Everyone knows what it takes to get on an NFL team – pure skill and athletic prowess. Anyone who pulls on the uniform and runs onto the field has gotten there because of their hard work in college, combine week, and endless practices. Coaches are fairly similar – they often need to prove their skills at a lower level for several years in colleges before making it up to the pros. Most people you see on or around the field in an NFL game have gotten there by proving they are skilled at whatever role they’re responsible for, whether it be quarterback or offensive coordinator.
Team owners, however, are an entirely different story. You know who they are, even if you may not know every single owner’s name. The ones that the camera often pans to for a second, sitting in their box, watching the game. When their team wins big, they get to rub the Lombardi and make a short speech. It’s a pretty cool deal, as far as investments go.
While there are a few exceptions (mostly for the owners who have inherited their team), the majority of team owners tend to be fairly up there in years. It’s simple – it generally takes quite a while to bank the hundreds of millions required to buy an NFL team. The owners of the NFL’s biggest and best teams have made their money in oil, real estate, marketing, construction, franchises and much more. And, of course, that family money – many team owners inherited their fortunes, making it a far more attainable goal than for those who started from nothing.
How on earth does someone make enough money to afford an NFL team? If you’ve ever asked yourself that question, then this is the list for you. Here’s how 20 NFL team owners made that dough.
20. Shahid Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars)
Khan has a voracious appetite for athletics, having recently purchased the English Premier League’s Fulham FC. He purchased the Jaguars in 2011-2012 for what is estimated to be over $700 million – not exactly pocket change. In contrast to many of the all-American owners, Khan came to the United States from Pakistan at the age of 16. How did he get enough money to sign his name to so many sports teams? One word – bumpers. Need more explanation? Khan, an engineer by trade, got a job at autoparts company Flex-N-Gate when he was younger. He didn’t quite agree with their process, so he improved it, started his own company, and eventually bought the company that had once hired him. He has supplied bumpers to some of the biggest automotive names, such as Toyota and GM.
19. Jerry Richardson (Carolina Panthers)
Jerry Richardson has a bit more experience on the field than most owners, as he himself played in the NFL. Although it was only for two seasons (1959 – 1960), he definitely has a deeper insight into how the players on his team must feel than owners who have never put on their pads for a hard game. How did he manage to afford a team with a measly two year NFL career? Food. He owned several Hardee’s franchises, then became CEO of Flagstar, the food services company that ran every Denny’s in America. He’s owned the team since 1993, and retired as CEO in 1995. That retirement gives him plenty of time to come out to every Panthers home game.
18. Stephen Bisciotti (Baltimore Ravens)
When it comes to the Ravens, Bisciotti is insatiable. He was a minority owner for about four years before he decided he wanted a much, much bigger piece of the pie, shelling out $325 million for the team. He’s also one of the youngest owners of an NFL team, currently only 54 years of age in comparison to many owners who are in the 70 – 80 age range. A self-made man, Bisciotti built his empire from the ground up – or, more specifically, from the basement up. He founded Aerotek, a staffing company, with his cousin. The company later turned into the Allegis Group, and through providing engineering and technology companies with skilled staff, he’s been able to put quite a few coins into his pocket and purchase a Super Bowl winning team.
17. Virginia Halas McCaskey (Chicago Bears)
If the NFL team owners had a meeting, it would largely look like a boys’ club – with a few exceptions, one being Virginia Halas McCaskey. Did McCaskey just have a big bank account and bigger appetite for the NFL? Not exactly. Her 80% ownership of the Bears was passed down from her father, George Halas. Halas, nicknamed “Mr. Everything,” was a jack of all trades – owner, founder, player, coach and coordinator. While Virginia hasn’t exactly taken on the same involvement in Chicago’s beloved Bears, her fortune is heavily rooted in the NFL itself.
16. Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys)
Jones played a little football himself in his younger years, but his time in football has mostly been spent as an owner – he’s had the Cowboys in his pocket since 1989. He bought them for $140 million at that time, and they’re worth an estimated $3.2 billion today. Not a bad investment at all. How did he get all that money? Oil – what else would you expect in Texas? He supercharged his bank account in the 1970s and 1980s with Jones Oil and Land Lease.
15. Pat Bowlen (Denver Broncos)
Pat Bowlen and his family (brothers John and Bill and sister Marybeth) snagged the Broncos from Edgar Kaiser in the mid 1980s, and have held onto it for over 30 years. Bowlen was initially a lawyer up north in Alberta, and eventually became an executive for his family’s – what else – oil drilling company, Regent Resources. Though he recently stepped down due to health issues, he was the Broncos’ CEO for 30 years, making him a very involved owner indeed.
14. Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals)
Brown likes to keep a pretty tight hold on his investments – in addition to being the owner of the Bengals since 1991, he’s also the general manager, a fairly rare feat (he’s only one of two owners to take on the managing position). He got the team in a father to son inheritance, taking it over from his father Paul. The Brown family has their roots in football, having made their money largely from investing in teams rather than drilling for oil.
13. Dan Snyder (Washington Redskins)
While most of the NFL team owners would have enough wealth to rub elbows with celebrities if they wanted to, they tend to keep to different circles. Snyder is one of the exceptions. He got his start in marketing and advertising with a company he founded with his sister. They later expanded to telemarketing and other innovative marketing methods. Snyder now owns three sports radio stations, Dick Clark Productions, and a production company with the one and only Tom Cruise. At the young age of 50, he still has quite a few years to enjoy the Redskins.
12. Tom Benson (New Orleans Saints)
Benson made his money in cars and cash. Let’s break it down a little – he started out as a car salesman, eventually gained an interest in one poorly performing dealership, went on to buy several dealerships, and the rest is history. With several successful New Orleans and San Antonio car dealerships to his name, he turned his attention to cash as he began to invest in local banks before finally forming Benson Financial. This sports fan and dedicated New Orleans resident also owns the New Orleans Pelicans.
11. Robert Wood Johnson IV (New York Jets)
Does the name Johnson sound familiar to you? As one of the most common names, it should – what about if I say Johnson & Johnson? Robert “Woody” Johnson IV is one of those Johnsons, an heir to the hugely successful Johnson & Johnson company. With all that family money in his account, he easily afforded the $635 million price tag for the New York Jets.
10. Alex Spanos (San Diego Chargers)
Spanos is another self-made man. Born in Stockton, California, Spanos took out a bank loan for $800 back in 1950 to start a catering company. Before you get any swanky ideas of white tablecloths and tuxedo-clad wait staff, let’s clarify – Spanos sold sandwiches from a truck to workers in the San Joaquin Valley. They must have been pretty tasty, as he had made his first million within five years. Spanos was smart with his cash, throwing it into real estate before finally founding A.G. Spanos Companies, a construction business. This California boy has owned the chargers for over 30 years.
9. Jed York (San Francisco 49ers)
While a majority of the players in the NFL are in their 20s – one’s athletic peak years – it’s not uncommon for talented players to play in their early 30s. There’s one 32 year old that knows everything there is to know about the San Francisco 49ers – but he’s not on the field, he’s in the CEO box. Football is a family business for the Yorks, and thanks to mom and pop, little Jed is in a fairly senior position at a very young age. He is Edward DeBartolo Jr.’s nephew – the construction and real estate tycoon who owned the 49ers for 23 years.
8. Glazer Family (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Football seems to be a family business. Malcolm Glazer owned the Buccaneers for almost 20 years, purchasing them in 1995 for $192 million. His fortune came from his savvy business dealings – having inherited his father’s watch business at the tender age of 15, Malcolm eventually bought trailer parks, then transformed his real estate money into a holding company, First Allied Corporation. He built enough wealth to buy a few sports franchises, which is where most of the Glazer money comes from now (they also own wildly popular soccer team Manchester United). Malcolm, the Glazer business master, passed away in 2014, and the team passed down to his heirs.
