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Top 10 Most Powerful Media People

10. Adam Schefter (ESPN)

Schefter is coming off his best year as a professional, breaking the bombshell Andrew Luck retirement news, being the first to mention that Tom Brady could leave New England, and ultimately reporting he was going to Tampa. In addition, he was added to a main chair on the Monday Night Football pregame show.

9. Scott Van Pelt (ESPN)

Midnight SportsCenter is vital to ESPN’s aggregate viewership strategy, because it runs directly after their most-watched live events (Monday Night Football, NBA playoffs, College Football playoffs, etc.). SVP’s role is to maintain as much of that audience as possible, mixing in classic SportsCenter highlights with sports talk radio style conversation and analysis. He does that as well as anyone could.

8. Colin Cowherd (FS1/FOX)

Cowherd is widely recognized by decision-makers as the top sports radio host in the country. The Herd is successful on TV, radio, and digitally. When he retired from the company, former ESPN Radio boss Traug Keller said his biggest regret was not keeping Cowherd. At FOX, Cowherd has transitioned to the network’s NFL bumper coverage as the focal point of FOX NFL Kickoff, which draws over a million viewers a week.

7. Charles Barkley (Turner)

Barkley is 57 years old and has been out of the NBA for 20 years, and in that time sports networks still have not been able to find anyone like him — a star former athlete with personality, a keen sense of humor, and fearless candor. He keeps teasing retirement; hopefully that is a lot further away than he leads us to believe.

6. Mike Tirico (NBC)

Perhaps no network is more satisfied with the face of its coverage as NBC is with Mike Tirico. Tirico does it all at NBC: hosts the network’s popular Football Night in America show, calls Notre Dame games, and appears on coverage for golf, the Olympics, the Triple Crown, and the Stanley Cup playoffs. His status will only rise in the years to come as he’s expected to eventually take over for Al Michaels in the SNF booth.

5. Joe Buck (FOX)

Joe Buck is the best game-caller in sports. His calls from the historical 2016 Cubs’ World Series win were among the best of the past decade. Buck, as a transcendent broadcaster, has separated FOX’s broadcasts from the competition. Romo’s paradigm-shifting contract negotiations will bode well for Buck, who would be an upgrade on every network’s NFL and MLB broadcasts.

4. Stephen A. Smith (ESPN)

There still isn’t a sports media talent who individually changes a network’s ratings like Stephen A. Smith. Stephen A. is more famous than the vast majority of athletes he covers. This past fall, ESPN made him its highest-paid talent with a 5-year deal. In addition to the daily lineup, Stephen A. now hosts a hit NBA pregame show on Wednesday nights. ESPN can replace most personalities, this is one it cannot.

3. Tony Romo (CBS)

In a draft of sports media talents, Tony Romo would be the first pick off the board for most executives. He’s already in the upper echelon of all-time NFL color commentators. Romo’s value rose so high that it created an unprecedented bidding war between Disney and CBS. Romo chose to stay with CBS with a contract that’ll pay him $17 million per year.

2. Bill Simmons (Ringer/Spotify)

Simmons and his team built The Ringer from scratch and within four years sold it to Spotify for between $141 million and $196 million, depending on how the platform performs versus incentives. Simmons was an early adopter in podcasting and has sustained high popularity there, and is also a driving force behind documentaries like HBO’s Andre the Giant doc and the upcoming series of music films. With nine-figure deals Simmons, Joe Rogan, and Dave Portnoy have made in the past year, elite digital talents have for now risen in value above TV talents.

1. Dave Portnoy (Barstool)

While his fortune is apt to swing wildly with PENN stock after the casino company acquired Barstool Sports, Portnoy is on a roll right now and worth north of $100 million. On the fly, he has reinvented himself as a day trader and been covered for it in Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times (albeit, the stories also expressed skepticism on the sustainability of his run). This is all just the latest proof that he can galvanize an audience to watch him do anything, whether it’s eating pizza or unboxing an apartment full of random tribute gifts from fans. While the pandemic has deferred plans for Barstool to become a funnel of its audience into casino customers, that will be a very interesting sports media story to observe coming soon. Portnoy could very well be the biggest winner of the sports gambling gold rush across America.

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