1 ROGER GOODELL
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER][TASTEMAKER][SOCIAL SAVVY]
As de facto CEO of the King of All Sports Leagues—more than $9 billion in annual revenue; furnisher of many (O.K., most) of the highest-rated TV programs—the NFL commissioner wields considerable influence by dint of job title alone. But Goodell has consistently pushed, and sometimes trespassed, the boundaries of that authority. His overly swift and harsh dispensing of punishment in the Saints' Bountygate scandal represents one example. But here's another: In the same week last month that we learned of Goodell's $29.5 million salary for 2011 (that's $11.5 million more than Tom Brady that year), it was also reported that rookie Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard had been convicted of assaulting a police officer. And though the incident occurred while Dennard was still at Nebraska, many expect that he will be suspended by Goodell.
March 11, 2013
This 54-year-old commish is akin to the boxer who has more than power—he has reach too. Either you approve of him or, like 61% of NFL players in a recent USA Today poll, you disapprove of him. But like his league, his supremacy is unmistakable.
2 DAVID STERN
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER][70-PLUS][SOON-TO-RETIRE]
The longest-tenured commissioner in pro U.S. sports will retire next Feb. 1—30 years to the day after he took the job. But the 70-year-old is no lion in winter, as the Spurs were reminded when Stern fined them $250,000 for resting their top four players for a nationally televised game against the champion Heat in November.
Since 1983, the NBA's revenue has grown from $140 million to an estimated record of $5 billion for 2012--13 with the widest global imprint among the four major North American pro leagues. Stern has put the NBA at the forefront of digital and social media (16 million Facebook likes, seven million Twitter followers—the best among U.S. leagues) and has gotten tough on PEDs (HGH testing should be in place by next season).
Now, for his handpicked successor, Adam Silver (No. 18), Stern leaves contracts with ESPN and Turner Sports through 2015--16 as well as the sport's next big rivalry: Last year's Heat-Thunder, LeBron-Durant Finals drew the best ratings since '04. With the NFL, MLB and most NCAA rights locked in, Silver will have leverage for a huge increase, meaning that Stern's legacy will stand long after his time atop the hardwood throne ends.
3 PHILIP ANSCHUTZ
[BILLIONAIRE][TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][WORLD POWER][HERMIT][70-PLUS][FALLING]
In all likelihood it will be the blockbuster sports transaction of 2013. Anschutz, a Denver billionaire, announced last fall that, at 73, he's ready to sell AEG, the sports and entertainment division of his oil and gas business. AEG owns the Los Angeles Kings and Galaxy as well as a minority share in the Lakers; it owns or operates dozens of sports arenas and venues, from the O[subscript 2] in London to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn; and, maybe most important, it has the inside track on building the football stadium in downtown L.A. that will house an NFL team (or teams).
Almost pathologically reserved, Anschutz is happy to let AEG president Tim Leiweke serve as the front man. But it's Anschutz who will ultimately decide the buyer—Larry Ellison (No. 20) and Patrick Soon-Shiong, the wealthiest Angeleno, are the reported front-runners—and Anschutz who will decide the price (likely more than $10 billion). In turn he will decide plenty about the future of sports, especially in L.A., the No. 2 broadcast market in the States.
4 JOHN SKIPPER
He presides over a $42 billion empire, the engine that makes the Disney mouse roar: Last year his company took in $6 billion through subscription fees and almost $3 billion in ad revenue. Much of Skipper's power comes from the value of live sports (a.k.a., the last DVR-proof broadcasting), and the 57-year-old has wisely set up ESPN for the future as competition from Fox and NBC heats up. Last year the network extended its rights deals with both the NFL ($1.9 billion per season for eight years) and MLB ($700 million annually for eight years) while signing long-term renewals with the biggest cable companies. In college football ESPN remains the dominant TV player, televising all the BCS playoff and title games through the 2026 season (at $610 million a year).
Admired for championing Bill Simmons's Grantland website and for his extracurriculars (he teamed with Hillary Clinton to promote international efforts to empower women in sports), Skipper could easily be No. 1 on this list given ESPN's might.
