MLS' Garber climbs on Sports Business influential list

NEW YORK — If influence is a measure of success, then soccer in the United States is doing very well indeed.

On Monday, Sports Business Journal’s annual list of the “50 Most Influential People in Sports Business” was revealed, and it featured more than a few soccer powerbrokers, including MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

Garber, who climbed four spots up to No. 30, was cited for leading the league’s growth in 2011. The rise in MLS’ average attendance to surpass both the NBA and NHL, and the TV deal with NBC, which kicks off in 2012, were cited as examples of the league’s “inarguable” legitimacy.

More than a few powerful proponents of the game in North America joined Garber on the list. In fact, soccer-related figures rose an average of roughly 3 places on the list.

Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Revolution and the NFL’s New England Patriots, came in at No. 8, cited for his work in brokering the agreement between the NFL and its players.

Tim Leiweke, president of AEG, the owners of MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy, came in at No. 11 after completing the massive deal for Farmers Field in Los Angeles, among other developments in 2011.

On the broadcast side, NBC Universal CEO and president Steve Burke was at the top of the entire list, with the networks MLS broadcast deal mentioned as part of the reason. ESPN vice president of content John Skipper, a longtime Tottenham Hotspur fan and champion of soccer on the Worldwide Leader, rose 19 spots to No. 3 (along with outgoing president George Bodenheimer).

From the international side, FIFA president Sepp Blatter is up two spots to No. 19 thanks in large part to the massive $1.85 billion deals FIFA secured for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

John Henry, owner of the Fenway Sports Group, which owns MLB’s Boston Red Sox, rose one spot to No. 25 in large part due to FSG’s acquisition of Premier League club Liverpool FC.

Adidas chairman and CEO Herbert Hainer came in at No. 32, largely because, as SBJ notes, the company “still rules soccer” and the company’s results are “strong across the board.”