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Published On: Mon, Jun 26th, 2017

Rising Sports Business Stars to Watch: 5 Names You’ll Hear Again

Star athletes deserve much of the attention they receive for their performance on the field, court, or diamond. They’re compensated handsomely for their work.

But that attention and compensation shouldn’t eclipse the hard work of the thousands of talented professionals who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make it all possible.

Some sports business stars shine brighter than the rest. These five are all ambitious as hell and rising fast. Oh, and they’re all under 40.

Seth Bacon

Bacon is Executive Vice President, Media for Major League Soccer, the United States’ rapidly growing professional soccer league. He liaises with all the major broadcast and cable sports networks, doing his darndest to promote a sport that has – until recently – been an afterthought for most American media outlets. He learned from the best: before coming onboard with MLS, he served as lead media-rights negotiator for NASCAR and helped produce “The Best Damn Sports Show Period.”

Niraj Shah

Niraj Shah

Niraj Shah is a textbook wunderkind. A Forbes 30 Under 30 Finance 2017 honoree, Shah is a protege of legendary financier Gerry Cardinale, managing partner and chief executive officer of RedBird Capital Partners. RedBird is a major investor in the recapitalization of On Location Experiences (OLE), a ticketing, hospitality and events organization closely affiliated with the National Football League.

Under Cardinale’s guidance, Shah played a key role in OLE’s acquisition of Jon Bon Jovi’s Runaway Tours and sports travel management firm Anthony Travel, as well as several other transactions.

All before his 30th birthday. Wow.

Mike Zabik

Another Cardinale protege, Zabik made Sports Business Daily’s prestigious 40 Under 40 list along with several others mentioned here.  

Zabik sits on two wildly different boards: On Location Experiences, the NFL hospitality-ticketing-events venture; and Zenith Shipping, a dry bulk and product tanker shipping venture. Zabik helped RedBird structure the original OLE deal, all subsequent transactions, and, with Shah, recruited much of the venture’s senior management team.

For a relatively young man, Zabik has seen more than his share of personal turmoil. The Michigan native relocated from Chicago to New York to become RedBird’s fourth employee, only to grapple with the successive deaths of his grandfather and father within 6 months. Zabik cites Cardinale’s mentorship, the birth of his twins, his wife, and a new outlet of triathlons for maintaining his poise during a very trying time.

Katherine Johnson

Sports buffs know Katherine (Kate) Johnson as a 2004 Olympic rowing medalist. Sports business buffs know her as Visa’s vice president of Global Sponsorship Marketing, a coveted position that finds her liaising with – in a reunion of sorts – with the International Olympic Committee. For what it’s worth, she’s also Visa’s primary point of contact with the NFL and FIFA World Cup. Not bad for a former Olympian.

Matthew Nussbaum

For an accomplished attorney, Matthew Nussbaum has a thankless job: assistant general counsel for the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).

Far from schmoozing with well-dressed attorneys at a white-shoe corporate law firm, Nussbaum spends his days brokering rainout-reschedule negotiations and hashing out seemingly intractable salary-and-benefits disputes between players and management. It’s essential work, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy – or, all too often, fun. That’s not to say Nussbaum hasn’t had his share of off-field wins: according to Sports Business Daily, he’s especially proud of his work on the 2014 negotiations that led to the implementation of the home plate collision rule.

Clearly, sports is a big business, and it’s only getting bigger. Without these sports business stars, there’d be no market for athletes’ accomplishments. It’s safe to bet you’ll hear their names again.

Author: Zainab Sheikh

About the Author

- Outside contributors to the Dispatch are always welcome to offer their unique voices, contradictory opinions or presentation of information not included on the site.

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  1. 777Score says:

    Seth Bacon is not only a talented businessman, but also a great speaker! His interviews are always exciting and full of motivation

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