5 BUD SELIG
In the twilight of his commissionership, the 78-year-old (who, like Stern, insists he'll retire in 2014) is leaving a significant imprint on his game. MLB negotiated eight-year deals in October with Fox and Turner Sports that doubled the previous payment to an average of $800 million annually; regional sports networks are proving a growth market; and the league is doing well in-house too, with attendance rising in '12 to 74.9 million, the highest since '08. (Unlike Stern's NBA, Selig's MLB lacks a thrilling climax: Last year's Giants-Tigers Fall Classic was the lowest-rated in history.)
As a policy guy, Selig and the MLBPA put together the toughest anti-PED policies in U.S. pro sports, and his addition of a second wild-card spot last season proved a success. But mostly his bosses love him for this: The average MLB team's value rose 16% last year, to an alltime high of $605 million, according to Forbes.
6 STAN KROENKE
Kroenke Sports Enterprises owner
[BILLIONAIRE][TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][WORLD POWER][HERMIT]
The reticent real-estate mogul could go unrecognized on the main drag of any town. But as the owner of the Rams, Nuggets, Avalanche, Rapids and most of Arsenal, Kroenke, 65, has more holdings devoted to sports properties ($4 billion) than anyone else on the planet. Dinging his stock: Arsenal's recent slide (leading to rumors of a takeover) and, when it comes to America's biggest sport, his Rams are still, well, the Rams.
7 MARK LAZARUS
NBC Sports chairman
[TASTEMAKER][BROADCAST/MEDIA][WORLD POWER][50 & UNDER]
Lazarus, 49, has earned favored-nation status with Comcast boss Brian Roberts thanks to record viewership for NBC's London Olympic coverage and the continued dominance of Sunday Night Football. Now he has the postlockout NHL and the English Premier League in August. If those improve the NBC Sports Network's weak ratings, he'll move up this list.
8 JACQUES ROGGE
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER][70-PLUS][SOON-TO-RETIRE]
After a dozen years as Overlord of the Rings, this 70-year-old former Olympic sailor is still making headway despite his pokey, tack-upwind style and lame-duck status (he's out in September): the Games in South America (Rio), women representing every country and a $558 million cash reservoir, which means that the Games could go on even after a sponsor-chilling calamity.
9 PHIL KNIGHT
President and CEO Mark Parker runs the day-to-day operations, but cofounder Knight, 75, remains the face of the apparel and equipment giant with a market cap of $49 billion and $3.2 billion committed to sports endorsements. Nike bested Reebok to become the NFL's apparel maker for the next four years, and his pet project—donating hundreds of millions to Oregon athletics—has turned the Ducks into a powerhouse.
10 HEDGE-FUND DUDE
[BILLIONAIRE][TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][TECH-CENTRIC][50 & UNDER][RISING]
A few fat years under the 2/20 structure—taking 2% of assets under management and 20% of profits—and you become dizzyingly wealthy. And is there a cooler rich-guy plaything than a pro team? (They even appreciate in value!) Among the inaugural Forbes 400 list in 1982, nine entrants owned teams. Last year: 32. Speaking of which....
11 MARK WALTER
Guggenheim Partners CEO and Dodgers owner
He's the guy behind last year's $2.1 billion deal for the Dodgers, the most for a franchise in any sport, and while he's redefining the baseball world (the Yankees are no longer the highest-spending team in the majors), he has bigger plans for the entire sports landscape: The 52-year-old private equity investor is making a play for AEG.
12 ROBERT KRAFT
While transforming a perennial sad sack into a model franchise and three-time Super Bowl champ (to say nothing of his New England Revolution, four-time MLS Cup finalists), Kraft, 71, made himself invaluable to the NFL with his work on its broadcast, finance and compensation committees. And as an owner trusted by players, his consensus-building and shuttle diplomacy were keys to resolving the 2011 lockout. "Without him," praised then Colts center Jeff Saturday, "this deal does not get done."
