The 20 Billionaires of the Sports World

The 29th edition of the annual Forbes Billionaire list was released earlier this week, and the elite community of the world’s richest has expanded to include new members into its ranks. 290 newly certified billionaires were added to the list, shattering the record set in previous years. These examples of wealth accumulation are extraordinary and have been accomplished in a variety of methods such as creating business empires, riding the startup boom, or the old fashioned way, inheritance.

While the accumulated wealth on the list totals over $7 trillion, this list will narrowly focus on those individuals that remain associated with sports. The value of franchises across the world’s major professional sports has skyrocketed in recent years. The world’s super rich attempt to acquire these franchises in an effort to improve their public persona. With a limited number of franchises in each sport, this trend looks like it will continue, especially in the wake of the Donald Sterling fiasco. Following his bigoted views being made public, his franchise, the Los Angeles Clippers, was sold for a whopping $2 billion to Steve Ballmer, causing the value of all NBA teams to jump in value.

The individuals included on this list have made their fortunes thanks to the franchises, properties, and businesses they own associated with sports. The empires that these individuals have built are brimming with thousands, if not millions, of loyal fans that are ready to spend their hard earned money to further increase these owners’ wealth. These teams are investments that almost guarantee a return, because owners always hold the trump card of potentially relocating the franchise. With the NFL flirting with the idea of multiple Los Angeles franchises, several members of this list may see their net worth increasing.

* You can see the entire Forbes list here.

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19 Michael Jordan - $1.0 billion

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Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time and is the only former professional athlete to appear on this list. Jordan’s greatest financial asset is his ownership of the NBA franchise the Charlotte Bobcats, but he has also earned considerable wealth thanks to the success of his Jordan line of apparel manufactured by Nike. Jordan has received considerable payouts from Nike for the success of the Jordan brand whose sales topped $2.25 billion in 2013. Jordan is a member of the newest class of billionaires and is the 513th richest man in America, making him the 1,741st richest man in the world.

18 Jeffrey Lurie - $1.1 billion

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Jeffrey Lurie earned his Ph.D from Brandeis University before teaching social policy at Boston University and becoming an executive with the General Cinema Corporation. Lurie eventually founded Chestnut Hill Productions. But, his best investment came in 1994, when he purchased the Philadelphia Eagles for $185 million. In spite of never winning a Super Bowl, the Eagles have had great success in the ensuing two decades, with their franchise value soaring over $1.5 billion. After a divorce with his wife left him with a 70% stake in the team, Lurie’s net worth remains formidable at $1.1 billion.

17 T17. Alexander Spanos - $1.3 billion

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Now the 1,500th richest man in the world, Alexander Spanos came from humble means, starting from an $800 loan from his parents to start a catering service. Spanos funneled his profits into an increasingly successful real estate market, establishing A.G. Spanos Companies for his holdings. The company specialized his apartment developments and allowed Spanos to purchase the San Diego Chargers in 1984. The self-made billionaire turned the operation of the team over to his son, Dean, and is enjoying his 67th year of marriage to his wife Faye. Spanos’ net worth may further increase in value if the Chargers move to Los Angeles.

16 T17. Jerry Reinsdorf - $1.3 billion

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Since making his first fortune with the sale of his Balcor Company to American Express in 1982, Jerry Reinsdorf turned to significant investment in Chicago sports franchises. Reinsdorf invested in the Chicago White Sox and was part of a group that acquired a controlling stake of the Chicago Bulls the year after the franchise drafted Michael Jordan. The Bulls success since that acquisition has allowed the value of the team to balloon to over $2 billion. His current 19% stake of the Chicago White Sox is valued at $130 million dollars, meaning those 1980’s investments have matured greatly in the last 30 years.

