bowl in Dallas was considered by many to be a fiasco, but Jones' influence on the sport (and ability to rake in dollars) will ensure that it won't be long before the game returns to 'Jerry World' anyway.

First, he has to help solve the NFL labour impasse that he created by insisting that the revenue sharing model that takes money from his pocket to give the league's less fortunate has to change.

Kobe Bryant

Guard, Los Angeles Lakers

Winning a fifth NBA title has already cemented Kobe's legacy as one of the all-time greats. But that won't be enough for one of the fiercest competitors in sports. He's not the most beloved of superstars, but his image still sells shoes and video games (even those that he's not in.)

Sepp Blatter

President, FIFA

FIFA may be arrogant, insular, and (probably) corrupt, and Blatter is a walking PR disaster (he told gay fans who want to attend the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal should probably just 'refrain' from sex), but it still calls the shots for the world's most popular sport and -- most importantly -- its showcase event.

Despite corruption probes and anger over the host selections for the 2018 and 2022 games, Blatter's only serious challenger in a re-election bid came from a Sports Illustrated writer, who couldn't even get a country to nominate him.

Mikhail Prokhorov

Owner, New Jersey Nets

The first international owner of an NBA franchise, the 6'4' Russian metals billionaire also claims to be the only team owner who can dunk. As part of his deal to purchase the Nets, he helped finance a new arena in Brooklyn, where he will move the team in 2012.

Despite being a league neophyte, Prokhorov (who doesn't drink and or own a computer) has already ignited a turf war with the legendary Knicks, stirring up rumours during the Carmelo Anthony saga before pulling off a blockbuster trade of his own. His flamboyant bachelor lifestyle and sound-bite friendly talk have made him a media darling, as well.

No one knows if any of his tactics will work, but they sure are entertaining.

Ted Forstmann

Chairman and CEO, IMG Worldwide

More than just a sports agency, IMG is an event management giant (particularly in tennis where they own or help organise several major tournaments) and a big player in the world of licensing fees.

In 2007, IMG acquired Collegiate Licensing Company giving them the licensing rights to over 150 college athletic programs and conferences.

Oh, and the agency doesn't do too bad either, with over 1,000 athletes and coaches on their roster of clients.

In 2010, Forstmann was besieged by allegations that he placed large bets on tennis matches involving IMG clients, as part of a lawsuit filed by a former business associate, but has not been formally accused of any wrongdoing or crimes.

Jerry Richardson

Owner, Carolina Panthers

A former NFL player who founded the expansion team in 1993, Richardson took a surprisingly active role in the NFL labour negotiations this winter -- some say too active.

Reports claimed that Richardson took an antagonistic approach toward the player representatives, often talking down to them during meetings and insulting their intelligence. Yet, along with the Cowboys' Jerry Jones, he did as much as anyone to shape (and harden) the owner's position and push for a new agreement that's more favourable to the management position.

Arn Tellem

Sports Agent, WMG Management

Tellem has long been regraded as one of the most powerful agents in sports, particularly in the NBA, where his client rosters includes dozens of former first round picks and high-priced superstars like Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O'Neal, and Joe Johnson, as well current MVP candidate Derrick Rose.

Since merging his company with entertainment agent Casey Wasserman -- who is also working with AEG on the L.A. stadium project -- he's expanded his reach beyond just player representation and become a vocal spokesperson through his Huffington Post column.

Adam Schefter

Pro Football Reporter, ESPN

Arguably the most 'plugged in' reporter in football, if there is news breaking in the NFL then Schefter is almost always among the first to know. During the NFL season, he spends most of his days updating TV viewers on the latest SportsCenter and internet watchers on his Twitter feed. Most journalists would kill for five minutes alone with his Blackberry.

Jimmie Johnson

Driver, Hendrick Motorsports

Johnson won his fifth-straight Sprint Cup Championship last fall, a feat never before accomplished in NASCAR history.

As the most consistent 'money' driver of the decade, Johnson gets the best endorsements, the best equipment, and the best crew. (He replaced his entire pit team with teammate Jeff Gordon's late last season to lock up his shot at the title.)