13 SEAN MCMANUS
CBS Sports chairman
McManus, 58, runs a conservative but steady shop, with long-term deals in place with the NFL (through 2022) and the PGA Tour ('21), as well as the most extensive and far-reaching network-cable sports deal ever created: a partnership with Turner Sports to air the NCAA men's basketball tournament through '24. Like Lazarus, though, McManus's upward mobility depends on his expanding his net's recently rebranded 24/7 cable channel, the CBS Sports Network.
14 MICHAEL DOLAN
IMG Worldwide CEO
[WORLD POWER][JERRY MAGUIRE][FALLING][TASTEMAKER]
The low-key 65-year-old with a Ph.D. in English lit from Cornell holds the most vital role in a sports-marketing empire featuring more than 3,000 employees in 30-some countries and a diverse client roster that ranges from Novak Djokovic to supermodel Kate Upton. IMG is a force in college athletics too—its Collegiate Licensing Co. exercises the rights for nearly 200 schools, conferences and bowl games. Worth watching: The company is up for sale and could fetch more than $2 billion.
15 ERIC SHANKS
Fox Sports copresident
[TASTEMAKER][BROADCAST/MEDIA][WORLD POWER][50 & UNDER]
The network best positioned to challenge ESPN will launch cable channels Fox Sports 1 and 2 in August, broadcasting from a blue-chip inventory that includes the NFL, MLB, NCAA football, NASCAR and international soccer. Heading this up are copresidents Randy Freer and his more visible frontman, 41-year-old Shanks, who last month made the risky move of announcing that popular broadcaster Gus Johnson would be groomed as the voice of the company's newly acquired World Cup 2018. (Here's hoping Gus grows into the gig.)
16 SEPP BLATTER
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER][70-PLUS]
He presides over an outfit widely viewed as corrupt and has a history of tone-deaf comments, but the World Cup remains the crown jewel of global sporting events, and this 76-year-old bestrides it. Bonus points for staying power: The Machiavellian Swiss strongman has been president since 1998, not least because the last two elections have offered just one candidate—Sepp Blatter.
17 MIKE SLIVE
The 72-year-old former judge has a stoic courtroom demeanor, but it's hard for him not to smile: He earned almost $1.6 million in 2011; he led the movement for a college football playoff; and the SEC just won its seventh straight BCS title. With Bama favored to win number 8, and with a new TV deal (including an SEC Network) projected to reap more than $400 million, Slive may be grinning even more.
18 ADAM SILVER
NBA deputy commissioner
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER][RISING][50 & UNDER]
He will become the NBA's next commish on Feb. 1, and acclimating should be easy. A former lawyer who's spent 21 years with the league (the past seven as Stern's deputy), Silver, 50, has done much more than read the names of second-round draft picks: He helped negotiate the last three CBAs and two TV deals, often joking that he had the second-best job in the world. Soon, by his reckoning, he'll have the best.
19 JERRY JONES
No owner gets the biz side of sports like Jones, 70, who pushed through construction of the 110,000-capacity Jones Mahal (a.k.a. Cowboys Stadium) and presides over what Forbes deems America's most valuable sports franchise ($2.1 billion). Despite on-field mediocrity of late, Dallas is by far the league's most profitable team. Now, if only owner Jones would fire G.M. Jones.
20 LARRY ELLISON
[BILLIONAIRE][TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][WORLD POWER][COMMERCE][TECH-CENTRIC][RISING]
The third-wealthiest American (estimate: $41 billion) has turned his attention to sports of late. The 68-year-old software magnate is almost single-handedly keeping yachting and the America's Cup afloat (his Team Oracle USA is a favorite in 2013); he owns tennis's "fifth Grand Slam," Indian Wells; and while he failed in his recent bid to buy the Warriors, look for him to chase more sports properties soon.
21 RICHARD SCUDAMORE
Barclays Premier League CEO
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER][RISING]
The 53-year-old head of the world's most-watched sports league (4.7 billion annually, including countless soccer-loving hipsters Stateside) has overseen rampant growth in the past 14 years, with 212 countries and territories now airing top-tier English soccer. In the U.S., NBC Sports recently dropped $250 million for the next three years of rights.
