As the economic recovery continues across the sports business, the definition of influence in the industry is evolving. The growth of sports betting and cryptocurrency is evidence of that. In 2021, the importance of mental health emerged as a major storyline, and calling out abuse of those in power resulted in much change across one league.
These aspects of the sports industry are reflected in our 2021 list of the Most Influential People in Sports Business. After not including rankings in 2020 — a nod to the tumultuous year — we return to a ranking, but unlike what we undertook in the past.
In the pages ahead, you will find our No. 1 overall ranking along with top influencers in categories ranging from industry drivers to media influencers. Within the seven categories are individuals and groups whose influence was noteworthy in 2021.
Stories by Mark J. Burns, Josh Carpenter, Ben Fischer, Bill King, Terry Lefton, Bret McCormick, Liz Mullen, John Ourand, Chris Smith, Michael Smith and Adam Stern.
Past No. 1 rankings: 2004 — Paul Tagliabue (NFL); 2005, 2006, 2008 — George Bodenheimer (ESPN/ABC); 2007 — Brian Roberts (Comcast); 2009 — Jacques Rogge (IOC); 2010, 2019 — Roger Goodell (NFL); 2011 — Steve Burke (NBCUniversal); 2012 — John Skipper (ESPN); 2013 — Randy Freer / Eric Shanks (Fox Sports); 2014, 2016 — Adam Silver (NBA); 2015. — Bob Iger (Disney); 2017 — Donald Trump; 2018 — The American Sports Gambler; 2021 — Michael Rubin (Fanatics).
Note: 2020 list was not ranked.