Love them or hate them, sports leagues are nothing without their commissioners.
It’s the commissioners who are responsible for managing the constitution and rules of the league, as well as making sure that their sport can be profitable and continue to reach a large audience.
As you’d expect, the players get all the love in sports and coaches often get their well-deserved credit, but it is the commissioner who works in the background making sure everything is running smoothly while still turning a profit and being able to pay those seven or eight-figure salaries.
But while fans are used to hearing how big-name players constantly bring in the big bucks year after year, does anyone ever think about how much these commissioners are worth? If you guessed "a lot" you'd be right.
These are the Top 4 Richest Sports Commissioners in North America.
Gary Bettman took over as the NHL’s first commissioner in 1993, replacing Gil Stein who served as the league's last president from 1992 to 1993. Bettman wasted no time in expanding the NHL, which at the time was composed of 24 teams. Both the Florida Panthers and Anaheim Mighty Ducks would begin playing in the 1993-94 season, followed by four other expansion teams (The Nashville Predators, Atlanta Thrashers, Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets) bringing the total number of teams from 24 to 30 by 2000. In his first four years as commissioner, four franchises relocated; The Minnesota North Stars to Dallas in 1993, the Quebec Nordiques to Denver in 1995, the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix in 1996 and the Hartford Whalers to North Carolina in 1997.
In his 20+ year tenure as commissioner of the NHL, Bettman has been a part of three league lockouts, two of which led to shortened seasons and one to a complete cancellation of play.
The 1994-95 lockout centered on the issue of what sort of cap management system should be established in the NHL, which prior to these discussions was the only major professional sports league in North America to not have any sort of luxury tax, revenue sharing program, salary cap or salary floor, with the owners favoring a salary cap and the union favoring a luxury tax system. In the end they could not decide on a full salary cap and the whole ordeal lasted 104 days and shortened the season to 48 games.
The 2004-05 lockout centered on the owners claims that player salaries had grown faster than revenues, with the league having lost over $300 million in 2002-03. As a result of this, the players were locked out and the season was cancelled, making the NHL the first North American league to cancel an entire season due to labour stoppage.
The 2012-13 lockout came about due to the owners and players union failing to agree on a new CBA. Some four months later, both sides had come to an agreement and games resumed on January 19th, 2013. The schedule was shortened to 48 games, similar to the 1994-95 lockout.
His role in three lockouts and sometimes controversial decisions has made Bettman extremely unpopular with NHL fans, who boo him at both the NHL Entry Draft and at his annual presentation of the Stanley Cup.
The NFL is the most popular sport in the USA, and has a solid fan base in several other countries throughout the world. Behind the success of the league is the man often referred to as “the most powerful man in sports”, Roger Goodell.
Having taken over for Paul Tagliabue in September of 2006, Goodell is known for his no-nonsense attitude towards player misconduct, resulting in hefty fines and long (sometimes season-long) suspensions. Michael Vick, Adam Jones and Donte Stallworth have all been suspended for at least a full season, with other suspensions usually ranging from 4-8 games depending on the severity of the player's actions.
During the 2011 NFL lockout, Goodell was a key player in putting together a deal for the current CBA, and after over four months of negotiating, the players and owners struck a deal and the lockout officially ended on August 5, with that year's Hall of Fame Game being the only casualty for that season.
Some of Goodell’s most famous actions as NFL commissioner came against those involved in the “Spygate” and “Bountygate” scandals. When the New England Patriots were caught videotaping New York Jets’ defensive coordinators’ signals during a September 9, 2007 game, Goodell fined Pats head coach Bill Belichick $500,000 which stands as the most a coach has been fined in the history of the league. Additionally, The Patriots organization was fined $250,000 and lost its first round pick in that year's draft.
When the New Orleans Saints were found to be operating a bounty system in March of 2012, Goodell once again took disciplinary actions, but unlike the “Spygate” scandal his actions in the Bountygate case were much harsher. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely from the NFL; Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, and GM Mickey Loomis for eight games in 2012. There were also some notable player suspensions as team captain Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season and defensive end Will Smith was suspended for four games (although his suspension was ultimately overturned).
