David Stern, NBA
Still The Man, though the NBA has hit some potholes. Stern imposed the lockout to overhaul an economic system he says led 23 of 30 teams to lose money. Barring a quick agreement, the opening of training camps in early October will be jeopardized as will an on-time Nov. 1 season start.
Robert Boland, professor of sports business at New York University's Tisch Center, said Stern is "the one who is held in the greatest awe" among commissioners for resuscitating the NBA and building global appeal through the Olympics.
The labor battle could be one of Stern's final crises, since he will be 69 on Thursday.
"He's in the arena. And that's the challenge. That's the one place that's hard," Boland said. "Stern's legacy is as one of the five or six or seven most important people in the development of sport."
Roger Goodell, NFL
The NFL recently announced a $15.2 billion renewal of its "Monday Night Football" deal with ESPN, an increase of 73 percent over the old deal. Team owners are virtually guaranteed no worse than breaking even before they open their stadium doors thanks to revenue that has grown from $7.5 billion when Goodell took over from Paul Tagliabue in 2006 to a projected $9.5 billion this year. A league-record 107.4 million TV viewers tuned in during its extended opening weekend Sept. 8-12.
Isn't that enough to make you say Goodell is No. 1?
"Others would look at Roger Goodell and probably say that he woke up on third base, from all his advantages," Boland said.
Scott Rosner, associate director of the Wharton Sports Business initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, believes it's too early to judge Goodell even after a successful labor negotiation. "The short term, it looks like on paper the owners did better financially, the players did better from a quality of life perspective," Rosner said.
Mike Slive, SEC Larry Scott, Pac-12
SEC schools, buoyed by five straight Bowl Championship Series titles, shared a record $220 million in revenue this year according to the al.com website. Part stems from 15-year, $3 billion TV deals with CBS and ESPN signed in 2008.
"I think Mike Slive is a very forward-looking commissioner," Boland said. "They've grown in importance by being a powerful fish on a relatively comfortable part of the ocean or smaller pond."
Scott, hired 21/2 years ago from the Women's Tennis Association, steered the Pac-12 through expansion and realignment and to a 12-year, $3 billion TV deal. He said in May that the conference could earn $1 billion over the next seven to 10 years through its new media arm and its own network.
"He's taken the Pac-12 from the Dark Ages to the cutting edge," Rosner said.
Bud Selig, MLB
Selig has served owners well, growing gross revenue from $1.4 billion in 1995 to $7 billion in 2010.
"Bud Selig, on some levels, has been maligned in some circles as an owner who got appointed commissioner and was an acting one for a long time," Boland said. "On the other hand, you can look at baseball and go, 'Hey, this sport has weathered the economy pretty well.' They're in a pretty strong state and they weathered a great crisis in the performance-enhancing drug crisis and have come through a fairly horrible recession economically not too terribly badly off."
Sutton was less kind.
"No matter how they try and spin it, we can sit here and pick which teams are going to be in the playoffs every year. There are more haves and have-nots in baseball than in any other sport," Sutton said.
Gary Bettman, NHL
He earned a dubious distinction in 2004 as the first commissioner to cancel a season, but he got the hard salary cap and economic reforms owners demanded. He backed fan-friendly rules that improved play and benefited when the Canadian dollar grew stronger.
But teams learned to exploit loopholes in the labor deal by giving out long-term contracts with low cap hits, and some teams will lose money by staying at or near this season's $48.3 million salary floor. Several teams are for sale, and the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg. The league had to rescue the Phoenix Coyotes from bankruptcy and has operated the franchise for nearly two years.
Don Garber, MLS
He smartly steered his teams toward playing in soccer-specific stadiums and managed expansion to 20 teams next season. The TV package will principally move to NBC's networks next season, available to twice the number of homes as on the Fox Soccer Channel.
But the quality of play and TV ratings must improve, and Garber must find someone other than David Beckham to turn soccer into America's favorite spectator sport.
Tim Finchem, PGA
The PGA Tour is a different animal with Tiger Woods than without. Lately it has suffered from his absence, though Finchem recently announced lucrative new TV deals with NBC and CBS that will run through 2021. Finchem has lost and replaced sponsors and is looking toward greater globalization.
— Helene Elliott,