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The 10 Most Innovative Companies in Sports

BY Chuck SalterMon Mar 14, 2011

01 / ESPN >>

For integrating new tech like a startup. Sure, it's a behemoth, with a staggering 107 million weekly fans across seven cable networks, a magazine, radio network, podcasts, and various sites. But the brilliance of ESPN is that it constantly finds new and richer ways to experience and understand sports on all those platforms. ESPN 3D, the first 3-D TV network, went 24/7 in February. ESPNU College Town, which debuted last September, is the No. 2 sports app on Facebook. And the "30 for 30" documentary series was absorbing, must-watch TV.

02 / Turner Sports >>

For growing like a new tech startup. Turner's much better known for its TV coverage, but it dazzles online, operating the second most-visited network of sports websites, including the official sites for the NBA, PGA, and Nascar. Total online videos streamed last year: nearly 1 billion. Turner's approach is to turn fans into multimedia producers. For example, on RaceBuddy, fans choose camera angles and driver audio during Nascar events. The company's biggest recent win was the $10.8 billion deal it penned with CBS to televise every game in the men's NCAA Division I tourney, starting this year. (Games will also stream fore free online and via Turner's March Madness mobile app.)

03 / Livestrong

For making an athlete's foundation a major force in cancer. Through social media, Livestrong reaches about 3 million people a year, a model for bigger and more established health-care stalwarts. It guides the newly diagnosed cancer patients to clinical trials, fertility preservation, and insurance. It also works with medical and public-health leaders to make the disease a global priority. So far, neither Armstrong's recent retirement nor the ongoing federal investigation into performance-enhancing drugs have slowed it down.

04 / Fenway Sports Group

For its creativity as a sports owner. How does Boston Red Sox's parent company follow up buying half of a Nascar team and hosting a sold-out NHL game in Fenway Park? Soccer. First, Fenway Sports Group, formerly known as New England Sports Ventures, tapped World Cup fever last summer and brought in professional teams from Portugal and Scotland, introducing Fenway to non-baseball fans and generating new revenue. Then, last fall, FSG, led by John Henry and Tom Werner, purchased Liverpool, one of the signature teams in the English Premier League, the world's most watched football league. FSG now boasts the most impressive and eclectic reach of any sports owner.

05 / Qcue

For using dynamic-pricing to fill stadiums. Airlines adjust fares to account for ticket demand and ultimately to maximize ticket revenue. Now Austin-based Qcue is enabling sports teams to do the same. In the past, for instance, baseball teams would set ticket prices before Opening Day, before they knew how good the team was and how desirable tickets were. For the past two seasons, the San Francisco Giants have used Qcue's dynamic-pricing engine to emulate the secondary ticket market. Its algorithms set prices for a given game by factoring in the pitching match-up, opposing team, weather, day of the week, if the team's on a winning or losing streak, and sales history. The Giants' revenue rose 7 percent last season as Qcue adjusted prices as the team blossomed into World Series champs. Qcue works with a quarter of MLB teams and is aiming for half of all NBA teams next season.

06 / Oklahoma City Thunder

For proving that market size doesn't matter. Following a nasty arena dispute between the Seattle Supersonic owners and city leaders, the franchise relocated in 2008 to Oklahoma City, the NBA's smallest market (1.2 million people) and third smallest TV market. It ranks in the top 15 in overall attendance and is one of the most profitable small-market teams in any sport, worth an estimated $329 million, 18th in the league, according to Forbes. Kevin Durant, the NBA's youngest scoring champ, and a core of young stars has led the fast turnaround, from having the league's second-worst record to contending for the title.

07 / Athletes' Performance

For creating the elite workout facility. The company draws clientele from pro sports as well as the World Cup and the Olympics by offering more than customized training and cutting-edge equipment. Its amenities rival those of college and pro teams, such as a staff nutritionist who customizes meal plans at an on-site cafeteria and, at its Florida facility, access to surgeon-to-the-superstars James Andrews.

08 / Bloomberg Sports

For crunching the numbers differently. Targeting teams and fans hungry for in-depth statistical analysis, Bloomberg last year launched online tools in baseball and football that capitalize on its expertise in data evaluation and visualization. The company sees a sports team like an investment portfolio: the deeper a user's understanding of how each component is performing, the more informed his trades are, be they real or fantasy-league. Last year, 28 out of 30 MLB teams used Bloomberg's software, performing pitch-by-pitch analysis on individual batters--and incorporating the count, pitch type, location, and more.

09 / Philadelphia Eagles

For generating renewable energy to power its stadium. When the Eagles start the season at Lincoln Financial Field this fall, they'll be playing the world's greenest major sports facility. Among the features: 80 2-foot wind turbines (the slim and bird-friendly helix design, not the usual propellers) atop the stadium; 2,500 solar panels on the façade; and a 7.6 megawatt dual-fuel cogeneration plant on the premises. Even better: fans drink beer out of corn-based plastic cups, everything from tarps to cooking oil can be recycled, and employees receive wind-energy credits.

10 / Bite Tech

For creating a mouthpiece with an edge. According to this Greenwich, Conn.-based company, its device aligns the jaw to increase oxygen intake, which boosts muscles, and reduces the release of stress hormones that cause fatigue. Among the believers: 27 NHL teams, 60 Olympic athletes, and Auburn University's national champion football team. Later this year, performance-apparel giant Under Armour will take the tech mainstream.

Browse our list of The World's Most Innovative Companies 2011

Follow Chuck Salter on Twitter at @ChuckSalter.