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Most Innovative Companies - Sports

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The most powerful brand in sports media continues to expand and experiment aggressively. Last year, it acquired the rights to air English Premier League games, its first stab at a major market in Europe, home to several hundred million soccer fans; opened the ESPN Innovation Lab outside Orlando to develop new broadcast technology; took on cash-strapped newspapers by launching local sports sites in Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere; began working with the Wharton School to develop new data-measurement tools that analyze ESPN's multiplatform audience; and made a huge foray into documentary film, hiring 30 indie filmmakers—from Friday Night Lights' Peter Berg to our February cover boy, Steve Nash—to create 30 sports documentaries for the Disney-owned network's 30th anniversary. Top 50 No. 20

2. Indian Premier League

The IPL has transformed cricket, establishing a new model that shows how a nearly 500-year-old game can be revamped, restructured, and tailored to today's short attention spans and entertainment infrastructure—and succeed wildly. Top 50 No. 22

3. Sportvision

It's the leading innovator in technology that changes the way fans watch sports live, how networks cover the action, and how teams analyze their players' performance. Top 50 No. 34

4. MLB Advanced Media

Baseball's digital arm allows about 500,000 subscribers to customize the viewing experience like a producer—pausing, rewinding, and choosing from as many as 10 camera angles. During baseball season, 7 million fans on average visit MLB sites daily for audio streams, fantasy leagues, and team pages. AtBat, its iPhone application, was the second most popular non-gaming paid iPhone app last year, with 300,000 subscribers.

5. AEG

This entertainment giant is also a major player in sports, owning and operating several dozen arenas and stadiums around the world, from the O2 in London to the Staples Center in L.A. It also owns several pro teams, such as the L.A. Kings, and has a stake in the L.A. Lakers. AEG's current project, constructing a dozen arenas across China, could have a far-reaching impact, paving the way for NBA-affiliated teams and eventually a truly global league.

6. Populous

It was another impressive year for the leading architecture firm in sports, formerly HOK Sport Venue Event. On the biggest stage in sports, it unveiled two distinctive creations, the new Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field. At Wimbledon, despite much skepticism, it installed a retractable roof, an elegant "folding fabric concertina," over Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis Club; and it helped the NHL put an ice rink in Fenway Park, making the Winter Classic just that.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs added a new ownership group from China, the first such investment in the NBA and a savvy move for a middle-market team with limited resources. It gives Cleveland an infusion of cash to offer free-agent-to-be LeBron James and creates instant inroads into the enormous Asian market for him—and the Cavs, if he skips town. That's important growth potential for a franchise whose value has increased 84%—about double the league average—since drafting James in 2003.

8. Turner Sports Interactive

One of the best-kept secrets in sports, this division of Time Warner runs 3 of the top 15 sports sites—,, and—which give nearly 9 million fans exclusive camera feeds, social-media tools, and plentiful archives, such as lap-by-lap videos of races. Turner also delivers NBA, Nascar, and PGA videos to the No. 2 site, Yahoo Sports. Perhaps its niftiest move is selling ads across all those sites; revenue was up 30% last year.

9. Cisco Systems

At the new Dallas Cowboys and Yankee stadiums and a handful of others, Cisco is creating the ultimate networked sports facility, which enhances fans' game-day experience and boosts teams' revenue. Fans can upgrade seats at self-service kiosks and, using tablet PCs in the luxury suites, watch replays, check scores, answer sports trivia, order food or team merchandise, even check traffic before heading home. Soon fans will be able to customize their experience even further, streaming instant replays to their mobile devices and sharing video they've shot. Top 50 No. 17

10. Spyder

Having developed an ultra-low-friction suit for the U.S. Ski Team, Spyder positioned itself to star in the Winter Games as Speedo did in the last Summer Games. Wind-tunnel tests have indicated that Spyder's top-secret superslippery material has up to 20% less drag. In a sport where hundredths of a second separate the top skiers (hence the suit's label, "Hundies Matter"), the longtime outfitter could win big. (Of course, that Speedo suit is now banned. Could Spyder's also be too successful?)