Despite his strict policies, Goodell has played a large hand in the booming success of the NFL. He played a role in the creation of the NFL Network and since his taking over as commissioner in 2006 the NFL has become the highest-grossing sport in the world. At a total of $9.5 billion in annual revenue, the NFL dwarfs the NCAA, NBA and Premier League, and at this point it can only go up from there.
Having first started working for the NBA in 1966, David Stern became Commissioner in 1984. Stern is most well-known for expanding the NBA from 10 to 30 franchises and has been credited for increasing the NBA’s audience by setting up training camps, playing worldwide exhibition games and recruiting more international players. The NBA currently has 11 offices outside the US and is televised in 215 countries in 43 different languages.
Stern has been responsible for the relocation of the Clippers in 1984, Kings in 1985, Grizzlies in 2001, Nets in 2012, and Pelicans in 2013 as well as the SuperSonics in 2008. He has also added seven new NBA franchises since taking over, starting with the Hornets (now the pelicans) in 1988, then the Heat (1988), Timberwolves (1989), Magic (1989), Grizzlies (1995), Raptors (1995) and Bobcats (2004).
As NBA Commissioner, Stern has been a part of four NBA lockouts. The first lockout in 1995 was fairly short and was settled in just over two months, not disturbing the season schedule.
A year later in 1996 there was yet another lockout, but this one only lasted a couple of hours and was resolved on July 10. The lockout occurred when the league and players union could not agree on the sharing of the $50 million made from television revenue. After a few hours of talks, the league agreed to add another $14 million of the TV revenues to the salary cap.
The 1998-1999 lockout shortened the season to 50 games and led to the cancellation of that year's All-Star game. The lockout was basically caused by the owners wanting to change the salary cap, with a lower ceiling on individual player salaries, while the players association wanted raises for those who earned the league's minimum salary. After 204 days the lockout ended but ratings and ticket sales remained lower than what they had been pre-lockout for years afterwards.
The 2011 lockout again had to do with restructuring the CBA, this time delaying the season from July 1 to December 25, lasting 161 days and shortening the season to 66 games. Although a settlement was reached November 26, the deal wasn’t ratified untill December 8, and a day later training camps, free agency and trades all began at once.
The NBA is now worth $4 billion, behind the NFL, MLB, NCAA and NASCAR and has become the fifth-highest-grossing professional sports league in the world, due in no small part to Stern's expanding and marketing strategies. Stern will retire on February 1st 2014 after 30 years as the league's commissioner.
Arguably no professional sports commissioner has had as much of an impact on their league as Bud Selig. After taking over in 1998, he turned the MLB around, creating a 400% increase in revenue as well as record-breaking attendance in the years since he was voted commissioner.
Under Selig, two additional MLB franchises were added to the league, the Arizona Diamond Backs and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now just the Rays) both entering the league in 1998. Selig is also responsible for the transfer of the Milwaukee Brewers from the American League to the National League in 1998 and the transfer of the Montreal Expos to Washington D.C. in 2004.
Selig introduced playoff wild card teams in 1994, realigning the league's teams into three divisions. In 2012 he introduced a second wild card playoff team in each league.
Selig has been criticized for being idle while steroid use in baseball became an increasing problem for the sport. He has been called to congress several times to testify on the use of performance enhancing drugs and Congressman Cliff Stearns has said that Selig should retire due to the large use of performance enhancing drugs used by players during his tenure, earning him the name of “Steroids Commissioner.”
The MLB is second to the NFL in annual revenue at $7.5 billion. Four of the league's teams are worth $1 billion or more and starting in 2014 new national broadcast contracts with Fox, ESPN and TBS will add $788.3 million more to the league's annual revenue, pushing it past the $8.4 billion dollar mark. With inflation, the sport’s revenue has gone up 257% since 1995 while Selig was serving as the chairman of the Executive Council of Major League Baseball.