10. Joe Buck (FOX Sports)
In a hypothetical draft with all networks selecting sports media talents, we think that Joe Buck would be the first overall pick. He is the voice of the World Series, the Super Bowl every three years, and the U.S. Open. He is the best in the world at what he does and enhances each FOX property he is featured on. Buck’s voice, which is the best in the business, is ingrained in sports’ fans memories with several of the biggest football and baseball moments of the past decade with the Cubs 2016 World Series victory standing out.
9. Ari Emanuel/Mark Shapiro (Endeavor)
If this list were ranking aggregate power, Emanuel and Shapiro (and Emanuel’s co-CEO at Endeavor Patrick Whitesell) would arguably be as high as no. 2 due to Endeavor’s prowess in Hollywood — which is not to say by any stretch of the imagination that they are a nonentity in sports and sports media. Endeavor owns the UFC, and as a talent agency represents a number of very big names in sports and sports media, including Kobe Bryant, Michael Strahan, and A-Rod.
8. Nick Khan (CAA)
Khan has for years represented many of the biggest names in sports media, including Kirk Herbstreit, Colin Cowherd, Skip Bayless, Rachel Nichols, Rece Davis, Max Kellerman, Adam Schefter, Sage Steele, and more. He also oversees a group of other agents, who combine to represent dozens more top talents in the industry. Khan has also begun negotiating major live rights deals — he did the Top Rank deal with ESPN, Tiger vs. Phil with Turner, and tripled WWE’s television revenue in new deals with FOX and NBC Universal. He will be leading the rights sales of the SEC football game of the week, which is likely to go for at least several multiples of what CBS is currently paying, and the XFL. He is pictured on the right in this photo:
7. David Levy (Turner)
Turner is in a little bit of limbo because the AT&T/Time Warner merger has been held up in the courts, but Levy still has an immense amount of power in the sports media business. Turner splits the NBA with ESPN, and the NCAA Tournament with CBS. They also have the UEFA Champions League and have dabbled in eSports with ELEAGUE. One thing that will be interesting to see with Turner is whether they hold onto their MLB Playoff package; ESPN is expected to be an aggressive bidder there.
6. Sean McManus (CBS) and Mark Lazarus (NBC)
McManus and Lazarus both have an invaluable tool at their disposal in comparison to Levy: broadcast networks. As cord cutting continues to be a concern in the industry, CBS and NBC are in 30+ million more homes than cable networks. According to FOX executive Michael Mulvihill, NBC, which had the Super Bowl and Winter Olympics, led all networks in minutes of sports viewed in 2018. CBS came in fourth, behind NBC, FOX, and ESPN.
5. LeBron James & Maverick Carter (SpringHill Entertainment)
You could not sneeze in 2018 without a new story coming out about a film or TV package that was being developed by LeBron James and Maverick Carter. Right now, everyone in the industry wants to work with them, and we could cut out some middlemen by just giving them a $100 bill printing press. It will be interesting to observe if this remains the case in a couple years when these projects have come to fruition and we discern their quality and whether or not they were successful.
4. Vince McMahon (WWE) and Dana White (UFC)
Vince McMahon and Dana White make stars and careers leading the two combat sports/entertainment behemoths. They both recently inked game-changing deals. McMahon’s deal with FOX to air SmackDown on Fridays will see it serve as a promotional vehicle for the broadcast network’s other live sporting events, and presumably will be promoted on these games as well (Joe Buck doing an ad read for WWE during the World Series might make Twitter explode). The XFL is coming to market soon as well. ESPN’s muscles can make the UFC a focal point on ESPN+ and help promote their stars that the UFC relies on.
3. Eric Shanks & Mark Silverman (FOX Sports)
Shanks and Silverman have a very exciting next few years ahead as FOX continues to heighten its focus on live sporting events. The first year of Thursday Night Football was a major success, and FOX will add WWE Smackdown to its lineup this Fall. As we mentioned earlier, we are interested to see if FOX gets involved in the bidding for NHL rights and the SEC football package that is currently on CBS. Early last year, Silverman was promoted from being leader of the Big Ten Network to President of national networks for FOX Sports, giving him oversight of production of FS1, FS2, and FOX studio shows and live events.
2. Jimmy Pitaro (ESPN) and Kevin Mayer (Disney)
Jimmy Pitaro was named President of ESPN in March, and has had a very productive year. The biggest focus of his tenure thus far has been improving the network’s frayed relations with the NFL. This year’s Monday Night Football slate had a bigger % ratings increase than any other network’s, most significantly because of the dynamite Chiefs-Rams game. It will be interesting to see if that momentum continues, and whether ESPN/ABC can wedge their way into the Super Bowl rotation in the next rights deal. Mayer, as Disney’s chairman of direct-to-consumer, oversees ESPN+, the OTT streaming platform that is a key component of ESPN’s future strategy.
1. Rupert Murdoch (FOX) and Bob Iger (Disney)
Disney’s acquisition of FOX’s entertainment assets will be enormous as the Mouse builds out a streaming platform to compete with Netflix. With his family as reportedly the second largest Disney shareholder behind Vanguard, Murdoch has played a role in placing some of his longtime lieutenants including Peter Rice into the company. Between FOX, FS1, ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC, Murdoch and Iger combine to control an inordinate amount of the market share of live sports, as well as the conversation about sports. It’s a fascinating dynamic that these two men are both partners and competitors when you think about all of the live rights their two companies control and/or will be bidding to keep or acquire during the next cycle.
In disclosure, The Big Lead’s editor-in-chief Jason McIntyre is an on-air personality on FS1.