Dan Lozano

Sports Agent

Last summer, Lozano left the Beverly Hills Sports Council (a sports agency where he was a partner) to start his own firm, taking with him an impressive roster of MLB talent, including the best player in baseball, Albert Pujols.

Lozano didn't lock in a new contract extension for Pujols this offseason, but that only sets up an even bigger bidding war for the slugger's talents next winter -- where he'll be looking to fetch a $300 million contract.

Jim Bankoff

CEO, SB Nation

What started as a loose collection of fan-run blogs has grown into an empire of sportswriting talent, led mostly by the former AOL exec's push into new publishing technologies and acquisitions of more experienced, high-profile writers.

Last year, he hired away ESPN's Rob Neyer to help create a new 'Baseball Nation' site, and it was just announced that SB Nation will move into other non-sports areas, by launching a tech blog run by the former team from AOL's widely successful Engadget.

Mike Florio

Founder and Editor, ProFootballTalk

A lawyer turned blogger, Florio created PFT as a 'Daily rumour Mill' aggregating football news from around the web as he built his own network of reliable sources. The site has became an essential must-read for football junkies who want to stay updated on all the latest news and gossip.

In 2009, he merged with NBC Sports and now Florio makes regular appearances on the Sunday Night Football pregame and halftime shows, making him a unexpected household face. (It is the most-watched TV program of the week.)

Blake Griffin

Forward, Los Angeles Clippers

A mortal lock for NBA Rookie of the Year, (after missing all of his true rookie season to a knee injury) Griffin has electrified crowds like few other debut players.

He won the All-Star Slam Dunk contest in his hometown of Los Angeles and has already put together a career's worth of highlight footage in just a few short months. It will be a couple years before he can cash in on the free agent market, but he's quickly become one of the most recognisable stars in the NBA and has landed big endorsements with Kia and Subway.

Tim Tebow

Quarterback, Denver Broncos

So far, his fame far outstrips his on-field accomplishments, but in the arena of marketing fame, Tebow is still among the game's brightest stars.

He just nabbed his first major national endorsement for Jockey, and his jersey was the No. 1 selling outfit in the NFL last year -- despite only starting three games as a rookie.

James Andrew Miller

Author

In 2002, Miller (with co-author Tom Shales) published 'Live From New York,' an uncensored oral history of Saturday Night Live, that exposed all the juiciest backstage gossip from the founding story of a cultural touchstone.

This spring, they're giving ESPN the same all-access treatment with 'Those Guys Have All The Fun,' a behind-the-scenes look at the founding of the Worldwide Leader ... warts and all. His unprecedented access to the Worldwide Leader has also made his Twitter feed a handy resource for ESPN tidbits.

Chris Tsakalakis

President, StubHub

Selling tickets is the foundation of every sports business, but now it's the buyers that clean up, thanks to a $3 billion secondary ticket market that's become increasingly sophisticated and lucrative.

Tsakalakis is the eBay executive who led the acquisition of StubHub and now runs a business that saw sales rise 26 per cent last year, even as actual attendance at ballparks fell. Maybe fans know more about how to sell and price tickets than teams do?

Hal and Hank Steinbrenner

Co-Owners and Managing General Partners, New York Yankees

The Steinbrenners boys have been running the day-to-day operations of the team for several years now, but when their father George Steinbrenner died last year, Hank and Hal officially became the faces of sport's most lucrative franchise.

The Yankees are a $1 billion empire with a state-of-the-art stadium and television network that helps keep their revenue (and their payroll) at the top of the sport. Now if they could just find a way to fill a few more of those $2,500 box seats.

Mark Cuban

Owner, Dallas Mavericks

His team is not the richest or the most successful in the NBA, but as one of the sport's most recognisable faces, when Cuban talks, people listen.

Mostly because he runs his team like a fan would, sitting courtside (instead of in the owner's box) and speaking his mind about every topic imaginable. He also has companies (HDNet) and TV shows (the startup competition, 'Shark Tank') to run, but his outspoken attitude has hampered effort to acquire a second sports team.