22 BERNIE ECCLESTONE
Formula One president and CEO
[BILLIONAIRE][TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER][70-PLUS]
A 2011 London tabloid headline: Q. When is Bernie Ecclestone taller than his wife? A. When he stands on his wallet. Referred to as "F1 supremo," the diminutive 82-year-old British billionaire shaped modern Grand Prix racing and controls a sport that Formula Money reports as having $1.7 billion in annual revenue and more than 500 million TV viewers worldwide.
23 SCOTT BORAS
[JERRY MAGUIRE][HAS NUCLEAR CODES]
It's been 13 years since A-Rod's $252 million deal, and Boras, 60, remains the greatest negotiator in sports. (The Giants are still not sure how he got them to spend $126 million on lefty Barry Zito.) Few nonplayers have influenced baseball more over the past three decades than the superagent who got star ballplayers to be paid like hedge-fund managers.
24 KEVIN PLANK
Under Armour CEO
[BILLIONAIRE][TASTEMAKER][WORLD POWER][COMMERCE][RISING][50 & UNDER]
When Nike big shots look over their shoulders, they see Under Armour's 40-year-old CEO. Sure, the company's $2 billion in 2012 sales are less than one tenth of the swoosh's, but Under Armour has next-gen cred with its innovative products and young consumers. Plank counts Bryce Harper, Cam Newton and UFC's Georges St.-Pierre among his endorsers, and in '12 he broke into the trendy EPL by outfitting Tottenham Hotspur.
25 TIM FINCHEM
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER]
He had the good fortune of presiding over the Tiger Woods era, when even the Tour's journeymen got rich, but the 65-year-old's legacy is a global strategy: Finchem served as midwife to the Presidents Cup and World Golf Championships while leading the charge to get the sport back in the Olympics. Sorry, wrestling fans.
26 JIM DELANY
Big Ten commissioner
By spearheading the creation of the Big Ten Network, Delany, 64, redefined how college sports are funded. Then, in a play to grab more cable subscribers, his league touched off the recent wave of realignment. Pending lawsuits, he's poised to start another round of movement. Other major conferences are standing down for now; if Delany moves to make the wealthiest league wealthier, they'll move too.
27 GARY BETTMAN
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][WORLD POWER]
In his 20 years at the helm, Bettman (page 52) has ushered the league into modernity, growing from 26 to 30 teams, gaining national TV exposure, expanding the game below the Mason-Dixon Line and upping revenue to a record $3.3 billion last season. But he's by far the lowest of the four major American commishes on this list, and here's why: For all the progress he has overseen, the 60-year-old Queens native is still—and forever will be—the face of three crippling lockouts.
28 DAVID LEVY
Turner Broadcasting president of sales, distribution and sports
[TASTEMAKER][BROADCAST/MEDIA][TECH-CENTRIC][RISING][50 & UNDER]
Charles Barkley and Cal Ripken Jr. call him boss, but his competitors call him a dealmaker. Last August, Levy, 50, added to his company's expanding sports stable (NBA, MLB, March Madness) with the reported $175 million purchase of the SEO-happy sports website Bleacher Report. Few TV execs are bigger champions of "TV everywhere," an industry-wide initiative making cable content available online for verified subscribers, and being at the forefront of that movement makes Levy a serious player.
29 GLAZER FAMILY
Buccaneers and Manchester United owners
[BILLIONAIRE][TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][WORLD POWER]
They conquered football with Tampa's Super Bowl XXXVII win in 2003 and moved on to f√∫tbol in '05, taking over the storied soccer club Man U. And while the Glazers have drawn the ire of fans for loading the club with debt, United is well on its way to a record 20th English league championship.
30 CARLOS BRITO
Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO
As head of the world's biggest brewer, Brito, 52, oversees global sports sponsorships from the Olympics to the World Cup, which will feature his brews through 2022 in Qatar (red-tape cutting pending). Domestically, Budweiser announced last year that it would remain the exclusive beer sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee and Team USA through '16.
