How the Owners of All 32 NFL Teams Made Their Money
Has the return of football season inspired you to pursue your dream of NFL franchise ownership? Here's how someone—or, in many cases, someone's parents or grandparents—becomes wealthy enough to buy a team.
Arizona Cardinals: Bill Bidwill
Owner Since: 1972
The Numbers: Forbes estimates the Cardinals are worth $961 million, making them the 24th most valuable team in the NFL.
Moving Man: Bidwill moved the team from St. Louis after his demands for a new stadium weren’t met.
How He Got Rich: Bidwill inherited the Cardinals from his father, Charles. Charles was a wealthy Chicago lawyer, and according to the book From Sandlots to the Super Bowl: The National Football League, 1920-1967, he had connections to Al Capone.
Atlanta Falcons: Arthur Blank
Owner Since: 2002
The Numbers: The Falcons are estimated to be worth $933 million, placing them 26th in the NFL franchise financial rankings. Blank reportedly bought the team for $545 million.
More Teams on the Way?: Blank has expressed interest in bringing an MLS team to Atlanta.
How He Got Rich: In 1978, Arthur Blank co-founded Home Depot. Story has it that during Home Depot’s early days, Blank and his business partner would stand in the parking lot handing out dollar bills to entice customers to browse the store. Blank is now worth an estimated $1.6 billion, meaning he could lure the entire population of China into a Home Depot if he wanted to.
Baltimore Ravens: Stephen Bisciotti
Owner Since: 2004
The Numbers: Bisciotti was a minority owner of the Ravens from 2000 until he bought the whole dang team through a $325 million deal with Art Modell in 2004. The Ravens are now worth $1.2 billion. Oh, they also won the Super Bowl last season, which looked like it was a lot of fun.
Young Gun: Bisciotti is the second youngest sole owner of an NFL franchise behind Dan Snyder. Bisciotti is the first youngest if you don’t count owners who are despised by their own fans.
How He Got Rich: Bisciotti founded Aerotek in a basement office with his cousin. This later turned into the parent company the Allegis Group, which owns both Aerotek and TEKsystems. Despite what they sound like, these companies are not fronts for a Bond villain’s plot for world domination, but rather staffing firms for engineering and technology companies.
Buffalo Bills: Ralph Wilson
Owner Since: 1959
The Numbers: The Buffalo Bills are worth $870 million, according to Forbes. Ralph Wilson founded the team in the then-AFL in 1959. The league eventually merged with the NFL in 1970, where the Bills went on to define small-market success in the early '90s—before doing the exact opposite of that for the following two decades. At 94, Ralph Wilson is the oldest owner in the NFL.
How He Got Rich: After World War II, Wilson took over his father’s insurance company, and went on to purchase manufacturing plants, trucking companies, highway construction firms, TV and radio stations, and other businesses in the Detroit area and across the country. Much of this was under the purview of Ralph Wilson Enterprises, an early example of the megalomaniacal naming habits that would later breed Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Carolina Panthers: Jerry Richardson
Owner Since: 1993
The Numbers: The Panthers are worth a little over $1 billion.
Experience: Richardson actually played in the NFL for two seasons. He was a receiver for the Baltimore Colts in 1959 and 1960. Maybe he could throw on the pads for one more go and give Cam Newton another downfield target! (Disclaimer: Jerry Richardson is 77 years old and would likely be severely injured or even killed.)
How He Got Rich: Richardson owned Hardee’s franchises in South Carolina before going on to become the CEO of food services company Flagstar, which ran every Denny’s in the country. The company flirted with financial unrest until it was purchased by a private equity group in 1992. Richardson retired in 1995.
Chicago Bears: Virginia Halas McCaskey
Owner Since: 1983
The Numbers: Virginia McCaskey owns 80% of the Bears, who are valued at over $1.2 billion. Nearly $1 billion of that money is spent reminding people the 1985 Bears won the Super Bowl.
Football Money: It’s hard to find any Halas family holdings or enterprises that don’t have to do with the T-formation, linebackers, or angry, mustachioed head coaches. The family’s fortune grew with the NFL, which is to say it grew a lot.
How She Got Rich: She inherited the team from her father, George Halas, who took a starch company’s rec-league squad and essentially turned it into the NFL. He was a founder, player, coordinator, coach, and owner of the Bears—hence his nickname, “Mr. Everything.”
Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Brown
Owner Since: 1991
The Numbers: Mike Brown took over the Bengals after his father’s death in 1991. The team is worth an estimated $924 million.
