The factors considered for power on this list are the ability to drive and shape the proverbial sports conversation, commanding audience metrics, influence in helping or developing others’ careers, replaceability (or, more specifically, lack thereof), value on the open market, and significance of one’s platform. For executives or other movers and shakers, we tried to gauge their pecking order in the aggregate marketplace. We also opted not to include league commissioners, but it wouldn’t be that difficult for you to close your eyes and imagine where they would rank on here. We’ve got 75 names here, some of them grouped together in one listing, going down in groups from 40 to 1.
40. Matthew Berry (ESPN)
Fantasy football is huge, and Berry is on the top of the mountain with massive separation. It would be fascinating to know how many fantasy football players alter their lineups – and pockets – based off what Berry says. Digitally he is a hit. His podcast is one of ESPN’s most listened-to. At least in September 2015 when ESPN publicized the data, seven of their ten highest trafficked posts that month were via fantasy football. Berry would be one of the harder talents for ESPN to replace.
39. Mike Francesa (WFAN) and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo (SiriusXM)
Mike and the Mad Dog would have more power together, but remain influential separated. Love him or loathe him, it must be acknowledged that Francesa remains the most powerful voice in New York City sports, though his radio dominance has begun to wane considerably. The way WFAN just took him back tells you all you need to know about what he means to the city and the network. Mad Dog hosts one of, if not the best, national radio shows and is an important factor in the baseball conversation. He has a channel named after him on Sirius XM that has a nice community of listeners who track the personalities throughout the day.
38. Whit Albohm & Charlie Dixon (FS1)
Dixon (EVP Content) and Albohm (VP and Executive Producer) oversee Undisputed and The Herd, which have continued to grow audience this football season, now 1.5 years after Jamie Horowitz exited the network. The challenge from here is to keep the growth going — what is their ceiling in the next couple years; 300k viewers per day? 350k? Higher? — and hope for shows like First Things First, Speak for Yourself, and Lock It In, which have not yet been as successful, to follow suit. The optimist’s view is that as FOX Sports continues to ad premium live events (WWE Smackdown is coming later this year to the broadcast network; could SEC football or the NHL be possibilities down the road?) that serve as large-scale promotional vessels, these non Skip/Colin shows could develop long-term sustainable audiences.
37. Big Cat and PFT Commenter (Barstool Sports)
It is a rarity now in sports media to reach the level of notoriety Big Cat and PFT Commenter have without it being the product of polarization with an audience split between love and hate. Pardon My Take is widely successful and they have become two of the most influential sports personalities online. Big Cat recently launched a podcast with A-Rod, and PFT now has a radio show that leads into Big Cat’s on SiriusXM; he also plays guitar in a pop punk band that Barstool launched called Pup Punk, which has drawn a pretty substantial live audience for shows in New York and Boston. Given their age, following, stardom, and where the business is heading, they have tremendous value in the industry.
36. Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Chris Fowler (ESPN)
Fowler and Herbstreit call the college football’s national championship, and Davis is the preeminently respected host of ESPN’s college football and college basketball coverage, as well as the NBA Draft. College Gameday, which Herbstreit appears on, Fowler used to host, and Davis currently hosts, remains a revered institution. Combined, the three have logged over 75 years at ESPN.
35. Paul Finebaum & Jay Bilas (ESPN)
Paul Finebaum and Jay Bilas are arguably the most influential voices on college football and basketball respectively. Finebaum has a huge impact on the most important region in the sport. People listen to Bilas on not only what he says about college basketball on the court, but off the court as well. They are two truly untouchable voices.
34. Rachel Nichols (ESPN)
While ESPN pays more for the NFL, it could be argued that in terms of tonnage the NBA is ESPN’s most important property. Rachel Nichols is one of the most — if not the most — prominent voices in their coverage. What is so telling is that Nichols has had this impact while not even being a part of the network’s bumper programming (The Jump arguably has more relevance than NBA Countdown). Recently, she has sat down with LeBron James, Mark Cuban, and Jimmy Butler in interviews that shifted the days’ sports talk conversation. The Jump, a show she has editorial control over, is considered a ratings success and a vehicle that has allowed several other talents at the network, like Jorge Sedano, Ramona Shelburne and Nick Friedell to elevate their stature.
33. Mike Florio & Peter King (NBC)
The two NBC writers are unavoidable and often create the conversation. Florio’s blog, ProFootballTalk, is a daily must-read for everybody who is plugged into the NFL. Especially given that he is writing for a league broadcast partner, he has maintained a remarkable edge. King, who joined NBC from his longtime perch at Sports Illustrated in 2018, remains the best at getting high profile football players, coaches, and executive to speak on the record in his Monday morning column.
32. Lenny Daniels & Matt Hong (Turner Sports)
Daniels was promoted to President of Turner Sports in 2014, and Hong, the COO, has been with the company since 2008. The group recently acquired rights to the UEFA Champions League, to complement Turner’s coverage of the NBA, MLB, NCAA Tournament, and more. It will be interesting to observe how they continue to build out Bleacher Report and the BR Live OTT platform in the coming years.
31. Tim Corrigan, Mike Breen (ESPN)
Corrigan is in charge ESPN’s NBA game production. In a very rare occurrence for an executive of that stature, he also gets in the truck and produces the NBA Finals, conference finals, Saturday ABC primetime showcases, and other major ESPN NBA games himself. Breen, the voice of these events (in addition to the Knicks on MSG), does a tremendous job with them. Breen and Corrigan are tethered.