NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is the most influential person in the sports business world, according to the latest annual list from SportsBusiness Daily, released Monday. Silver jumped from the No. 3 spot on last year’s list, which he shared with then-commissioner David Stern.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell fell from No. 2 in 2013 to the No. 5 spot – behind No. 3-ranked New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft – after weathering criticism this year for poor handling of a series of scandals. ESPN President John Skipper ranked second, while outgoing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and his replacement, Rob Manfred, tied for fourth.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman earned the lowest rank among chief executives of the United States’ four major sports, though his No. 9 ranking was an improvement over his previous mark at No. 11. Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James and team owner Dan Gilbert were each ranked 26th, the first time an active athlete earned a spot on the annual list, ESPN’s Darren Rovell notes. Last year's No. 1, Fox Networks Group President and COO Randy Freer, fell to No. 12 on this year's list despite Fox Sports 1's highest ratings to date.
Silver took over for Stern last February and quickly asserted himself as a worthy successor. In his first major test as commissioner, Silver took decisive action in February against former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was banned from the league for life and forced to sell his franchise after making racist comments. Congress praised Silver’s “clear message” against racism in a May letter that urged Goodell to ban use of the Redskins team name.
The list cited Silver’s business acumen as another major factor in establishing his influence in the sports world. Silver oversaw the signing of the NBA’s new $24 billion media rights deal in October, as well as the record-setting $2 billion sale of the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this summer. He also became the first major leader of a professional sports league to speak out in favor of legalized sports betting in November, a major departure from the NBA’s previous stance on the matter.
Goodell’s perceived mishandling of ongoing controversies related to concussion safety, domestic violence cases involving NFL stars Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, and continued use of the Redskins name led some to call for his resignation in recent months. The No. 5 ranking is Goodell’s lowest mark since his first year as commissioner in 2006. SportsBusiness Daily’s 50 Most Influential list for 2014 can be viewed here.