Former jobs of every NFL owner

Written by:
February 12, 2020
Dylan Buell // Getty Images

Former jobs of every NFL owner

The chances of playing in the National Football League are crazy low—only 1.6% of all NCAA football players will make it to the pros—and becoming an owner is no easy achievement either.

Some lucky owners enter the exclusive club of 32 through inheritance, while others come calling with suitcases full of cash, a smile, and fingers crossed the other owners will give them the nod. Those who make it in are likely to line their pockets even more: The average NFL team value increased by 11% to $2.86 billion in 2018, according to Forbes.

But what did NFL owners do before they reached such rarified air and did they ever slog away like the majority of sports fans who fill their stadiums? (You know, the ones who are 100% sure they would do a better job if they were in charge of team decisions?) Stacker scoured the web for biographies of owners and interviews straight from the source to find out.

Turns out a handful of owners worked in a family business. Sometimes, that business was a professional football franchise, and they moved up the ranks.

Real estate, law, finance, film production, and oil exploration have been wealth producers for some on the list, and there are entrepreneurs in the bunch, too.

Some owners toiled at least a little of their lives at ordinary workplaces. You could have asked one to help you find a book, for instance, and bought gas from another. You might have even glimpsed a future owner hard at work washing dishes.

Maybe you have more in common with a front-office bigwig than you think. Read on to learn how many of today’s NFL owners have spent their working days.

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Arizona Cardinals: Michael Bidwill

- Year acquired: 2019

Working as a Phoenix-based federal prosecutor for six years before moving to the NFL’s oldest franchise as general counsel isn’t a normal career path, but it was a natural fit for Michael Bidwill. The team has been in his family since his grandfather purchased what was then known as the Chicago Cardinals in 1933. Michael became president in 2007 and then chairman in 2019 following the passing of his father, Bill Bidwill.

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Rob Carr // Getty Images

Atlanta Falcons: Arthur Blank

- Year acquired: 2002

After Arthur Blank and his pal Bernie Marcus got fired from a home improvement company called Handy Dan, the two opened their own version in 1978 and named it The Home Depot. Blank, who retired from his company in 2001, hadn’t always worked in the sector: His resume includes nearly five years at the accounting firm of Arthur Young & Company, a couple more at his family’s pharmaceutical distribution company, and positions as chief financial officer and president at Elliot's Drug Stores/Stripe Discount Stores.

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Ezra Shaw // Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens: Steve Bisciotti

- Year acquired: 2004

In 1983, Stephen Bisciotti and a cousin founded a staffing company called Aerotek that initially filled aeronautics, engineering, and light industrial positions. Bisciotti’s business, now known as the parent company Allegis Group, provides services to a wide range of industries and is currently the largest privately held talent management firm in the world, according to Forbes.

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Brett Carlsen // Getty Images

Buffalo Bills: Kim and Terry Pegula

- Year acquired: 2014

Talk about a good investment: After short stints at Getty Oil Co. and Felmont Oil Co., Terry Pegula launched the oil and gas company East Resources in 1983 with $7,500 he borrowed from family and friends. Twenty-seven years later he sold most of the business to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion and brought in more cash in 2014 by selling drilling rights on about 75,000 acres of land to American Energy.

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Jacob Kupferman // Getty Images

Carolina Panthers: David Tepper

- Year acquired: 2018

David Tepper, whom Forbes describes as “one of the greatest hedge fund managers ever,” started his career as a credit analyst with Equibank and worked at Republic Steel and Keystone Mutual Funds. He spent eight years at Goldman Sachs before starting his lucrative Appaloosa Management L.P. in 1993. Tepper sold his shares in the Pittsburgh Steelers when he bought the Panthers.

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Quinn Harris // Getty Images

Chicago Bears: Virginia Halas McCaskey

- Year acquired: 1983

Virginia Halas McCaskey has never known a life that wasn’t entwined with the Chicago Bears. In 1920, three years before she was born, her father, George "Papa Bear" Halas Sr., represented the team when it was founded by the Staley Starch Company. The next year the company gave Halas the franchise and the okay to move it to the Windy City. McCaskey gained control of the team in 1983 following her father’s death.

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Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Brown

- Year acquired: 1991

Mike Brown has been a part of the Cincinnati Bengals organization since his father, Paul Brown, helped found the team that made its debut in the American Football League in 1968. After the legendary coach died, Mike inherited the franchise. Mike worked for another icon too: former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner once hired him as a deckhand for a ship in his family’s freighter company.

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Icon Sportswire // Getty Images

Cleveland Browns: Jimmy and Dee Haslam

- Year acquired: 2012

Jimmy Haslam is CEO of Pilot Flying J, which operates travel centers in North America, and his ties with the company run deep: His pops opened the first Pilot gas station in 1958, and Jimmy worked at Pilot stores throughout high school and college. His wife is executive producer of the RIVR Media companies, which have produced series including “Trading Spaces" for TLC. Jimmy sold his interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers when he and Dee purchased the Browns.