31 DONALD FEHR
NHLPA executive director
During his quarter century heading MLB's players union average salaries grew from $289,000 to $3.2 million. In two years as executive director of the NHLPA, Fehr, 64, has already extracted concessions from management. (Is the NBA next?) Clever, calculating and as persistent as a toothache, Fehr inspires fear and loathing among owners—but athletes are lucky to have him on their side.
32 HERBERT HAINER
Adidas Group CEO
He heads up the world's No. 2 sports-equipment brand, making him a global player with sponsorships, and his company has the official uniform contracts for the NBA, MLS and NHL. But Hainer, 58, slides down this list because of his sluggish Reebok brand, procured for $3.8 billion in 2006, which recently lost its contract as the exclusive maker of NFL gear to Nike.
33 BOB BOWMAN
MLB Advanced Media CEO
Baseball is the stodgiest of the major American sports, but over the last decade it has been way ahead on the tech curve because of the brilliance of Bowman, a 57-year-old former Michigan state treasurer whose outfit is setting the gold standard for live sports streaming, ticketing, merchandising and stats on the Web. Experts estimate MLB AM's value at $6 billion—more than the Dodgers and the Yankees combined.
34 CASEY WASSERMAN
Wasserman Media Group CEO
[RISING][50 & UNDER][JERRY MAGUIRE][SOCIAL SAVVY]
The well-connected scion of Hollywood royalty runs one of the top sports-marketing and talent outfits, which in 2012 landed the No. 1 draft picks in the NFL, NBA, MLB and MLS. A major player in California philanthropy, the 39-year-old has the means to bring the NFL back to his hometown of L.A.
35 DEMAURICE SMITH
NFLPA executive director
[RISING][50 & UNDER]
This man-the-barricades ex-prosecutor has proved to be a more formidable—and, often, antagonistic—adversary for the league than his predecessor, Gene Upshaw, who, unlike Smith, never referred to the NFL as a "cartel." Smith, 49, has told the players, "Nobody gets strong without fighting. Nobody negotiates their way to strength."
36 SHEIKH MANSOUR BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN
UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Manchester City owner
[BILLIONAIRE][TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][WORLD POWER][RISING][50 & UNDER]
The megawealthy sheikh changed English soccer's balance of power by buying Man City in 2008, when he was 37. Since then, Man United's "noisy neighbors" have lavished nearly $1 billion on players and last spring won their first English title since 1967--68, becoming one of the world's most intriguing clubs.
37 TRAVIS TYGART
[LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][RISING][50 & UNDER]
World Anti-Doping Agency director David Howman is known for his straight talk about drugs in sports, but in 2012 it was Tygart, 41, who became the face of the fight against doping. His agency's investigation of Lance Armstrong—amid character attacks and death threats against Tygart, and despite efforts to remove USADA's funding—proved that no athlete is above the rules.
38 MARK EMMERT
He hasn't exactly distinguished himself in his three years on the job: Promised reforms have been slow in coming; the botched Miami investigation is a source of embarrassment; and lawsuits threaten the very existence of the organization (see No. 43). Still, the 60-year-old presides—today, anyway—over the governing body for college sports, which remain a growth sector.
39 JOHN RICCITIELLO
Electronic Arts CEO
At the world's leading developer and publisher of interactive entertainment, Riccitiello, 53, reigns over iconic sports titles such as FIFA Soccer and Madden NFL, with more than 200 million copies sold between the two. His products have shaped Generation Y's perception of sports as much as anyone's—but is exhaustion setting in after 25 years of incrementally improved Madden games?
40 BRIAN FRANCE
NASCAR CEO and chairman
[TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][50 & UNDER]
The grandson of NASCAR founder Big Bill France, Brian took over the family business in 2003. As CEO he has driven NASCAR's transformation from a regional diversion into a national sports and commercial powerhouse. The 50-year-old instituted the Chase playoff format and has pushed for safety advances and green initiatives while forging TV deals worth $5.14 billion.