Aaron Rodgers

Quarterback, Green Bay Packers

Calling the signals for a Super Bowl-winning team (and nabbing the MVP while you're at it) is the fastest route to football immortality -- and a lucrative side job in endorsements. Rodgers vaulted himself into the upper echelon of NFL superstars with his incredible run to the title last season and already has Green Bay fans thinking repeat.

Cameron Newton

Quarterback, 2010 Heisman Trophy Winner

He only played one full season of Division I football, but what a season it was. Newton won the Heisman Trophy, a National Championship, and became embroiled in a pay-for-pay scandal that proved there's no such thing as bad publicity.

Speculation about his draft potential has been one of the dominant topics of this offseason and no matter where he lands, Newton (like his old teammate Tebow) is in a position to sell more jerseys and Gatorade than other quarterbacks who are sure to be selected ahead of him.

Herbert Hainer

CEO and Chairman, Adidas

While the shoe and apparel company has run second-place to Nike for many years, it's not a bad race to be runner-up in.

The €11.99 billion company dominates the soccer market in Europe and along with the Reebok brand, is still a major player in the NBA, tennis, and golf.

DeLoss Dodds

Athletic Director, University of Texas

When his school contemplated leaving the Big 12 Conference last summer, it threatened to reshape college athletics as we know it. Instead, Texas decided to stay put and found the Longhorn Network.

It's the first 24-hour cable sports network devoted entirely to one university and is set to launch this fall. With revenue of around $143 million last year, Dodds oversees the largest college program in the country, with an organisation that rivals some pro teams.

John Henry

Owner, Boston Red Sox, Liverpool F.C., Roush Fenway Racing

After making his fortune as a futures and commodities trader, Henry spent the last decade turning the Boston Red Sox into a World Series champion (while taking down the 'evil empire' in New York). He also owns a NASCAR team and a regional cable channel, NESN.

In 2010, Henry looked overseas, buying the Premier League soccer team from its nearly bankrupt owners and making himself a two-sport star.


Joe Buck

Lead Football and Baseball Announcer, FOX Sports

The anti-Gus Johnson, Buck is often criticised by fans for his lack of passion behind the mic, and his attempt to branch out into a talk show host was an utter failure.

But as the lead announcer for both the NFL and MLB on Fox, Buck is still the voice you're most likely to hear when watching the world's biggest sports events, giving him a bigger audience than any other sports personality.

Carmelo Anthony

Forward, New York Knicks

After years of relative of obscurity in Denver, the Brooklyn native was traded to the New York Knicks in mid-season, opening up a new world of endorsements and celebrity, even landing a temporary gig on 'Saturday Night Live.'

All the chatter surrounding his inevitable deadline deal made Anthony more visible than at any other point of his career and finding himself on one of the league's marquee teams (and in the media capital of the world) will only increase the wattage of his star power.

Dwyane Wade

Guard, Miami Heat

LeBron James' move to Miami left some fretting that star players in the NBA have too much power over the make up of teams.

Well, most of the power apparently resides with Wade, who somehow got two of the league's biggest free agents to come play for his team. If it leads to another title, it will be Wade's second ... pushing him into a rarefied club.

Albert Pujols

First Baseman, St. Louis Cardinals

After putting up the greatest first decade of any player in baseball history, Pujols will become a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, demanding what should be the richest contract in sports history.

While still a mostly unknown quantity outside of baseball world, Pujols holds all the cards (and the Cards) in his hands.

Bus Cook

Sports Agent, BC Sports

Cook just lost his biggest (and first) client when Brett Favre (probably) retired this offseason, but Cook still represents an impressive list of football talent -- including soon to be rookie Cam Newton, who could become the new cornerstone of his small, but influential agency.

Manny Pacquiao

WBC Super Welterweight Champion and WBO Welterweight Champion; Member of the House of Representatives, Republic of the Philippines

The sport of boxing may be fading the national consciousness, but there's still one fighter who can still put butts in the seats.

The current 'pound-for-pound' champ, Pacquiao sells out football stadiums and pay-per-views and is one of the few truly bankable stars left in the sports.

