25 Innovators & Influencers

A Spotlight On 25 Of The Industry’s Best

By Michelle Martin 

Click here to learn more about what drives these leaders in this bonus "Up Close & Personal" coverage.
Last year, we profiled some of the industry’s top planners in our feature, “Sports Event Planners to Watch in 2008,” which recognized the dedication and achievements of individuals who organize some of the top sporting events in the country. The profile turned out to be one of the biggest stories of the year for SportsEvents. So, this year, we wanted to expand on the story by recognizing those key innovators and influencers in the sports community. These innovators represent the scope of the industry. They have brought premier events to their cities and built a wider audience and participant base for those sports in the process, their groundbreaking achievements have paved the way for more sports opportunities, they have formed organizations or events that fill a void in the industry, or they have inspired others to be their best and give their best back to the industry, community and world. 
2009 Awards & Recognition
The January 2009 issue of SportsEvents will include a special Awards & Recognitions feature of the industry’s top event organizers, facilities, hotels, and sports commissions and convention and visitors bureaus. If you would like to nominate a sports event planner for this special feature, e-mail some brief details about the nominee (name, title/organization, examples of sports events, contact phone and e-mail), along with your contact information and relationship to the nominee to info@sportseventsmagazine.com. You can also submit candidates for the other categories. Please include “2009 Awards & Recognitions” in the subject line.
While we believe this is a distinguished collection of sports leaders, it is not a definitive, all-inclusive list of the industry’s Top 25—but rather 25 of the top leaders in the industry. The individuals in this spotlight represent just some of the many different segments in sports, but they are impacting their fields in their own way and have become leaders in their own right. In such a fast-paced, ever-evolving industry, there is no predicting who should be named to such a list at any given time, so we simply offer this glance at 25 individuals who are influencing sports today and building lasting legacies that will impact future athletes, opportunities and events by their in-roads, inspiration and innovation. 

As executive director of Disabled Sports USA, Kirk Bauer has grown a small, volunteer organization into the nation’s largest sports and recreation organization for the physically disabled—now with more than 80 chapters and representing 60,000 disabled individuals nationwide. Bauer’s accomplishments include establishing the first nationwide fitness exercise program for the disabled and designating Paralympic athletes as full members of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) through the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act Amendments of 1998. He said he enjoys working in the sports industry for “the chance it provides to truly change someone’s life after suffering a debilitating disease or injury. I hope a child with cerebral palsy, an amputation, a spinal injury or some other disability will have the same opportunity to participate in sports and recreation as a non-disabled child.” 

Jon Butler, executive director of Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc., has helped increase participation in the organization’s football, cheer and dance programs by 150 percent and, at the same time, emphasized academic requirements by awarding almost $600,000 in college scholarships. He considers himself fortunate to be able to combine his avocation with his vocation—“positively affecting more than 400,000 young people through sports participation that emphasizes academic effort.” 

A three-time U.S. Olympic medalist in speed skating, Joey Cheek donated his 2006 Olympic medal bonuses to Right to Play, an athlete-driven international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play for the development of children in disadvantaged areas of the world. Cheek hoped to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan, and ultimately founded the nonprofit Team Darfur organization; since 2006, more than $1 million has been raised for children in Darfur. Named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine and the first recipient of the Heisman Trophy’s Heisman Humanitarian Award, he said, “I hope to be remembered as being both excellent at what I do and uncompromising in my principles.” 

Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) President/CEO Bobby Dodd, Ph.D., has led AAU since 1992 and been involved with the organization since 1972. In his 16 years as head of AAU, Dodd negotiated a 32-year partnership with Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex to bring more than 100 AAU championships to the sports complex each year, which he said is one of his greatest career achievements. In addition, Dodd has served on the USOC board of directors and testified before a Senate subcommittee on the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act Amendments of 1998; prior to heading the AAU, he was a YMCA director. Dodd said he hopes he will be remembered for “creating an environment whereby youth sports is a component in the development of people’s lives.” 

Charlie Evans, president/CEO of FLW Outdoors, participated in the organization’s first bass-fishing tournament in 1980 before becoming a part owner in 1982. Since then, FLW Outdoors has become the world’s largest tournament fishing organization—with 13 circuits, five species, 240 events, 94,000 tournament-entry opportunities and more than $40 million in prize money annually. In addition, FLW Outdoors has launched a new collegiate bass-fishing tournament circuit that will provide scholarship money as prize winnings. “The industry is enjoying fast-paced growth,” Evans said. “Sports Illustrated called fishing the next NASCAR.” 

National Senior Games Association (NSGA) President/CEO Philip Godfrey has been with the organization since 1986, previously as a volunteer, member of the board of directors, and actively involved in 16 of the association’s 17 national events. Prior to joining NSGA, Godfrey was associate director of athletics at Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as chief university administrator for the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival held at the campus and administered 11 NCAA national championships and more than 35 NCAA regional championships. Godfrey recently was elected secretary of the USOC Multi-Sport Organization Council. Godfrey offered this advice: “Never oversell. If you give your word, honor it.” 

