From LeBron James' Game 7 block, to the Cubs' Game 7 victory in the World Series, it is hard to think back on a year in sports that was quite so memorable.
From LeBron James' Game 7 block, to the Cubs' Game 7 victory in the World Series, it is hard to think back on a year in sports that was quite so memorable.
Of course, so much of the way we watch and enjoy sports these days is determined by people who have never participated in a professional athletic event in their lives.
That's why we decided to compile a list of the 50 most influential people behind the scenes in sports — the managers, coaches, agents, reporters, and owners who are responsible for what we watch when we watch sports.
These are the commentators who break important news, and the agents who help player sign massive deals, and the owners who have the power to build franchises from scratch, or move them from one city to another.
All in all, these are the people who helped shape the year in sports — even if we didn't see them swing a bat or catch a touchdown.
This list was compiled by Emmett Knowlton, Cork Gaines, Scott Davis, and Brett LoGuriato.
Job: Founding Publisher, The Player's Tribune
After 20 seasons with the New York Yankees, Jeter decided to venture into the world of digital media. In October of 2014, he launched The Players' Tribune, a platform that has been a game-changer in sports media. More and more athletes are going around traditional media outlets and straight to The Players' Tribune to tell their stories with their own bylines. When Kevin Durant announced he was signing with the Warriors, he announced it himself — and temporarily crashed! — The Players' Tribune.
Job: Editor-in-Chief, ESPN The Magazine and espnW
Overholt has run the editorial side of espnW since 2014 and, in February 2016, became the first woman in ESPN history to be named Editor-in-Chief of ESPN The Magazine. Under her tenure, the magazine has continued to produce some of the finest longform sports writing and investigative journalism around.
Job: ESPN basketball analyst and reporter
Doris Burke is one of the original trailblazers for women in sports broadcasting. She was the first woman to do color commentary for men's Big East games and the New York Knicks, and at ESPN she remains one of the most powerful and prominent voices covering the NBA.
Job: Los Angeles Lakers part-owner and president
While her brother Jim manages the basketball side of the Lakers, Jeanie handles all the business operations of the NBA's most valuable franchise. With Kobe Bryant retired, Buss' job is a bit trickier. Luckily, the Lakers have a crop of extremely fun young players (and coach!) that should keep them relevant through the next generation.
Job: TNT NBA analyst
Barkley may have never won a ring on the court, but he's become a champion TV personality on TNT's famously irreverent "Inside the NBA." Even with Shaq sitting a few seats down from him, Barkley has emerged as TNT's first option, which is to say he's the voice that matters most and has the farthest reach. Even though his opinions are sometimes rather antiquated (particularly when it comes to analytics), Barkley is hugely popular and influential in the NBA world.
Job: FOX NFL sideline reporter
Andrews is a veteran sportscaster and one of the most recognizable faces in the industry. After rising through the ranks at ESPN from 2004 to 2012, she moved over to Fox and, in 2014, took over for Pam Oliver as Fox's lead NFL sideline reporter. She remains one of the best sideline reporter in sports.
Job: Buffalo Bills special teams quality control coach
After working as an administrative assistant to Rex Ryan for 12 years, in 2016 Smith made history when she became the first woman to receive a full-time coaching gig in the NFL. As the NFL's first female full-time coach, Smith is blazing an important path for other women who want to break into America's most popular sport.
Job: Dallas Cowboys Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer
The only daughter of Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones, Anderson is one of the most important executives for one of the biggest teams in all of sports. Anderson has not only helped the Cowboys remain the most profitable brand in the NFL, she also spearheaded the team's construction of a new, $1 billion practice facility in Frisco, Texas.
Job: Head football coaches, Ohio State and Michigan
We swear, we didn't only group these two coaches together because of the rivalry. They also represent the growing trend of coach-as-celebrity in college football.
Harbaugh, as is well-documented, is ridiculous intense, while Meyer (though a bit more subdued) has gotten the better of him since they both landed in the Big 10. Their teams aren't bad, either. Three losses between the two this season, though only Ohio State reached the playoff.
Job: Kentucky men's basketball head coach
Nobody has been more directly responsible for the direction of college basketball in the one-and-done era than Calipari.
The Kentucky coach has taken full advantage of the NBA's new policy, bringing in the best high school talent for one season at a time before they make the leap. It's proved successful — he won a championship with Anthony Davis and coached a team with Karl-Anthony Towns that went undefeated through the regular season until the Elite 8. All the other blue-chip college programs have followed Calipari's lead, but Coach Cal manages to get the best talent year in and year out.
Job: Alabama football coach
What's there to say about Saban that hasn't been said a million times? His Alabama teams produce year in and year out — currently undefeated entering the playoffs and reigning champs from last season. As the Crimson Tide's head football coach, Saban has won four national titles since 2009, and could add a fifth this season. His assistants, meanwhile, have gone on to coach just about everywhere — from the Cowboys' Jason Garrett to Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Georgia's Kirby Smart.