Total Control: Mike Brown works as the general manager of the Bengals, and is one of only two owners in the NFL to do so. The Cowboys’ Jerry Jones is the other, which doesn’t help Brown in deflecting any criticism that he’s a control freak.
How He Got Rich: Mike Brown’s father, Paul Brown, was the namesake and first coach of Ohio’s other team, the Browns. He went on to co-found and own the Bengals before leaving the team to his son. Like the Halas family, the Browns’ money comes from football. Should football one day cease to exist, the Browns would be penniless and confused, wandering through the Midwest wondering where their publicly-funded stadiums and fortune went. Luckily for them, football has continued to exist and looks relatively stable.
Cleveland Browns: Jimmy Haslam
Owner Since: 2012
The Numbers: In 2012, Jimmy Haslam bought the Cleveland Browns from Randy Lerner for a reported $1 billion.
Serial Buyer: Haslam had to sell a minority interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers that he held since 2008 in order to buy the Browns. NFL rules state that owners aren’t allowed to have ownership stakes in multiple teams. In fact, that’s pretty much the only rule the NFL has for its owners.
How He Got Rich: Jimmy Haslam is the CEO of the Pilot Flying J truck stop company, a nationwide chain founded by his father. Pilot Flying J is the largest such company in the country and sells more over-the-road diesel fuel than anyone else. Haslam and Pilot Flying J are currently under federal investigation for allegedly scheming customers and shortchanging them on fuel rebates.
Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones
Owner Since: 1989
The Numbers: The Cowboys are worth an estimated $2.3 billion, making them the number one team on Forbes’ list of the most valuable NFL franchises. Jerry Jones bought them in 1989 for $140 million and has been one of the most visible owners in all of pro sports. In 2009, Jones opened the new $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium, now named AT&T Stadium. Remember to call it that—AT&T paid an estimated $500 million and would appreciate it.
How He Got Rich: Jones is an oilman, naturally. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Jones made his fortune wildcatting with Jones Oil and Land Lease, drilling all the way to the Cowboys’ owners box. Jones’ estimated net worth now sits at $2.7 billion, or roughly 25 debatable Tony Romo contract extensions.
Denver Broncos: Pat Bowlen
Owner Since: 1984
The Numbers: Pat Bowlen became the majority owner of the Denver Broncos in 1984 after his family purchased the team from Edgar Kaiser. The Broncos are now worth $1.1 billion which, adjusted for altitude, is still $1.1 billion. Bowlen also owns the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse.
How He Got Rich: Pat Bowlen achieved success as a lawyer in Edmonton before becoming an executive for his family’s oil drilling and exploration company, Regent Resources. The lesson here seems to be that if you can strike oil and buy a sports team before the league’s popularity explodes, you might be able to make a buck or two.
Detroit Lions: William Clay Ford, Sr.
Owner Since: 1963
The Numbers: William Clay Ford, Sr. bought the Detroit Lions in 1963 for $4.5 million. The team is now worth $900 million. Since buying the team, Ford’s Lions have won exactly one playoff game.
How He Got Rich: Bill is Henry Ford’s last surviving grandchild and the Ford Motor Company’s single largest stockholder. According to a 2011 calculation, Ford’s shares in the motor company were estimated to be worth about $500 million. While not a significant factor in his wealth, Ford also gets free cars, which must be a treat.
Green Bay Packers: Green Bay Packers, Inc.
This One's Different: The Packers are a very special case. They are a publicly traded non-profit company owned by their 364,122 shareholders. If they ever need to raise money for a stadium or something else expensive, they just sell more shares. To prevent anything even resembling a majority owner from coming into existence, there’s a limit on how many shares you can buy.
It’s a remarkably effective and successful model that goes directly against the NFL’s runaway capitalist ideal. Naturally, it’s long been banned by the league—the Packers have been grandfathered in.
Houston Texans: Robert C. McNair
Owner Since: 2002
The Numbers: McNair and his partners bought the expansion Houston Texans for $700 million. In little over a decade, the team’s value ballooned to an estimated $1.4 billion, making them the 5th most valuable NFL franchise according to Forbes, and proving that people from Texas really took to rooting against the Cowboys.
How He Got Rich: Robert C. McNair owned a cogeneration power plant company and sold it to Enron in 1999. After that, it was nothing but smooooooth sailing for Enron.