While the world waits for him to schedule a super bout with undefeated Floyd Mayweather, Pacquiao has run for Congress and started a film career in his homeland turning himself into a true 'crossover' artist as well.

Edward Stack

CEO and Chairman, Dick's Sporting Goods

When he took over his father's business in the 1980s, it was just a two branch chain with no dreams of expansion.

Now it's a multibillion-dollar enterprise with over 440 stores nationwide (not counting its numerous Golf Galaxy centres.) Dick's made the 'big box' concept work for sports equipment on a national level and now it dominates the retail market for clothes and gear.

Erin Andrews

College Football Reporter, ESPN

A longtime favourite of college football fans, Andrews inadvertently became a household name after becoming the victim of a stalker, who put posted naked videos of her on the internet.

She recovered gracefully, however, while branching out into work on Good Morning America and a deep run on Dancing With The Stars. She parlayed that success into a new contract and expanded role at ESPN.

William Wesley

???

No one is really sure what 'Worldwide Wes' does, how he does it, or if it even works, but this shadowy 'power broker' is a man you need to know if you're going to do business in the world of basketball.

He's not an agent or manager, but his close relationships with anyone who is anyone have been rumoured to influence trades, signings, hirings and firings, and secretly shaped the way the NBA does business.

Or maybe he's just a really friendly guy who knows a lot of famous people?

Ted Thompson

General Manager, Green Bay Packers

As the only GM in football without an impatient owner breathing down his neck -- unless you count the entire town of Green Bay -- Thompson has had a unique amount of influence in shaping the Super Bowl champs.

With a new contract extension and a beefed up roster ready to return in 2011, Thompson looks ready to lead a potential new dynasty for several years to come.

James Dolan

Owner and Chairman, Madison Square Garden, Inc.

As owner of MSG, Dolan also controls the New York Rangers and Knicks, two tortured franchises that continue to be tortured by his leadership.

However, the anger of fans doesn't change the fact that he runs an entertainment and sports giant, that includes multiple sports teams, a lucrative cable network, and the 'World's Most Famous Arena.' That doesn't even count Cablevision, the cable company founded by his father, that he also runs.

AJ Daulerio

Editor, Deadspin

His brand of journalism may not fly in some circles, but there's no denying that Deadspin's no-hold-barred blend of gossip and news has forced the media and the athletes themselves to sit up and take notice.

Their biggest scoop to-date -- Brett Favre's texts of dirty photos -- have even led to legal trouble for the future Hall of Famer, which proves that Deadspin's are more than just embarrassing gossip.

Disclosure: Sports Page editor Dashiell Bennett used to work for Deadspin.

Dr. James Andrews

Orthopedic Surgeon, St. Vincent's Medical centre

Arguably the most famous surgeon in America, Andrews saves careers the way paramedics save lives.

A pioneer in the treatment of sports injuries (particularly when it comes ligament and joint damage), Andrews is the go-to-specialist for sports teams and athletes in need of a consultation or a quick fix for their superstar. He's the one guy athletes hope they never have to meet, but when they do, they're glad he's there.

Peter King

Pro Football Reporter, Sports Illustrated

While some criticise King for being overly chummy with his friends in the front office and locker rooms (and that he writes way too much about coffee), his Monday Morning Quarterback column is still a must-read for football fans who want to stay in the know.

He's also become a fixture on Sunday Night Football, making him one of the most read and listened to reporters in the business.

Mel Kiper Jr.

Draft Analyst, ESPN

Kiper's ratings of NFL draft prospects are so influential that Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder recently blamed the draft guru for convincing him to spend money like a first-round pick ... even though he ended up getting drafted in the third.

(Kiper downgraded Crowder before the draft, but we guess the player didn't get the memo.)

Kiper doesn't tell NFL teams who to pick, but his player ratings have become a valuable tool for fans and agents looking to accurately measure the stock of their favourite players.

Drew Rosenhaus

Agent and Owner, Rosenhaus Sports

An aggressive (some say 'obnoxious') backer of his NFL clients, Rosenhaus got his start by pitching his football-playing classmates at the University of Miami, before becoming the league's youngest registered agent at just 22.