7. Bill Bidwill (Arizona Cardinals)
Bidwill has been the owner of the Cardinals since 1972. He’s one of the lucky ones – he inherited the team from his father, Charles Bidwill, and has been the sole owner since 1972. His father was a lawyer in Chicago and rumor has it, according to From Sandlots to the Super Bowl: The National Football League, 1920 – 1967, the older Bidwill had connections to notorious mobster Al Capone. It seems fitting – the Bidwills have kept the team in the family for decades.
6. Arthur Blank (Atlanta Falcons)
There seems to be at least one or two Home Depots in every city, and why not – everyone needs paint and nails. Since there are so many locations, one might assume that the man who started it all up would be a multimillionaire. That assumption would be correct. Blank is a co-founder of the popular chain, and bought the Falcons a little over 10 years ago for a reported $545 million.
5. Ford Family (Detroit Lions)
The Detroit Lions haven’t won a whole lot of games over the last two decades, so one might think they’re a bad investment. However, the family who owns the losing Lions doesn’t exactly need to worry about money. For a long time, the Detroit team was owned by William Clay Ford, Sr. – yes, those Fords. He bought the Lions for a measly $4.5 million all the way back in 1963. How did he have all that money? Well, he was Henry Ford’s last surviving grandchild and the largest stockholder in the Ford Motor Company. After William passed away, the team went to his widow Martha Firestone Ford. However, many Ford family members are involved in different aspects of the team. From cars to football, the Fords likely aren’t going to be too worried about their investments, regardless of how Detroit performs.
4. Jim Irsay (Indianapolis Colts)
Irsay got a fair bit of his wealth from his father Robert, who made his money through heating and air-conditioning companies. The Colts weren’t the first team that Jim owned, however – he initially bought the Los Angeles Rams, and then, in bizarre fashion, played tradesies with Carroll Rosenbloom. Los Angeles Rams for the Baltimore Colts. An easy trade. If you’re scratching your head thinking ‘wait, Baltimore Colts? Aren’t they in Indianapolis?’ you must have not heard the infamous Irsay tale of moving an entire NFL team in the dead of the night with a fleet of trucks. Look it up. It’s a juicy one.
3. The Hunt Family
H.L. Hunt was basically the definition of a Texas oil tycoon, and he made an extravagant fortune which eventually passed to his son Lamar. Lamar turned his attention to sports and co-founded the American Football League. Fun fact – Lamar also coined the term “Super Bowl.” The senior Hunt had his finger in many professional sports teams, and his investments were in athletics rather than his father’s oil. After Lamar’s death, the Chiefs went to his son Clark. If you weren’t clear on how lucky this guy is, check out the suite he has at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s absolutely insane.
2. Paul Allen (Seattle Seahawks)
Where do you get the money to buy a team like the Seattle Seahawks. Well, if you’re Paul Allen, you team up with some guy named Bill Gates and found Microsoft. It’s a pretty big company, you may have heard of it. Thanks to that stroke of genius in 1975, Allen is now worth $17 billion and has the bragging rights of being the richest team owner in the entire NFL. He scoffs at the paltry 2 or 3 billion net worths of many other owners. He also owns the Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Sounders, so he’s a pretty sports-oriented guy. But let’s be serious – with a net worth of $17 billion, he could probably own half of Seattle if he wanted.
1. Robert Kraft (New England Patriots)
Kraft is probably the freshest on everyone’s mind, given that his team just won the Super Bowl. He bought the Patriots 20 years ago for $172 million and has been the owner ever since. He made his fortune through hard work, starting at the bottom at his father-in-law’s packaging material company and moving up the corporate ladder. He eventually bought the company that was his former employer, merged it with another packaging and recycling company he started, and watched the dollars flow in. He also has his finger in real estate and entertainment ventures, and all his business dealings are under the umbrella of self-named The Kraft Group.
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