As vice president of sports marketing for the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), Tara Green has brought numerous sports events to Dallas, including three Olympic Trials, women’s soccer and volleyball national championships for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and events sanctioned by various sport national governing bodies. She also served as executive director of the bid committee that won the host rights for Super Bowl XLV (to be played in 2011 at the Dallas Cowboys’ new home stadium). Green said she enjoys working in the sports industry because she loves Dallas and values the impact that sports events bring to the city. “I want to create lifelong memories and experiences for athletes and their families for having participated in an event in Dallas.” 

Tom Jernstedt, executive vice president of the NCAA, has been with the organization since 1972. During his 36 years at the NCAA, Jernstedt increased the number of NCAA annual championships from approximately 25 to 88 and established women’s championships in the 1980s. Jernstedt serves on various industry boards, including the U.S.-International University Sports Federation, the Managers of College Football Officiating, and the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, and is the primary liaison to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. He said he loves sports, the people in the industry and “creating and enhancing opportunities for collegiate student-athletes.” 

In her 11 years as executive director of the National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS), Sally Johnson has grown the organization from 50 to 200 sports executive members, representing 60 million registered participants in youth sports programs. Her work with NCYS includes promoting child safety as founder of the National Center for Safety Initiatives and lobbying key legislative issues affecting youth sports. “Making a positive difference in the lives of children of all backgrounds, genders and economic diversities is the ultimate reward,” she said. 

Before becoming CEO of the 2010 Alltech Fédération Equestrian Internationale (FEI) World Equestrian Games, Jack Kelly advised committees in more than five states and more than 100 communities about amateur sports opportunities. His 23 years in the industry has included service with the U.S. Olympic Festival, National Wheelchair Games, Bowling Proprietors Association of America and, most recently, the Houston Sports Commission. In 1994, Kelly led the organization of the Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg, Russia, after the fall of the communist Soviet Union—what he considers his greatest achievement. “We had to educate all of our Russian associates to capitalism and its workings and build almost everything from scratch. We all have great and unbelievable stories from that.” 

Tennis legend Billie Jean King is one of the most accomplished and respected athletes in U.S. sports history, having won a record 20 Wimbledon titles and defeated Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in 1973. In addition to her performance on the court, King helped shape the future of women’s sports by founding the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 and the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974. Today, King serves on the board of the Women’s Sports Foundation, chairs the U.S. Tennis Association’s Tennis in the Parks Committee, and has launched a sports environmental initiative called GreenSlam. 

David King, founder and CEO of Triple Crown Sports, has produced more than 4,000 amateur sports events, including 250 local/franchise events and 18 youth and collegiate tournaments since 1982. He said he hopes to be remembered for “preparing a [staff] that knows how to build organized sports events that create memories.” 

Before founding Sports Management Resources consulting firm, Donna Lopiano, Ph.D., enjoyed a storied career as CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation and as an athletic director, coach and athlete. She served 18 years as director of women’s athletics for the University of Texas at Austin, which won 18 national championships in six sports and 57 Southwest Conference championships and produced 51 individual athlete national champions and 395 All-American athletes under her leadership. In addition to being a member of the National Sports Hall of Fame, among others, Lopiano is recognized as an expert in gender equity. “I hope everyone in the sports industry now appreciates the potential of the three new markets created by Title IX: active female participants, female fans of men’s sports, and male and female fans of women’s sports. There are huge opportunities there.” 

SportsLink Founder/President Rich McGuinness and Chairman Doug Berman have quickly become two of the most influential people in football. The company’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Football University invitation-only camp allow high school and collegiate standouts, respectively, to show off and improve their skills under the training of the game’s top coaches and former players. Since the first bowl in 2000, more than 750 participants like 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow (University of Florida) and the National Football League’s (NFL) Reggie Bush (New Orleans Saints) have gone on to play collegiate and professional football. McGuinness hopes to be remembered for “providing the best high school athletes with their first great sports moment and giving them the skills and techniques to create more opportunities to celebrate more great moments in sports.” 

Lisa Neirotti, Ph.D., teaches sports, event and tourism management at The George Washington University, but her 22 years in the industry have also included conducting economic, spectator and market research studies; leading professional certificate courses in sports, event and tourism management, and marketing; and co-writing “The Ultimate Guide to Sport Event Management and Marketing.” She said she most admires volunteer coaches and officials who work with youth at the grassroots level. “Without a continued source of participants and spectators, our field would not succeed.” 

Before becoming president/CEO of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., Tom Osborne oversaw 35 state games programs as executive director of the National Congress of State Games and, prior to that, founded and directed the Big Sky State Games. He considers the 2007 State Games of America his greatest career achievement and hopes his legacy will be that he “made the state games movement a little better.” 