Job: NFL Players Association executive director
Before he took over for the NFLPA, Smith sent nine years with the U.S. attorney's office. Now, whenever Roger Goodell and the NFL dole out a suspension or fine (as is increasingly common), Smith is there to take the player's side. In short, he's the voice of every player in the NFL.
Job: The LeBron James Brain-trust
Paul and Carter are childhood friends who also happened to be friends with LeBron James. They've leveraged that friendship, in different ways, into massively influential sports business careers. Paul founded Klutch Sports, an agency that represents James and a handful of other professional athletes. Carter, meanwhile, is James' business partner, helping him in everything from producing TV shows to signing a lifetime deal with Nike rumored to be worth $1 billion.
Job: Former Redskins coach, NASCAR owner
Gibbs is a sports lifer. As coach of the Redskins, he brought Washington three Super Bowls in the late 80s and early 90s, and is now a special advisor to team owner Daniel Snyder. But now Gibbs is leaving his mark on another sport. In 1992 he founded Joe Gibbs Racing which is grown into one of the top teams in the sport. His drivers have won four championships since 2000.
Job: President and CEO of MLB Advanced Media
Bowman has been called the "Elon Musk of baseball" for his tech-savvy approach to sports and sports business. He spearheaded MLV.tv, which paved the way for other sports games to wind up online and streaming on mobile. When Rob Manfred took over as MLB commissioner for Bud Selig, some wished it had been Bowman to land the job.
Job: Duke men's basketball coach, Olympic team men's basketball coach
Coach K has done it all, and he's not done yet. In early 2015, he became the first NCAA Div. I basketball coach to win 1,000 games, and over the summer, he won his third Olympic gold medal with Team USA. Krzyzewski is arguably the greatest college basketball coach in history, and his team this season — filled with freshman super stars — might be the most talented he's ever had.
Job: New England Patriots head coach
Death, taxes, and Bill Belichick winning the AFC East. This season, his Patriots survived Tom Brady's four-game suspension and, at 12-2, are en route to another first-round bye come playoffs. ESPN, as is an annual tradition, likes the Pats to win the Super Bowl. Belichick may be a famous curmudgeon, but he sure knows how to coach — and both his offensive and defensive coordinators look poised to land head coaching gigs this offseason.
Job: US Soccer Federation President
Gulati's job has never been more important, and probably never been more volatile. Not only is he in charge of representing the US when it comes to FIFA (never the easiest organization to deal with), he also oversees both the men's and women's national teams. Right now he's in the midst of a law suit with the women's team, who rightfully feel they deserve higher wages, and he recently fired Jurgen Klinsmann from the men's team. It's been quite a year, but as soccer grows more and more popular, so too does Gulati's job grow more important.
Job: Vice President, Women's Sports Programming at ESPN
Stiff is one of the most influential women in all of sports media (particularly with college sports) and a top exec at ESPN. Thanks to Stiff, ESPN landed broadcasting rights for women's college hoops, and she spearheaded the Nine for IX series.
Job: Big East Commissioner
Ackerman is a former professional basketball player who also served as the first president of the WNBA, and the first female president of USA Basketball. Since 2013, she has served as the commissioner of the Big East.
Job: ESPN executive vice president, global business and content strategy
Donoghue's title is infused with corporatese but her responsibilities are vast: she is the top business exec for FiveThirtyEight, The Undefeated, and ESPN Films, plus she runs some of ESPN's TV programming. Basically, she's John Skipper's right-hand woman and one of the most powerful people at the Worldwide Leader.
Job: Chairman of NBC Broadcasting and NBC Sports Group
Lazarus has worked in TV for over 40 years and his time at the helm of NBC Sports has been marked by high-quality sporting events. The Olympics, golf, NASCAR, Sunday Night Football, and lately even the English Premier League — NBC Sports doesn't do everything, but what it does it does well. Lazarus is behind that.
Job: NFL COO
The former CEO of both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Seattle Seahawks, Leiweke is a relatively unknown member of Roger Goodell's inner circle. He was hired in 2015 to take over some of Goodell's operational duties, and so long as the NFL remains the most popular sport in the country, Leiweke — even if unknown — remains hugely influential.
Job: Cincinnati Bengals executive vice president
The MMQB called Blackburn "the most powerful woman in the NFL whom nobody talks about." She prefers it that way, but her influence can't be overstated: she's Mike Brown's daughter, has been part of the Bengals organization since 1991 and became the first woman to serve as a chief contract negotiator in the NFL. As the NFL continues to grapple with its role for women, Blackburn is " rel="noFollow"on her way to running a team."