41 ALISON LEWIS AND SHARON BYERS
Coca-Cola North America
In commanding the sports-marketing efforts for the world's largest beverage company, they wage the cola wars on the playing fields of the NCAA, the NBA, the Olympics and NASCAR (among 700-some sports properties), deploying athletes such as Kobe, LeBron and Danica Patrick as infantry.
42 AL HAYMON
Boxing adviser and promoter
This shadowy ring adviser doesn't speak to reporters; instead he's wielded his enormous influence at HBO and Showtime by dangling the idea that his top fighter, Floyd Mayweather Jr., would sign with or leave them. The result: Haymon's stable has collected millions fighting inferior opposition. The 57-year-old's latest client, rising star Adrien Broner, ensures Haymon's influence will continue.
43 ED O'BANNON
Retired basketball player
[RISING][50 & UNDER]
The 40-year-old former UCLA hoops star is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the NCAA. Narrowly, the suit is based on whether the organization can use athletes' images for commercial purposes; broadly, it's about the whole structure of amateurism. O'Bannon's case could go as far as the Supreme Court; his threshold for settlement may reshape college sports.
44 BARACK OBAMA
[TASTEMAKER][WORLD POWER][HAS NUCLEAR CODES][SOCIAL SAVVY]
POTUS might be the ultimate global power player, but he also wields significant influence in the Republic of Sports. One relevant riff—on his NCAA tourney picks, on his desire for a college football playoff, on his concern over permitting the sons that he doesn't have to play football—and the sports world takes notice. Plus, the 51-year-old can shoot the J.
45 DANA WHITE
[TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][LEAGUE GOVERNANCE][BROADCAST/MEDIA][50 & UNDER][SOCIAL SAVVY]
Lacking any kind of filter—what with his Twitter wars, foul language and long list of enemies—White is not your conventional exec. The 43-year-old is, however, president, kingmaker, promoter and authoritarian ruler of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a fast-growing, privately held sport valued around $2 billion. And if you don't like it, you can go to hell, you %#*$.
46 CINDY DAVIS
Nike Golf president
[WORLD POWER][COMMERCE][50 & UNDER]
By plucking Rory McIlroy from Titleist to partner with longtime swoosh frontman Tiger Woods, Davis gave herself a global one-two marketing punch. Sure, Nike trailed TaylorMade-Adidas, Titleist and Callaway in golf revenue in 2012, but the charismatic McIlroy (up to $250 million over 10 years) gives Nike Golf next-gen status and sets up Davis, 50, for years.
47 TOM CONDON
Creative Arts Agency Sports cohead of football division
At 60, the unglamorous former NFL guard boasts a dazzling client list that includes Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, RG3 and both Mannings, to name a few; and he coheads (with Ben Dogra) CAA's football division, which has signed six of the last nine top NFL draft picks. The notoriously tough negotiator also excels at crisis management (see: Te'o, Manti).
48 MARK CUBAN
[BILLIONAIRE][TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][TASTEMAKER][BROADCAST/MEDIA][TECH-CENTRIC][SOCIAL SAVVY]
Dallas will most likely miss the playoffs for the first time since 2000, when Cuban bought the team. Dismiss the man at your peril. His roster is full of expiring contracts, and he has declared that "the Bank of Cuban" is open. Beyond his team, Cuban, 54, appears here for his force of personality, rare accessibility and willingness to embrace emerging technologies. If one of the many sports-tech ventures he's backed happens to pop, it could dwarf his Mavs assets.
49 STEPHEN ESPINOZA
Showtime executive VP of sports and event programming
[BROADCAST/MEDIA][50 & UNDER][RISING]
Espinoza, 43, has turned Showtime into a boxing force by leveraging his old position at Golden Boy Promotions, where he was lead counsel before taking over at the network in 2011. Since then he has poached Amir Khan, Danny Garcia and Victor Ortiz from HBO, and last month made his biggest heist, signing HBO's Floyd Mayweather Jr. to a six-fight deal.
