8 People Who Changed the Business of Winning in Sports
Sports is a business, and in business there are winners and losers.
The purpose of this article is to focus on eight individuals who changed the business of winning with innovative thinking, a ton of skill and a dash of luck.
We have tried to diversify the list, presenting individuals from all walks of life. The common thread being that each person has turned sports into a form of winning while scorching the Earth they've walked on.
Take a closer look at the eight names we selected below.
For decades in Major League Baseball, the biggest issue on the table was payroll. Big-market clubs such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers spent gratuitous amounts of coin building their brand.
On the reverse side of things, you had mid-market teams such as the Oakland Athletics, who were forced to compete with other means. Billy Beane helped changed the way teams did business, using advanced analytics to construct his roster.
The A's executive vice president of baseball operations and minority owner became synonymous with the term "moneyball." It was his calling card. Adjusting dollars to ensure the right players were on the field with math and guts.
"Beane made baseball better, dramatically better. All these years later, almost everyone agrees on that part of the deal. He offered hope—not to mention a blueprint—to all the teams that may have wondered if they'd ever again be able to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox and other big-market teams," Richard Justice of MLB.com wrote.
Despite the A's not capturing a championship under Beane's leadership, they always competed at a high level. And what he did for the game more than anything else was to change the business aspect of professional sports. It proved lavish spending wasn't the be-all and end-all.
Being LeBron James has been good for business.
As the greatest single asset in basketball today, James has radically elevated two separate marketplaces—Miami and Cleveland. He has also become the league's greatest sneaker resource since Michael Jordan and, in the process, has inked a lifetime deal with Nike, rumored to be valued around $1 billion, per GQ.
The King's reach goes well beyond that. James' confidant and friend, Rich Paul, has become a powerful NBA sports agent, representing everyone from the Cavaliers star himself to John Wall.
Paul's Klutch Sports Group had earned $12.7 million in commissions as of September 2016, per Forbes. Even the pizza chain James put dollars beind, Blaze Pizza, is now the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the United States, according to Forbes' Kurt Badenhausen.
A common thread with changing business in a winning capacity is making your mark across multiple industries. LeBron has certainly accomplished that by the age of 32.
Scott Boras has earned his place in line when it comes to being a super agent, catering to baseball's biggest stars.
In 2016, Forbes' Jason Belzer estimated Boras had $2.2 billion in current deals on the kitchen counter.
There have been plenty of agents who have become dollar-sign magnets, but Boras is king. His company, Boras Corp, earned nearly $132 million in commissions for the calendar year of 2016, according to Belzer.
Boras has impacted the way free agents think about deals. That was elevated to new heights in December 2000, when his client, Alex Rodriguez, finalized a 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers.
Baseball was forever changed on that day while simultaneously proving Boras was a force to be reckoned with.
Pat Riley's fingerprints are all over the current landscape of the NBA. The superteam movement in many ways began with his mission in 2010 to bring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chrish Bosh together.
Riley's basketball lineage goes back to his days with the Los Angeles Lakers. As head coach of the biggest ticket in town, his slicked hair, cool demeanor and effortless swagger fit in perfectly with the Showtime mentality.
His coaching career spanned 24 seasons with three teams—the Lakers, New York Knicks and Miami Heat. But from a business perspective, it was his years as an executive for the Heat that qualified him for this list.
Riley helped facilitate three NBA titles in Miami by making splashy moves. First, he brought Shaquille O'Neal to South Beach for the 2005-06 season. He then lured James and Bosh during the summer of 2010 to team up with Wade.
These moves helped shift the medium in the NBA. Superteams are now part of the status quo, with major markets trying to outdo one another. In a lot of ways, Riley was part of this process.
The New York Yankees leaped into the free-agent period when George Steinbrenner gained control of the franchise in 1973.
With the team facing serious issues under the previous ownership group of CBS, Steinbrenner took the franchise in a different direction.
He used cash to bring free agents to the Bronx. In 1975, Catfish Hunter became the highest-paid player in baseball, cementing Steinbrenner's willingness to spend. His desire to spend money changed baseball.
It wasn't just a money thing. Steinbrenner altered how sports teams did business because of his passion for winning. He was in total control of his club, overseeing managerial and personnel decisions. The Boss didn't fear losing.
His vision for the Yankees succeeded, with the team grabbing multiple titles during his tenure as owner.
Michael Jordan has generally been revered as the greatest basketball player to walk the planet. His six NBA titles, countless clutch performances and, yes, sneaker legacy all helped him maintain a rabid following.
In the business world, MJ has also changed the landscape of sports, starting with his Nike dealings. The company grew exponentially because of Jordan. His signature line of kicks has remained the gold standard for footwear, with models from 1985 still being produced today.
Forbes contributor Matt Connolly broke down the numbers pertaining to Jordan's impact with Nike. One total that stands out is the $3 billion in Jordan Brand sneaker sales for 2015. His moniker alone counts for eight percent of Nike as a brand.
The business of winning has been part of Jordan's legacy. Whether that's by owning the Charlotte Hornets, conquering the footwear industry or winning championships with the Chicago Bulls, MJ remains a pivotal, transcendent figure.
Before Mark McCormack, the business of being a sports agent didn't have a concerted base for success. The American lawyer was the man who changed everything.
McCormack began his career by helping to turn Arnold Palmer into a media sensation. "Palmer, his first full-time client, saw his annual income of $50,000 rise to $500,000 within three years and eventually to more than $10 million," Frank Litsky of the New York Times wrote.
The Palmer move was the tip of the iceberg. After founding International Management Group, McCormack helped brand the agency into a billion-dollar business. Working with the likes of Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter among so many others, IMG was and remains a titan of business.
Perhaps more than anyone else on the business side of the sports industry, McCormack was the one man who dramatically altered the way athletes were marketed.
You can't have a conversation about changing sports in a winning capacity without mentioning Nike's Phil Knight. The co-founder of the sportswear company has become a power broker, generating a net worth of $26.6 billion, according to Kate Vinton of Forbes.
Knight turned Nike into the perennial sports company. His deals with Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Serena Williams and countless others have kept the Swoosh not only well above sea-level but also shoulder's length above its competition.
It doesn't matter where you turn, the brilliance of Knight can be felt all over sports. He was the first mainstream personality to turn athletes and franchises into marketing machines.
From footwear to apparel to endorsements with collegiate and professional programs, Knight remains the definition of winning.
His business sense and innovative products serve as the cornerstone of global sports.