Indianapolis Colts: Jim Irsay
Owner Since: 1997
The Numbers: The Colts are worth an estimated $1.2 billion, much of which is tied to a sweet stadium deal hashed out with Indianapolis. Meanwhile, Irsay guest-starred in a Parks and Recreation episode last season. Our advice to him? Don’t quit your day job (because your day job is to sit and watch football and make a billion dollars).
How He Got Rich: Jim Irsay’s father, Robert Irsay, built a fortune estimated to be over $150 million through successful heating and air-conditioning companies. In 1972 he bought the Los Angeles Rams for $19 million before trading franchises with Carroll Rosenbloom for the Baltimore Colts. The franchise trade wasn’t the last oddball ownership trick he pulled: Irsay infamously moved the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984 via a fleet of moving trucks. No one ever gives the movers enough credit. Moving an entire pro football team in one night must’ve been really hard.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Shahid Khan
Owner Since: 2012
The Numbers: The Jaguars are worth an estimated $840 million, which must come as a surprise to the citizens of Jacksonville. They never knew they even had a football team. Khan just purchased Fulham FC, of the English Premier League, for a price estimated to be over $200 million.
How He Got Rich: Bumpers.
Khan arrived in America from Pakistan when he was 16 to study engineering at the University of Illinois. After graduating, Khan found work as an engineering manager at Flex-N-Gate, a nearby autoparts company. Flex-N-Gate made bumpers, and they made them inefficiently. Khan streamlined the process and started his own company, Bumper Works. Soon after, Khan bought Flex-N-Gate and began supplying lightweight bumpers to General Motors. After GM decided to use his methods on their own, Khan shifted his focus to Japanese automakers in the ‘80s, just as the Japanese auto invasion began to storm U.S. shores. Flex-N-Gate is now the sole bumper manufacturer for Toyota, and made $3.9 billion in 2012 alone.
Kansas City Chiefs: Clark Hunt
Owner Since: 2006
The Numbers: The Chiefs are worth a little over $1 billion, and have been in the Hunt family since the team’s inception in the AFL. Clark Hunt is the Chairman of Hunt Sports Group, which operates the Columbus Crew.
How He Got Rich: Clark Hunt is the grandchild of extravagant oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, who was the Platonic ideal for a Texas billionaire (he may have been the inspiration for J.R. Ewing on Dallas). H.L’s son (and Clark’s father) Lamar was a co-founder of the American Football League. He’s also the person who coined the term “Super Bowl,” and had investments in various soccer, tennis, hockey, and basketball ventures (including the Chicago Bulls). When Lamar died in 2006, Clark inherited the Chiefs and has served as chairman and CEO ever since.
Miami Dolphins: Stephen M. Ross
Owner Since: 2009
The Numbers: The Dolphins are worth an estimated $1.07 billion. Not bad for a team whose logo is a porpoise wearing a helmet. Ross increased his share of the franchise from 50% to 95% in 2009.
How He Got Rich: Stephen Ross started his career as a tax attorney before getting into real estate. He started by investing in affordable housing and syndicating and selling these projects as tax shelters to wealthy investors. His real estate ventures eventually grew to include mammoth projects like the Time Warner Center and the sprawling Hudson Yards development site in Manhattan. His estimated net worth is now $4.4 billion. Ross donates a lot to his alma mater, the University of Michigan. A lot: he's given $313 million so far. For his troubles they went ahead and named the business school after him.
Minnesota Vikings: Zygi Wilf
Owner Since: 2005
The Numbers: Wilf and his partners bought the Vikings in 2005 for a reported $600 million. The team is now worth over $1 billion.
Stadium Drama: After years of arguing with local government and angry taxpayers, it looks as if Minneapolis and the Vikings are finally going to break ground on a nearly $1 billion stadium. This is all pending a credit check on Zygi, which is currently ongoing. Billionaires have a lot of credit to check, apparently.
How He Got Rich: Wilf’s family, German immigrants and Holocaust survivors, launched their wealth by building and selling single family homes in the ‘50s. The company grew with Wilf and his brothers at the helm, and their business now develops town homes in 39 states. They also have a commercial arm that specializes in shopping malls and owns around 21 million square feet of retail space in the U.S.
New England Patriots: Robert Kraft
Owner since: 1995
The Numbers: Robert Kraft bought the Patriots for $172 million in 1995, and their estimated net worth is now $1.8 billion. In an alternate universe, this number swelled to over $2 billion due to merchandise sales celebrating the Pats’ undefeated season in 2007. But in this universe, there was the helmet catch.
Other Notable Holdings: Kraft is the founder of one of the first MLS teams, the New England Revolution.