Job: Reporters at FOX, ESPN, Yahoo Sports
Almost all major sports news — from trades, to injuries, to contract specifics — comes from these insiders, who are incredibly well-sourced and have massive Twitter followings. So much of sports news these days is driven by rumors and anonymous sources and nobody drives that part of sports news more than this group.
Job: Golden State Warriors GM
Myers was hired by the Warriors in 2011 as an assistant GM and he took over the front office one season later. Since Myers joined the Warriors, the team drafted Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green, hired Steve Kerr as coach, and landed Kevin Durant. They've won the NBA Championship, set an NBA regular season record with 73 wins, and Myers — who won NBA Executive of the Year in 2015 — is one of the key reasons why.
Job: Owner, New England Patriots
The Boston billionaire has owned the Patriots since 1994, and during that time they've grown into a juggernaut. Aside from Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's success, Kraft is also responsible for key initiatives among NFL ownership. Most notably, he played a massive role in Roger Goodell becoming commissioner, though their relationship grew fractured because of Deflategate. Outside of the NFL, Kraft also recently purchased a stake in the UFC.
Job: ESPN television personality
It's easy to lambaste Smith and his brash style, and some of his takes are certainly deserving of scorn. Nonetheless, Smith's opinions and sound bites still carry weight today. He's one of a handful of people in the media that professional athletes call out by name, and even if he no longer has Skip Bayless across the desk to argue with, Stephen A. is still one of the most recognizable names — and voices — in sports today and is arguably the face of ESPN.
Job: President, CEO, and co-owner of the New York Giants
Mara is his family's third generation owner of the Giants, he currently serves on the NFL Competition Committee, and he currently chairs the NFL Management Council Executive Committee. The Giants have won two Super Bowls since he became CEO in 2005, and among owners Mara is believed to lead the old-guard faction that often butts heads with the likes of Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenke.
Job: President of Fox Sports National Networks
Before he landed at Fox, Horowitz helped shape the polarizing "Embrace Debate" philosophy that ESPN has adopted. He created "First Take", and at Fox has brought over high-profile, controversial sports pundits (and former ESPN talent) like Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless, and Jason Whitlock. If FS1 does challenge ESPN, as Horowitz has said he intends to, he will be the driving force of that war. At the very least he is single-handedly driving up salaries for top on-air personalities as the two networks bid for their services.
Job: Los Angeles Clippers owner
Ballmer's more than just your average insanely enthusiastic billionaire sports owner. He also changed the way sports franchises are valued after he purchased the Clippers in 2014 for a whopping $2 billion. That price was more than four times greater than the next highest basketball franchise sale ($550 million for the Bucks), and as the NBA's stock continues to rise, Ballmer is becoming one of the most important (and, yes, enthusiastic) owners.
Job: CEO, International Speedway
As part of the third generation of the first family in NASCAR, Kennedy is one of the most powerful people in all of auto racing. Not only is she in charge of International Speedway, which owns and operates 13 top motorsports venues, she also serves on the board of NASCAR. Her son, Ben Kennedy, is an up-and-coming stock car driver.
Job: Under Armour founder and CEO
Since founding Under Armour 10 years ago, Plank has grown his athletic apparel into a juggernaut. Not only is it Nike's biggest competitor, it also boasts a line-up of athletes arguably more impressive than Nike. Cam Newton, Stephen Curry, Bryce Harper, Jordan Spieth, Michael are all Under Armour athletes, and starting in 2020, Under Armour will become the official uniform of Major League Baseball.
Job: Super agent
Boras remains the biggest agent in sports, particularly in baseball. The contracts that Boras has helped his clients negotiate are all stunners — from A-Rod's first contract with the Yankees in '03 to, just last year, a $210 million deal for Max Scherzer. Bryce Harper could be the next big-leaguer to sign a mammoth deal thanks to Boras, and rumors have it that Harper will be looking for $400 million.
Job: MLB Senior Vice-President for Baseball Operations
Ng is one of the highest-ranking executives in baseball and has held positions in the Dodgers and Yankees front offices. In 2001, she was a finalist to become the Dodgers GM, which would have made her the first female general manager in one of the four major North American sports leagues. Now she reports directly to Joe Torre, and is regularly floated as a favorite whenever a new GM job opens up.
Job: Dallas Mavericks owner
Cuban has owned the Mavs since 2000, and during that stretch they've won a title and remained a playoff mainstay. This year may be something of a rebuilding year for the Mavs, but Cuban is still one of the most outspoken owners in any sport and his opinion is highly respected on all topics in sports. So long as Cuban doesn't venture into politics by 2020, the Mavs should soon be back to their winning ways, and Cuban will continue to be on the sidelines, barking away at the refs.
