20. Howard Katz (NFL)
Katz is responsible for putting together the most valuable jigsaw puzzle on the planet — the NFL schedule. In doling out the matchups to the league’s rights partners, he has a heavy hand in determining how the networks’ respective ratings will go. In 2017, Peter King described Katz’s scheduling process.
19. Peter Chernin, Dave Portnoy & Erika Nardini (Barstool Sports)
Since Peter Chernin acquired a majority stake in Barstool, and Erika Nardini became the CEO, Dave Portnoy’s former newspaper has become a serious player in sports media and is now worth over $100 million. They have a young, passionate fanbase and a multi-faceted revenue stream that enables them not to have to rely solely on ad money, such as apparel, live events, PPV, and even the amateur boxing promotion Rough N Rowdy. Subscription content is on the way. While the company garners a lot of criticism, Barstool has created a large number of jobs, and has given people college-aged the opportunity to prove their worth and have a career in media. Portnoy made it clear he wants the company to be out in front of the sports gambling gold rush. Combining that with the Action Network, Chernin could be in a position to control a large portion of the sports gambling content marketplace on the internet.
18. Dan Le Batard (ESPN) and Colin Cowherd (FOX Sports)
Arguably the two top sports radio hosts in the country not only have power with their own leverage, but also when it comes to backstage promotions. While they clearly have very different styles, Colin Cowherd and Dan Le Batard are also two of the most valuable people in the industry. Their successful three-hour shows also create buzz on social media and are massively successful in the podcast market. Le Batard, whose chemistry with his co-host Jon “Stugotz” Weiner is phenomenal, has freedom few have at ESPN, and Cowherd is tight with the suits at FOX. They have both used their platforms to elevate up and coming on-air talents; like Mina Kimes and Pablo Torre at ESPN on LeBatard’s show; Cowherd has done the same with Nick Wright, Jason McIntyre and Joy Taylor on his show. In addition to radio, Le Batard co-hosts Highly Questionable with his father Papi, and Colin appears on FOX NFL Kickoff during football season.
17. Sandy Montag (The Montag Group)
Montag — who reps some of the biggest names in sports media like John Madden, Scott Van Pelt, Jim Nantz, Mike Tirico, Marv Albert, Dick Vitale, and more — left WME-IMG in 2016 to form The Montag Group. He’s since merged with Steve Herz’s IF Management. With a number of other agents under the umbrella as well, The Montag Group reps over 200 broadcasting clients. According to John Ourand, the agency is partnering with Stadium to produce a series in which prominent sports broadcasters are interviewed.
16. Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant (ESPN) and A-Rod (ESPN, FOX Sports, & Barstool)
Manning and Bryant two are legends in their respective sports, and could jump into game or studio broadcasting in a nanosecond if they were inclined. Manning was particularly sought after last NFL offseason, when ESPN and FOX both tried to lure him for color commentary. The Detail series, launched on ESPN+ by Kobe last season and to which Manning has been a contributor this football season, often generates headlines. A-Rod wielded his power to get Matt Vasgersian alongside him in the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball booth, is great in the studio for FOX, and co-hosts an interview podcast with Dan Katz for Barstool.
15. Erik Rydholm (Rydholm Projects, Inc.)
Rydholm, who owns his own production company, oversees four shows in two hours of ESPN’s late afternoon block — High Noon, Highly Questionable, Around the Horn (produced by Aaron Solomon), and Pardon the Interruption. The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, produced by Lorenzo Rodriguez, is also in the umbrella. Rydholm is beloved by the people he works with, and has created an island of programming that was otherwise unheard of at ESPN.
14. Norby Williamson and Stephanie Druley (ESPN)
Williamson and Druley combine to run studio and event production at ESPN. Norby, who has been at ESPN since 1985, engineered what the Washington Post referred to as the “Make SportsCenter Great Again” campaign — a re-focus on news and highlights and an emphasis on politics avoidance. Druley was a big winner in the aforementioned ESPN reorganization, earning a promotion to the executive vice president level.
13. Connor Schell, Burke Magnus, & Justin Connolly (ESPN)
John Skipper’s three no. 2’s remain with ESPN under Jimmy Pitaro. Schell is the company’s content czar, which gives him oversight of all the studio shows and live sporting broadcasts. He has the power to get talent deals done and ensure careers are promoted. Magnus negotiates the live rights with the leagues, and Connolly is responsible for negotiating ESPN’s carriage fees with cable companies. Even with ESPN delving into OTT streaming with ESPN+, it is of paramount importance to the company’s future for Connolly to deliver affiliate fee increases that outpace subscriber losses going forward.
12. Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser (ESPN)
Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser star in the highest rated sports television show that isn’t led into by games and on most days it is not close. Along with the dominating the ratings, it is the best show. Almost every show and duo has taken something from or has been influenced by PTI. As great as the format is, it does not work without Mike and Tony together. If just one of them is off for the day, the show is drastically worse. They’re such veterans in the sports discussion that if they were walking down the street, they would be more recognizable to the public than all but, say, 15 NFL players.
11. Stephen A. Smith and Scott Van Pelt (ESPN)
Stephen A. Smith and Scott Van Pelt are the undisputed faces of the most prominent sports network (in that order). Stephen A. is impossible to miss when consuming ESPN in any way at any time during the day. First Take remains a ratings success, a cash cow, and the most talked about daily sports show. He is the biggest star in the business and moves the needle second to none. SVP does not see the headlines but follows ESPN’s most important properties and is having an impact on SportsCenter that has not been seen since the days of Patrick and Olbermann. Given it was the success of Van Pelt’s show that led to ESPN creating SC6 and Get Up, he now has even more juice as it was proven not just anyone can have success in that role.