50 MICHAEL JORDAN
[TEAM/LEAGUE OWNER][TASTEMAKER][WORLD POWER][COMMERCE][G.O.A.T.][50 & UNDER]
Never mind his majority ownership in an NBA franchise or his enduring commercial appeal. (His Q rating, top among sports stars, is 43; Peyton Manning is next at 32.) The Jordan Brand grew an estimated 25% in 2012, generating more in basketball shoe sales than the rest of Nike. The eponym's take in royalties? Some $60 million. At 50, MJ is driving the lane toward billionaire status.
AMONG ACTIVE SPORTSMEN AND WOMEN, THE HIERARCHY IS EQUALLY EVER-CHANGING—BUT FOR NOW, SOVEREIGNTY BELONGS TO KING JAMES
1 LEBRON JAMES
The most dynamic all-around threat in NBA history—go ahead, try to dispute that—turned 28 in December, a global icon entering his peak years as an influence-maker and endorser (Nike, McDonald's, Coca-Cola ...). His move from Cleveland to Miami in 2010 completely shifted the league's balance of power—something that could be repeated in '14, when he again becomes a free agent.
2 TIGER WOODS
He remains the singular figure in golf who can significantly boost TV ratings and tournament turnout. After a few years of scandal and less-than-Woodsian success, the 37-year-old's endorsement portfolio ($55 million) is fat again.
3 ROGER FEDERER
Never mind that he's the most decorated men's tennis player ever; is there a more likable athlete? A 2011 Reputation Institute study listed Federer, 31, as the second-most-respected man in the world—behind only Nelson Mandela. A global brand (more than $50 million per year) who speaks four languages, he still takes an interest in his sport's unceasing nitty-gritty politics, filling a leadership void.
4 LIONEL MESSI
His genius on the pitch helps Barcelona sell oodles of jerseys and maintain its status as one of the world's great soccer powers. Messi's endorsements include Adidas, PepsiCo, Dolce & Gabanna and a memorable Turkish Airlines commercial with Kobe Bryant. The scariest thing of all? The diminutive striker is only 25.
5 THE MANNINGS
Between Peyton and Eli they account for 43% of the last seven Super Bowl winners, 1.4% of the SNL hosts since 2006 and seemingly most of the commercials on TV. Plus, they have dad Archie as a model for how to slip into the NFL elder statesman role after retiring.
6 RORY MCILROY
The list of under-40 active golfers with at least two major titles is exclusive: McIlroy, 23, and Woods. Nike wisely signed him to a rich deal—his face will sell the sport (awkward exit from an event last week notwithstanding) as Tiger tackles the back nine of his career.
7 SERENA WILLIAMS
There are less controversial female athletes, many who are younger and a few who'll make more in endorsements. But none bring the ineffable sway of the 31-year-old Serena (above), the No. 1 player in the No. 1 women's sport.
8 FLOYD MAYWEATHER JR.
The highest-paid athlete on the planet and best pound-for-pound fighter is boxing right now. The reported six-fight deal for $200 million that he signed last month with Showtime is the proverbial game changer: By eliminating middlemen and reaping unprecedented pay-per-view lucre, the 36-year-old will reinvigorate boxing. Or hasten its demise.
9 SHAUN WHITE
For as long as he's been in the public consciousness as the face of skateboarding and snowboarding, White is just 26—amazing. Brands from Target to Hewlett-Packard view him as a crucial portal to that gilded 18-to-34 demo, so expect to see plenty of the Flying Tomato leading up to Sochi.
10 MIKE TROUT & BRYCE HARPER
Trout, 21, was No. 2 in the AL MVP race as a rookie, but he might be the Most Valuable Property in baseball. (Theoretically, of course; he won't be arbitration-eligible until 2015.) With him, Harper, 20, gives MLB a dynamic slugger to pull those 18-to-34-year-old eyeballs away from the likes of White.
[HAS NUCLEAR CODES]
[50 & UNDER]