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Joe Robbins // Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones

- Year acquired: 1989

In 1989 Jerry Jones bought the team Forbes now calls “the world’s most valuable sports franchise,” but he made his initial fortune from oil investments in the 1970s and 1980s. Even earlier, he worked at his dad’s insurance company, Modern Security Life, and made $500,000 from its sale—a nice bundle of cash for a 27-year-old with Texas-size ambitions.

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Justin Edmonds // Getty Images

Denver Broncos: Family of Pat Bowlen

- Year acquired: 2019

Ownership remains in limbo amid a legal fight to determine which of Pat Bowlen’s kids will become the next controlling owner. Dad, who passed away in 2019 and purchased the club in 1984, had practiced law and worked at his father’s oil company Regent Drilling before co-founding Batoni-Bowlen Enterprises, a real estate and construction business.

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Leon Halip // Getty Images

Detroit Lions: Martha Ford

- Year acquired: 2014

Martha Ford is a granddaughter of tire manufacturer Harvey Firestone and her late husband, William Clay Ford Sr., was a grandson of car manufacturer Henry Ford. The team has been in the family’s hands since William purchased it in 1963, and Martha took over when he passed away in 2014.

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Jonathan Daniel // Getty Images

Green Bay Packers: Green Bay Packers, Inc

- Year acquired: 1923

The owners of the Green Bay Packers have lots and lots of jobs. After all, the team is owned by its fans—361,169 of them to be exact. Green Bay Packers Inc. is a publicly owned, nonprofit corporation with rules that prohibit anyone from owning more than 200,000 shares. Its last stock offering was in 2011, and shares aren’t traded and are rarely sold.

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Icon Sportswire // Getty Images

Houston Texans: Janice McNair and family

- Year acquired: 2018

Janice McNair inherited ownership of the team from her late husband Robert McNair, who died in 2018 and was instrumental in putting a new football team on the field in Houston in 2002. Robert was a businessman who ran an auto-leasing business before starting Cogen Technologies, which would become the country’s largest privately held power company. Enron bought three of its power plants for more than $1 billion in 1998. Janice is senior chair of McNair Interests, a private investment and management company.

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Joe Robbins // Getty Images

Indianapolis Colts: Jim Irsay

- Year acquired: 1997

Jim Irsay has spent his professional life with the Indianapolis Colts, which his dad, Robert, gained control of through a 1972 swap with the owner of the Los Angeles Rams. The younger Irsay inherited the Colts after winning a legal battle with his stepmother over ownership.

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James Gilbert // Getty Images

Jacksonville Jaguars: Shahid Khan

- Year acquired: 2012

Washing dishes for $1.20 an hour was the first American job of Shahid Khan, who arrived from Pakistan in 1967 to pursue an engineering degree. He held many positions at Flex-N-Gate, an auto parts supplier, before leaving in 1978 to start a company called Bumper Works. He subsequently purchased his former employer and grew it into a powerhouse that counts all the major automotive manufacturers in North America, Japan, and Europe as clients.

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Kansas City Chiefs: Clark Hunt and family

- Year acquired: 2006

Clark Hunt is the grandson of oil tycoon H. L. Hunt and the son of the late Lamar Hunt, who founded the Chiefs (then the Dallas Texans), was integral in the founding of the American Football League and Major League Soccer, and invested in the Chicago Bulls. Clark spent two years as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs before joining the family business about three decades ago. The franchise chairman and CEO inherited the team with his siblings when their dad died in 2006; their mom is a minority owner.

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Mark Brown // Getty Images

Las Vegas Raiders: Carol and Mark Davis

- Year acquired: 2011

After legendary coach and Raiders owner Al Davis passed away in 2011, ownership of the franchise went to his wife, Carol, and his son, Mark. The elder Davis made his fortune in football over six decades with positions that included head coach and general manager of the Raiders as well as commissioner of the American Football League. Throughout his life, Mark has worked for the team, which is scheduled to move from Oakland to Las Vegas this year.

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Donald Miralle // Getty Images

Los Angeles Chargers: Dean Spanos

- Year acquired: 2018

Dean Spanos has spent much of his life involved in two family-run businesses. In 1972 Dean began working at A.G. Spanos Companies, a firm founded by his father that specializes in building multi-family housing and master planned communities; Dean now serves as chairman of the board and CEO. Dean became president of the Chargers in 1994, ten years after his dad, who died in 2018, bought the franchise. (Dean handed day-to-day duties to sons A.G. and John in 2015.)

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Ted Soqui // Getty Images

Los Angeles Rams: Stan Kroenke

- Year acquired: 2010

Stan Kroenke, who is married to Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke, is a real estate investor and developer. His Kroenke Sports & Entertainment empire is valued at $8.4 billion by Forbes. He doesn’t just have great football seats: His properties include the Denver Nuggets (NBA), the Colorado Avalanche (NHL), the Colorado Rapids (MLS), and the Pepsi Center.

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Rich Barnes // Getty Images

Miami Dolphins: Stephen M. Ross

- Year acquired: 2008

Stephen M. Ross worked at the securities brokerage firm Laird and at the investment bank Bear Stearns before starting his global real estate and lifestyle company, Related Companies, in 1972. (Equinox fitness clubs and New York’s Hudson Yards project are among its holdings.) CNN Business has called Ross “one of the most successful real estate developers America has ever known.”