How He Got Rich: Robert Kraft got his start working at his father-in-law’s packaging material company. He eventually bought the business and merged it with International Forest Products, a separate packaging and recycling company he started. All his ventures are currently under the umbrella of The Kraft Group, a holding company that also controls various real estate and entertainment ventures. His estimated net worth is $2.3 billion.
New Orleans Saints: Tom Benson
Owner Since: 1985
The Numbers: The New Orleans Saints are worth around $1 billion. Benson bought the team in 1985 when he found out they were in talks to be moved to Jacksonville, a city with far inferior zydeco music and gumbo. Benson also recently bought the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.
How He Got Rich: Benson owned (and still owns) multiple car dealerships in the New Orleans and San Antonio areas. He began to invest in and purchase local banks and formed Benson Financial, which was a successful enough enterprise to fund his purchase of the Saints. In 1996 he sold Benson Financial to Norwest Banks for $440 million.
New York Giants: John Mara and Steve Tisch
Owners Since: 2005
The Numbers: The Giants, one of the NFL’s first teams, are estimated to be worth around one and a half billion dollars. But they have to share a stadium with the Jets, which really must bring their property values down.
Familiar Names: That’s Mara as in Rooney and Kate Mara; the actresses are the great-granddaughters of Tim Mara. And the Tisch family might ring a bell because they’re the Tisches of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
How They Got Rich: The Maras' fortune started with the Giants’ original owner, Tim Mara. Tim was a bookkeeper in the horse racing circuit and bought the Giants for $500 in 1925. Story has it that Mara’s buddy, a boxing promoter, was offered the team but passed it along to him. Mara didn’t know much about football, but he ponied up the five hundred bucks anyway.
Steve Tisch is a film producer and inherited his part-ownership of the Giants from his father, Bob Tisch, a former postmaster general and co-owner of the Loews Corporation.
New York Jets: Robert Wood Johnson IV
Owner Since: 2000
The Numbers: Robert “Woody” Johnson IV bought the Jets in 2000 for a reported $635 million. They are now worth an estimated $1.3 billion, but if you ask the New York tabloids, they’d list the team as “priceless.”
How He Got Rich: Woody Johnson is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson company, which was co-founded by his great-grandfather.
Oakland Raiders: Mark and Carol Davis
Owners Since: 2011
The Numbers: The Raiders are worth $825 million, making them the paupers of the NFL. Still, they should be able to afford a football field that doesn’t have a baseball diamond sitting in the middle of it. This isn’t Pop Warner, folks.
Warring With The NFL: He could be a clueless blowhard at times, but former owner Al Davis loved to stick it to the powers-that-be, something that’s always enjoyable. Davis quit as the AFL commissioner because he was so against the move to the NFL. As owner, he went on to annoy every NFL commissioner who stood in his way.
How They Got Rich: Mark Davis and his mother, Carol, inherited a controlling interest in the Raiders from Mark’s father, Al. The elder Davis began as a coach and general manager of the Raiders before becoming the team’s owner by shouldering out Wayne Valley, the man who'd originally hired Davis, when Valley was out of the country. The moral of the story: Don’t go on vacation when Al Davis is around.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jeffrey Lurie
Owner Since: 1994
The Numbers: Jeffrey Lurie bought the Eagles in 1994 for $195 million. The team is now worth around $1.3 billion.
Eagles Are Green: In 2010, Lurie and the Eagles announced a plan to make Lincoln Financial Field the first major sports stadium to generate its own renewable energy. Though, that’s pretty easy when the fans are throwing batteries on the field. (Lay off, Eagles fans; at least we didn’t go the Santa-booing route.)
How He Got Rich: The Lurie family fortune started with a chain of movie theaters founded and built by Jeffrey Lurie’s grandfather. The family wealth blossomed after acquiring other ventures like bottling companies and clothing retailers. In 1985, Jeffrey founded Chestnut Hill Productions, which produced a slew of pretty forgettable films including Blind Side. No, not the movie about football, but rather the steamy 1993 thriller starring Ron Silver.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Dan Rooney
Owner Since: 1988
The Numbers: The Steelers are worth $1.1 billion, making them the richest towel manufacturer in the world. They also run a football team on the side.
Steeler Nation Envoy: In 2009, President Obama named Rooney the U.S.’s ambassador to Ireland. He resigned in 2012.