His very public representation of some trouble-making stars like Terrell Owens, Plaxico Burress, and Kellen Winslow have bolstered his reputation as a cutthroat shark who seeks as much fame for himself as his clients, but there's no denying that he can deliver the goods when it comes to contract time.

DeMaurice Smith

Executive Director, NFL Players Association

Smith took over the union in 2009, declaring 'war' on the NFL as they negotiated the league's next Collective Bargaining Agreement.

His controversial strategy of decertification has brought about that war now that the NFL has called his bluff and locked out the players. Now the fight has been taken to the courts where he hopes to win a decisive victory in favour of the workforce.

But will it work? That remains to be seen, although some believe that Smith's desire to challenge Roger Goodell and win the big battle may end up costing his union the war.

Dana White

President, Ultimate Fighting Championship

A manager turned promoter, White and his business partners bought a struggling UFC in 2001 and quickly turned into one of the fast growing businesses in sports, threatening to end boxing reign as the ultimate combat sport.

UFC's prominence in the world of Mixed Martial Arts is so great that the sport is often mistakenly referred to as 'ultimate fighting.'

As the chief strategist and promote, White can make or break careers simply by deciding who gets to fight at the league's marquee pay-per-view events. In the last year, UFC acquired two of their biggest competitors, further solidifying its place as the only MMA titles that matter.

Billy Walters

Professional Gambler

A recent 60 Minutes profile on Walters pegged him as 'the most dangerous sports bettor in the history of Nevada.'

One of the few big time gamblers with the savvy and cash to single-handedly affect betting lines and take down sports books, he deploys an army of secret bettors and formulas to wager as much as $2-3 million a weekend during football season. (He can't place the bets himself, since he's been banned from most sports books.)

Darren Rovell

Sports Business Reporter, CNBC

Fresh out Northwestern University in 2000, Rovell basically invented the position of sports business reporter at ESPN, building a name for himself as one of the very few full-time journalists devoted to the financial aspects of sports.

In 2006, he moved on the CNBC where he's a frequent contributor on-air and online.

Liz Mullen

Reporter, Sports Business Journal

As another reporter devoted to a small, but important niche -- in this case, labour relations -- Mullen has become an invaluable for anyone following the NFL lockout.


Kevin Plank

Founder and CEO, UnderArmour

Founded in the late 1990s as a upstart rival to larger clothing manufacturers, UnderArmour has finally come into its own as a legitimate challenger to titans like Adidas and Nike.

There's still a long way to go, but the company has seen its market cap rise to over a billion dollars in just 15 years.

UA has begun outfitting pro and college teams, making the BCS champion Auburn Tigers their 'flagship' program and inking a deal with Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League. Last year, they even launched their own line basketball shoes. In 2010, Plank made Forbes' list of the Most Powerful CEO's Under 40.

Michael Vick

Quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles

Vick was the NFL's Comeback Player, but is still the league's most infamous player.

He's worked hard to rehabilitate his image since returning for a two-year stint in prison and continues to try and win back fans. Despite his success on the field, his endorsement career has not rebounded ... yet. When the next season resumes, he'll be due for a huge raise and if he another successful campaign, it may be too much for advertisers to resist.

Lindsey Vonn

Olympic Gold Medalist, Downhill Skiing

Most Olympic athletes, particularly from the Winter Games, have a tough time staying in the spotlight once the flame goes out, but Vonn isn't just keeping herself in the news, she's bringing her whole sport with her.

Stories about Vonn mean stories about World Cup skiing, which you just don't get in non-Olympic years.

Yes, her model good looks and big personality help, but few stars mean more to the success of their game than Vonn does to the downhill.

Ian Darke

Soccer Commentator, ESPN

For a country just learning to love soccer, Darke has been the voice that guided America through its introduction to the beautiful game.

As the lead soccer announcer on ESPN's broadcast of the World Cup and Premier League games, he played the role of Team U.S.'s secret champion and called the most famous goal in U.S. history.

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