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Adam Bettcher // Getty Images

Minnesota Vikings: Zygi Wilf

- Year acquired: 2005

Majority owner Zygi Wilf made his fortune through the Wilf family business, Garden Homes, which owns and manages apartments, retail centers, office buildings, and hotels across 37 states. His brother, Mark Wilf, holds the title owner/president and his cousin, Leonard Wilf, is owner/vice chairman.

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Michael J. Ivins // Getty Images

New England Patriots: Robert Kraft

- Year acquired: 1994

Back in 1965, Robert Kraft worked for his father-in-law’s packaging company called Rand-Whitney. He would later acquire it and found International Forest Products LLC, which calls itself “North America's largest trader of forest products commodities.” Over time The Kraft Group, a family holding company, added other business interests to the mix including, of course, the New England Patriots and Gillette Stadium.

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Jonathan Bachman // Getty Images

New Orleans Saints: Gayle Benson

- Year acquired: 2018

Gayle Benson won ownership of the New Orleans Saints—and the New Orleans Pelicans (NBA)—following the death of her husband, Tom Benson, who owned automotive and banking entities. Gayle started her career in 1968 as a manager for a costume jeweler, worked in real estate, and spent 30 years in interior design, serving clients that included the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. She won control over the two sports franchises after a legal battle with Tom’s daughter and grandchildren.

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Al Bello // Getty Images

New York Giants: John Mara and Steve Tisch

- Year acquired: 2005

John Mara’s grandfather founded the franchise in 1925, and Steve Tisch’s father purchased 50 percent of it in 1991. John and Steve inherited their ownership stakes when their dads passed away within weeks of each other in 2005. The co-owners have had very different careers: While John worked at two law firms before joining the organization as general counsel in 1991, Steve has produced films throughout the past four decades including “Forrest Gump.”

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New York Jets: Robert Wood Johnson IV and Christopher Wold Johnson

- Year acquired: 2000

The Johnson brothers are fourth-generation members of the founding family of Johnson & Johnson. “Woody” spent more than three decades as chairman and CEO of The Johnson Company, a private asset management firm, but now serves as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K. Christopher, whose previous occupations have not been reported, has taken over as the team’s chairman and CEO.

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Al Bello // Getty Images

Philadelphia Eagles: Jeffrey Lurie

- Year acquired: 1994

Jeffrey Lurie started his professional years as adjunct assistant professor of social policy at Boston University. He went on work as a liaison to the film industry for the movie theater chain his grandfather founded, General Cinema, and then became a movie producer with credits that include “I Love You to Death” and “Foxfire.”

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Joe Sargent // Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers: Art Rooney II and family

- Year acquired: 2017

Art Rooney II was once a ballboy for the team his grandfather founded in 1933. Before returning to work in various positions at the franchise, he practiced law. In fact, he still holds an “of counsel” position with his firm, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, and specializes in corporate finance, sports law, and government affairs.

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San Francisco 49ers: Denise DeBartolo York, John York

- Year acquired: 2000

Denise DeBartolo York has been involved with the franchise since her father, Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., purchased the 49ers in 1977. She has also held various positions at the other family business, the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp., which developed and owned shopping malls; she also served as president of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team. Her husband, John, founded DeYor Laboratories before selling it to Corning in 1993 and worked for DeBartolo Corp. as director of racing operations. Their son Jed serves as CEO of the 49ers and previously was a financial analyst at the financial services firm Guggenheim Partners.

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Steve Dykes // Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks: Jody Allen

- Year acquired: 2018

Jody Allen is trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, which owns the Seattle Seahawks. She is the sister of Paul G. Allen, the Microsoft co-founder who died in 2018. The siblings worked together for years. They co-founded the project and investment management firm Vulcan Inc. in 1986, where Jody served as CEO for nearly 20 years, and the production company Vulcan Productions in 1997.

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Al Messerschmidt // Getty Images

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bryan Glazer and family

- Year acquired: 2014

Malcolm Glazer bought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995 and his kids and widow continued to own and operate the team after his death in 2014. The family doesn’t generally speak publicly about its holding company, First Allied Corp., which Forbes says includes a commercial real estate fortune.

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Wesley Hitt // Getty Images

Tennessee Titans: Amy Adams Strunk

- Year acquired: 2015

Amy Adams Strunk inherited the team from her father, K.S. "Bud" Adams, Jr., who was one of the original owners of the franchise formerly known as the Houston Oilers. Interestingly, she never worked in football until she took the helm of the team. She was once a travel agent and was involved in her family’s farming and ranching businesses as well as her two companies: The fox hunting organization Kenada Foxhounds and the Little River Oil and Gas Company.

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Joe Robbins // Getty Images

Washington Redskins: Dan Snyder

- Year acquired: 1999

Young Dan Snyder used to clock in at a B. Dalton bookstore before he created a travel business for college kids and published a magazine aimed at them too. But the enterprise that really took off was Snyder Communications, the marketing firm he founded in 1985 that sold for more than $2.3 billion in 2000.

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