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Darren Eales | President, Atlanta United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Darren Eales, Atlanta United FC President talks during day 1 of the Soccerex Global Convention at Manchester Central Convention Complex on September 4, 2017 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images for Soccerex)

Darren Eales was among the 10 executives whose work in 2018 we believe indicates the direction of the sports business in 2019 and beyond.

In January, Darren Eales was named Major League Soccer Executive of the Year for the second consecutive season after taking Atlanta United’s record-breaking inaugural campaign to even greater heights in 2018.

Atlanta averaged 53,002 fans during the MLS regular season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, up from 48,200 the previous year. The mark represented the 19th highest average attendance worldwide for 2017-18, ahead of Marseille (52,654), Liverpool (52,553) and Newcastle United (50,979).

The club also drew more than 70,000 fans eight times last season – including a league record 73,019 for the MLS Cup final, which Atlanta secured with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers. It was the city’s first major sports championship since 1995.

The England-born Eales – a former Ivy League Player of the Year and Cambridge Blue – was appointed club president in 2014 following his role as Tottenham Hotspur’s Director of Football Administration.

Under his guidance, Atlanta have set the standard for all other MLS teams to follow, both on and off the field.

They led the league in merchandise sales in 2017, accounting for one quarter of all sales, and increased sales by eight per cent year-on-year in 2018, with five of its players among the 25 top-selling jerseys. Forbes values the club at $330m (€290m), the highest in the league.

Atlanta’s success has turned heads in the game globally. Last June, more than 20 executives from leading European clubs, including Arsenal and Roma, visited Mercedes-Benz Stadium to learn more about how the club has been so successful.

While playing in a $1.5bn state-of-the-art stadium and having Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank funding the club certainly helps, much of Atlanta’s success can be attributed to Eales’s leadership.

Atlanta United’s vice-president Carlos Bocanegra said: “He really cares about every detail, from the players, to a press release, to social media.”

Fox Sports broadcaster and former US national-team defender, Alexi Lalas added: “Darren Eales has been instrumental in making Atlanta United the envy of many in the business of sports. He has built a winning and entertaining product on the field and he has fostered a passionate and engaged culture off the field. In short, Darren Eales has made Atlanta United the team by which all others are measured.”

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Our other nine trailblazing executives are:

Adam Silver | Commissioner, NBA

Alfredo Bermejo | Digital strategy director, LaLiga

Barney Francis | Managing director, Sky Sports

David Szlezak | Managing director, EHF Marketing

Joanna Adams | Chief executive, England Netball

Kerry Bubolz | President, Vegas Golden Knights

Laura Froelich | Senior director, head of US content partnerships, Twitter

Sean Jefferson | Director of partnerships, Man United

Simon Denyer | Chief executive, DAZN Group

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