15 T14. Arturo Moreno - $1.5 billion

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Arturo Moreno made his fortune in billboard advertising, when he sold Outdoor Systems to Infinity Broadcasting for $8.7 billion in stock options. Moreno used his wealth to purchase the Anaheim Angels from Disney and immediately endeared himself to fans by lowering prices on everything from tickets to concessions. Moreno then changed the team’s name to capture the much larger Los Angeles market and watched the value of his franchise soar. Moreno has become one of the most beloved owners in Major League Baseball and benefitted greatly from the massive local television deal recently signed for $2.5 billion.

14 T14. Lorenzo Fertitta - $1.5 billion

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After graduating from the University of San Diego and the Stern School of Business, Fertitta served at several positions within his father’s company, Fertitta Enterprises. He went on to become one of the co-founders of Station Casinos before striking gold with his investment in the Ultimate Fighting Championship through Zuffa. Zuffa was in significant debt before it found success with The Ultimate Fighter and is now the leading promotion in the world for mixed martial arts. The UFC’s value continues to grow thanks to the broadcast deal it signed with Fox.

13 T14. Frank Fertitta, III - $1.5 billion

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The older brother of Lorenzo, Frank Fertitta graduated from the University of South California before going onto hold several positions with Station Casinos. He entered his role as the CEO of Station Casinos in 1992 and served as the president from 1989 to 2000. During this time, he joined his brother and Dana White in the acquisition of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In 2011, Station Casinos filed for bankruptcy, but the Fertitta family took on additional debt to maintain ownership. The company recovered from that bankruptcy and now has 19 locations throughout the United States.

12 T12. John Henry - $1.6 billion

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Along with his business partner Tom Warner, John Henry acquired the Boston Red Sox for $380 million in 2002. Since acquiring the franchise, the net worth has tripled to its current value of $1.5 billion. Along with the Red Sox, their Fenway Sports group has acquired the legendary Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League and Roush Racing of NASCAR. Henry’s company has certainly not shied away from spending with the recent acquisition of Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, and Mario Balotelli by his franchises.

T12. Leslie Alexander - $1.6 billion

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Leslie Alexander dropped out of Brooklyn Law School and took his talents to Wall Street, where he made a fortune trading bonds. After finishing his law degree, Alexander acquired the Houston Rockets for $85 million at the perfect time, just prior to them winning two NBA Championships. After for-profit student loan First Marblehead took a dive in 2008, Alexander’s best investment proved to be the Rockets. Alexander is the 100% owner of the franchise, which is now estimated to be around $1.25 billion.

11 Dan Snyder - $1.7 billion

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In addition to being an outspoken critic of the freedom of the press, Dan Snyder is also the owner of the only professional sports franchise to contain a racial epithet as its nickname. Snyder refuses to change the name, believing it to be an homage to Native American culture rather than an offensive racial term. Snyder also owns holdings in Red Zone Capital, a collection of Monet paintings, a 224-foot yacht, as well as the Washington NFL franchise now valued at $2.4 billion. Snyder has been a billionaire since the age of 42, when he sold Snyder Communications to Havas for $2.5 billion in stock.

10 James Irsay - $1.8 billion

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Last year, Jim Irsay served a six-game suspension related to his arrest for driving while under the influence. Following the suspension, Irsay watched his Indianapolis Colts earn another playoff appearance. Irsay took over the operations of the team from his father in 1997 and has turned the franchise into a model for the NFL. The team is now worth over $1.3 billion and Irsay is the 100% owner of the franchise after winning a successful lawsuit against his stepmother for ownership of the team.

9 Tom Benson - $1.9 billion

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Tom Benson built his wealth by investing in a successful string of car dealerships and local banks before parlaying these into a controlling stake of the New Orleans Saints. Benson has built the Saints into one of the most profitable franchises in the NFL thanks to signing a lucrative deal to keep the team in New Orleans through 2025. Benson also acquired the New Orleans Pelicans from the NBA and has seen the franchise’s value increase because of the success of Anthony Davis. Benson also owns the New Orleans Fox affiliate and an office building that bears his name.