International Softball Foundation (ISF) President Don Porter has been involved with the organization since he was elected the first secretary-general in 1965; he has served as ISF president since 1987. In addition to his work with ISF, Porter has held key positions with the World Games, the General Association of International Sports Federations, Association of Summer Olympic Sports Federation, and the board of directors and various committees for the USOC, among others. He received the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Olympic Order in 1997 and the USOC President’s Award in 1998. 

John Saboor, president of the Central Florida Sports Commission, has brought more than 500 new sports events and more than 1 million associated visitors to Central Florida since joining the commission in 1994. Besides his efforts to secure sports events for Central Florida, Saboor has helped raise more than $1 million in grants for state junior golf programs as chairman of the Florida Golf Council, successfully lobbied for the passage of two pieces of state legislation and played a key role in the relocation of three sports organizations to the area. 

Having only recently joined the Phoenix Regional Sports Commission after six years with the Metro Denver Sports Commission, Jon Schmieder got his start in the industry with the 1997 Senior Olympics. Later, he went to work for the Tulsa Sports Commission, landing a multi-year contract to host the ABA/BMX Grand Nationals, and for Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc., where he helped expand the program to include cheerleading competition. “I hope to be looked upon as someone who connected people, was trustworthy and delivered on what I promised,” he said. 

National Association of Sports Commission (NASC) Executive Director Don Schumacher has spent the last 27 years of his 45-year career in the sports event travel market. In addition to his role with the NASC, he is president of Don Schumacher & Associates Inc., which provides sports marketing, management and consulting services and which created and manages high school sports events and promotions through DSA Prep Sports. Schumacher also served as general manager of the College Football Hall of Fame, president of the Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Sports and Events Commission, and is an inaugural member of the International Association of Sports Cities. 

USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler has been with the organization since 1988. He was director of national team operations from 1997-1999, and in 2000 worked closely with Major League Baseball (MLB), the MLB Players Association and the USOC to lead USA Baseball’s national team to its first Olympic gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Seiler also serves on the executive committee for the International Baseball Federation and is treasurer of the Pan American Baseball Federation. 

Steve Stenersen, president/CEO of U.S. Lacrosse, helped unify eight independent lacrosse organizations to form U.S. Lacrosse, the sport’s first national governing body, in 1998. In just 10 years, the organization has grown to include 260,000 members in 60 regional chapters—making lacrosse the fastest-growing sport in the country. His efforts to expand lacrosse both nationally and internationally have been recognized through several awards, including the 2005 International Lacrosse Development Award. Currently, Stenersen serves on a committee charged with unifying two international lacrosse federations into a single international governing body for men’s and women’s lacrosse. “I hope my efforts will better position U.S. Lacrosse to become a best practice of amateur sports governance,” he said. 

As president of the Atlanta Sports Council since 1998, Gary Stokan is drawing a wide range of sports events to Metro Atlanta, including Super Bowl XXXIV, the Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament and USA Volleyball Junior Olympic Championships, as well as the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Chick-fil-A Bowl Duck N Dodge Charity Dodgeball Tournament, Chick-fil-A College Kick-Off and other events created for Atlanta by the sports council. These and other events are contributing to the sports council’s efforts to brand the city the “sports capital of the world”—and, in the process, earning Atlanta Sports Council the distinction as sports commission of the year in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Along with the Chick-fil-A Bowl, sports events in Atlanta have contributed more than $1.5 billion in economic impact during Stokan’s 10-year leadership of the Atlanta Sports Council. 

USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth has led the board of directors since 2004, but he is no stranger to the nation’s top sports governing body. As president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee from 1980 to 1984, Ueberroth directed the 1984 Olympic Games, the first privately financed Olympics, to a $238 million surplus that continues to help fund youth and sports programs even today. The surplus and success of the 1984 Olympics were due in large part to Ueberroth’s unconventional, aggressive management approach, which included stripping himself of the roughly $100,000 annual salary, implementing a one-shot “blind” bid system for TV network broadcast rights and seeking fewer but premium corporate sponsorships. For his efforts, Ueberroth was named Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1984 and received the Olympic Order-Gold by the IOC; he is one of only two Americans to ever receive the award. Following the 1984 Olympic Games, he served as MLB commissioner from 1984 to 1989, and in 1999 purchased Pebble Beach Co. with Arnold Palmer and Clint Eastwood. Ueberroth said Olympic sport is special because it’s for everyone. “The magic of the Olympic Movement is that it provides opportunities for people all over the world—people of different backgrounds, beliefs, ethnicities and cultures.” 

Marcellus “Boo” Williams, a retired professional basketball player and national chairman for AAU Boys Basketball, runs the Boo Williams Summer League, which, in 25 years, has grown to more than 2,500 players and has helped launch the careers of several NBA stars. In March, the city of Hampton teamed with Williams and his investors to open the Boo Williams Sportsplex, a 135,000-square-foot facility that can accommodate a variety of sports, including volleyball, field hockey, martial arts and basketball.

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