Job: Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations
Epstein ended the curse in Boston, and this year he did it in Chicago. The brilliant front office man built a dominant team at Wrigley Field and finally — for the first time since 1908 — brought the North-Siders a World Series. His Moneyball, advanced analytics mind is also the norm in the big leagues these days.
Job: Kroenke Sports Enterprises owner
Between Arsenal, the Nuggets, and the Rams, Kroenke has always been one of the most powerful people in sports. But 2016 in particular saw Kroenke flex his muscles when he successfully moved the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles by convincing NFL ownership to approve his $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, California. The Chargers are expected to move in as tenants this season.
Job: NHL Commissioner
Bettman has been in charge of the NHL since 1993, making him the longest-tenured commissioner of the four major sports in North America. His time as hockey's boss has been filled with its share of highs and lows (three lockouts) and although the NHL may be a distant fourth in terms of popularity, the sport is still growing and revenue is on the rise.
Job: WWE Chairman and CEO
Feast your eyes on WWE's own description of McMahon: "He’s the boss, big cheese, head honcho, high muck-a-muck, top dog, man upstairs, taskmaster, ringleader and kingpin all rolled into one." That about sums it up. What we'd add: McMahon took pro wrestling from a niche sport to a massive, billion-dollar business that continues to thrive and grow today.
Job: Owner, Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are sneakily one of the most fun teams in the NBA, and Jordan Brand recently locked down a massive deal with Michigan's sports teams as the Nike subsidiary continues to venture outside of basketball. When the NBA and its players union agreed to a new CBA this month, MJ reportedly played a huge role in the negotiations.
Job: Dallas Cowboys owner
The Cowboys are the most popular franchise in football, and thanks to rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott they might also be the best team. Jones has owned and operated America's Team since 1989, and in the past decade he's built a massive new stadium and practice facility for his team. Behind the scenes, he is the NFL's most powerful owner and the reason the Rams moved to Los Angeles.
Job: UFC President
White became president when the Fertitta brothers bought UFC in 2001, and in that short time mixed martial arts as a whole has exploded. Even with household names like Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey White remains the face of the fast-growing sport. When WME bought UFC over the summer for a reported $4 billion, White made out like a bandit and is now worth roughly $300 million. UFC is getting bigger ever year, and White shows no signs of stepping away from the sport any time soon.
Job: NBA Players Association executive director
Roberts built her reputation as a trial lawyer, and before taking over Billy Hunter's job running the NBAPA in 2014, she worked for the notable law firm Skadden. At the helm of the NBAPA, Roberts has succeeded in giving NBA players better contracts and, just this year, avoided a lockout by helping negotiate a new CBA.
Job: Nike founder
Knight built Nike into the biggest sports brand in the world, and now has personally donated so much money to Oregon's athletic department that it has quickly become one of the NCAA's most dominant programs. That success has single-handedly changed the way sports are run at both the college and professional level as more and more teams have reimagined their "brand" both on and off the field.
Job: MLB commissioner
Manfred has worked for MLB since the late 80s, and in 2014 took over for longtime commissioner Bud Selig. Manfred's task has not been an easy one: baseball is far behind the NFL and NBA in terms of popularity — especially among younger fans. Pace of the game has been one of Manfred's top priorities, as has better embracing technology, and strengthening player relations. Ultimately, if ever season has an end as dramatic as this year's, MLB will be just fine.
Job: ESPN president
The Worldwide Leader is struggling through some turbulent times, as top talent has departed for other networks and subscription rates continue to fall. Still, Skipper remains one of the most powerful people in all of TV and in all of sports; even during this hard stretch, ESPN is still far and away the most important sports media company around.
Job: NCAA president
Emmert has been at the helm of the NCAA since 2010, and over that stretch the argument over amateurism and whether college players should be paid has steadily grown louder in the public conversation. Emmert has also navigated several mayor scandals, from Penn. State to, just this year, Baylor. As a non-profit, though, the NCAA regularly tops $1 billion in revenue.
Job: NBA Commissioner
Silver took over from David Stern in early 2014, and in a little less than three years has quickly become the most popular commissioner in sports. Seriously! He handled the Donald Sterling situation with the Clippers seamlessly, and he swiftly negotiated a new CBA with the players union so as to avoid a lockout. No sport is more popular among young fans than the NBA, and Silver — himself young and tech savvy — is the perfect commissioner to lead the league into the future.
Job: NFL commissioner
Say what you will about the NFL or about Goodell, but it's hard to argue that the NFL commish is anything other than one of the most powerful people in the U.S. today. Football ratings are down this season, the NFL has rightly been criticized for its strict no-fun policies, and it continues to struggle with its handling of domestic violence and head injuries. And yet, more people continue tune into NFL games than any other sport, and Goodell continues to make boat loads of money for the league — and for its owners. There is simply no one more powerful than him.