8 James France - $2.1 billion

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As the son of NASCAR co-founder William France, James France inherited his father’s holdings in the company and International Speedway Corporation. France’s wealth has increased in recent years thanks to new broadcast deals that NASCAR has entered into with NBC and Fox. France is currently the vice-chairman of NASCAR and is the former CEO of ISC, which controls and sells tickets to 13 race tracks. France’s stewardship of auto racing has brought his family considerable wealth and power within the sport.

7 Robert McNair - $2.4 billion

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Robert McNair has emerged from his battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and squamous cell carcinoma with a new outlook. The owner of the Houston Texans made his fortune when he sold Cogen Technologies for $1.5 billion to Enron. McNair used those proceeds to purchase a 79% controlling stake in the expansion franchise in 1999. McNair is the chairman of the McNair Group and owner of Palmetto Partners that manages both public and private holdings.

6 Arthur Blank - $2.5 billion

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Arthur Blank is one of the co-founders of Home Depot and built the company into an empire before retiring in 2001. He acquired the Atlanta Falcons for $545 million and since that acquisition it has increased to its current value of $1.125 billion. Blank recently swindled the NFL and Atlanta taxpayers into contributing to building the team’s new stadium to keep them in town. Blank also recently acquired the rights to start an Atlanta MLS franchise for $70 million and the team will begin play in the 2017 season.

5 Stephen Bisciotti - $2.7 billion

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Usually known to keep a low profile, Stephen Bisciotti was brought to the forefront of public attention in the wake of the Ray Rice domestic abuse saga last season. Biscotti made his fortune by outsourcing jobs overseas through the Allegis Group, which owns TEKsystems and Aerotek. Biscotti’s ownership of the Ravens came in two stages, a 2001 deal that saw him acquire 49% of the Baltimore Ravens from Art Modell and the remaining 51% in 2004. The Ravens have won two Super Bowls since Biscotti became a part of the franchise.

4 Bernard Ecclestone - $3.9 billion

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Bernard Eccleston started as the son of a trawler captain to become a pioneer in auto racing thanks to his success with the Formula 1 group of companies. Ecclestone forced out the governing body of the competition and took control with his vision of the sport’s future based in broadcast television rights. In recent years, he has been embroiled in ongoing lawsuits including a bribery scandal with German banker Gerhard Gribkowsky. Ecclestone settled the lawsuit for $100 million, but has maintained his holdings in Formula 1, while setting up a trust that will go to his two daughters.

3 Jerry Jones – $4.2 billion

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Jerry Jones found his first success in the Texas oil business after winning a National Championship in football at the University of Arkansas. He used his oil money and real estate holdings to purchase the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 for only $150 million. The franchise has grown to become the second most valuable sports team in the world, worth over $3.2 billion currently. Jones recently built an expansive new stadium for the Cowboys, which was given the name of AT&T Stadium after the naming rights were sold for around $17 million per year, according to Dallas News.com.

2 Robert Kraft - $4.3 billon

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Robert Kraft has had a fantastic start to 2015. His New England Patriots are fresh off their Super Bowl triumph over the Seattle Seahawks and Kraft celebrated in style. Kraft purchased the team for only $172 million and it is now valued at $2.6 billion. Kraft made his fortune in the paper manufacturing business and Kraft Group now boasts sales of over $2.7 billion. Kraft is also a board member of Apollo Global Management, which recently sold drug start up Acetylon for $1.7 billion. No matter the industry, Kraft doesn’t seem able to lose.

1 Stanley Kroenke - $6.3 billion

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Stan Kroenke is the husband of Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton. The couple own considerable real estate and financial holdings. Kroenke’s sports empire includes holdings Arsenal, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, and the St. Louis Rams. Kroenke is at the center of the NFL potentially moving a team to Los Angeles. Kroenke is the owner of a site, which could soon become home to an 80,000 seat stadium, where he would move the Rams in their return to the city. Although future business moves will likely increase his wealth even further, his $6.3 billion in holdings currently makes him the richest person in the world of sports.

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