How He Got Rich: Lore has it that Art Rooney, Dan’s father, got the $2500 needed to purchase Pittsburgh an NFL franchise in 1933 after he won a parlay at the horse track. There is some dispute over the validity of this story, but no matter how he earned the money, Art managed to turn the Steelers into one of the NFL’s wealthiest franchises. Gambling never left the family’s blood, either: Dan Rooney’s brothers own various horse and greyhound tracks across the country.
San Diego Chargers: Alex Spanos
Owner Since: 1984
The Numbers: The Chargers are worth an estimated $949 million, which is one dollar for every day of sunshine San Diego gets a year.
Stadium Blues: The Chargers play in the second-oldest stadium in the NFL. Spanos has reportedly been looking into moving the team to get away from the 46-year-old stadium. The front runner appears to be L.A.
How He Got Rich: Spanos’ business career began in 1951 when he started a catering company with an $800 loan. He threw his catering profits into real estate and rolled those investments into the A.G. Spanos Companies, a construction business specializing in apartment and commercial buildings.
San Francisco 49ers: Jed York
Owner Since: 2009
The Numbers: Forbes estimates the 49ers to be worth about $1.2 billion.
Young Gun: At 32, Jed York is the youngest majority owner in the NFL. This makes it extremely easy to resent his success, something we look forward to doing for many NFL seasons to come.
How He Got Rich: Jed York is the nephew of Edward DeBartolo Jr., who was the 49ers’ remarkably successful owner for 23 years. The DeBartolo fortune came from construction and real estate: they built some of the first suburban shopping malls in the country.
Seattle Seahawks: Paul Allen
Owner Since: 1997
The Numbers: The Seahawks are worth an estimated $1.08 billion [cut to footage of people throwing sturgeon in the Pike Place Fish Market.]
Other Notable Holdings: Allen also owns the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle Sounders of the MLS. If you live in the Pacific Northwest and play sports recreationally, chances are Paul Allen owns your after-work softball team.
How He Got Rich: In 1975, Paul Allen founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. He is now worth $15 billion, making him the NFL’s richest team owner (by far). And in the 1999 made-for-TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, Allen was portrayed by Josh Hopkins, who now plays Courteney Cox's love interest on Cougar Town.
St. Louis Rams: Stan Kroenke
Owner Since: 2010
The Numbers: The St. Louis Rams are worth an estimated $875 million.
Other Notable Holdings: Kroenke heads Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which owns or holds considerable shares of the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and Colorado Rapids. He had to turn over operational control of these teams upon becoming the owner of the Rams, as per the NFL’s rules on owning teams in multiple markets.
How He Got Rich: Stan Kroenke is a real estate magnate who owns developments around the country, many of which are anchored by Wal-Mart locations. His wife, Anna Walton Kroenke, is the daughter of Bud Walton, co-founder with his brother Sam of Wal-Mart. What a coincidence!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Malcolm Glazer
Owner Since: 1995
The Numbers: Glazer bought the Bucs for $192 million in 1995, which was a record at the time. He’s seen the value explode to over $1 billion, which probably makes him feel pretty smart.
Other Notable Holdings: The Glazer family bought Manchester United in 2005. The soccer club is the third-richest in the world.
How He Got Rich: When he was 15, Glazer inherited his father’s watch business. In the ‘70s, Glazer began buying trailer parks and soon developed that real estate venture into First Allied Corporation, a holding company that owns and rents shopping centers across the country. The company took a huge hit during the recession, and his current wealth is mainly due to his sports franchise ownerships.
Tennessee Titans: Bud Adams
Owner Since: 1960
The Numbers: The Titans are estimated to be worth $1.05 billion.
How He Got Rich: Adams was a wildcatter in the ‘50s and ’60s and made his money in oil. Hence the Titans original identity: The Houston Oilers. He also owns car franchises, because all that oil’s gotta go in something, right?
Washington Redskins: Dan Snyder
Owner Since: 1999
The Numbers: The Redskins are worth $1.7 billion.
Other Notable Holdings: Snyder owns three sports radio stations in the DC area, as well as a production company with Tom Cruise. He also purchased Dick Clark Productions, hoping it would provide rockin’ returns.
How He Got Rich: Snyder started a marketing and advertising company with his sister. They specialized in doctors' offices and hospitals. According to a report in the Washingtonian, “When new mothers were sent home from the maternity ward, they were given goodie bags of creams and diapers—through Dan Snyder’s company.” This direct marketing proved successful and the business took off and started to branch out to include telemarketing and other methods. That call you got during dinner last night? Probably Dan Snyder.
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.