How every NFL owner made their fortunes

Written by:
October 10, 2019
Michael Reaves // Getty Images

How every NFL owner made their fortunes

Sports franchises in the United States are becoming more lucrative year after year, with ticket sales and merchandising serving rabid sports fans. The National Football League (NFL) is perhaps the largest and most visible association in the country. Broadcasting on multiple television networks and consistently setting world records for viewership with the Super Bowl, football is the most popular spectator sport in the U.S.

With the financial success of the NFL, the franchises' owners profit as a result. But while these owners may have gained much from their stakes in football, many of them have succeeded in their own business ventures before pursuing sports teams.

The idealized "American Dream" is represented by these individuals: These owners come from a number of different industries, such as real estate, entertainment, and technology; some are immigrants or come from immigrant families; others inherited these teams from family members since their passing.

There are currently 32 teams in the NFL, and Stacker has researched the majority stakeholder(s) of each team to learn about their backgrounds and just how they accumulated their wealth through the years. The lone exception is the Green Bay Packers, not included in this list, as the team is publicly owned.

Read on about the owners of your favorite football teams, where they got their start in business, and just how much money they make.

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Arizona Cardinals: The estate of Bill Bidwill

- Year acquired: 1962

Bill Bidwill and his brother Charles Jr. inherited the Cardinals in 1962, then based in St. Louis, from their parents . Charles Sr. was a wealthy Chicago lawyer with apparent ties to Al Capone. Bidwill, who moved the Cardinals to Arizona and was ahead of the NFL’s time by hiring women and people of color in executive positions, died on Oct. 2, 2019, at 88.

[Pictured: Bill Bidwill and his son on the field before play against the Chicago Bears Oct. 16, 2006.]

Atlanta Falcons: Arthur Blank

- Year acquired: 2001

The Atlanta Falcons aren’t the only sports franchise that Arthur Blank owns; the other would be the Atlanta United for Major League Soccer. Blank’s success began in 1978 when he co-founded Home Depot, a popular home-improvement retailer that is still operating today. His net worth is around $5.4 billion today.

Baltimore Ravens: Steve Bisciotti

- Year acquired: 2004

Starting the company Aerotek in a basement, Steve Bisciotti’s business grew into the Allegis Group, the largest privately held staffing firm in the world. Bisciotti was a partial owner of the Baltimore Ravens from 2000 until 2004, when he bought the remaining stake for $325 million. Today, Bisciotti is worth $4.4 billion.

Buffalo Bills: Kim and Terry Pegula

- Year acquired: 2014

With stakes and investments in several industries, including natural gas and real estate, it was natural for Terry Pegula and his wife, businesswoman Kim Pegula, would also have stakes in sports franchises. Under the Pegula Sports and Entertainment holding company, the family not only owns the Buffalo Bills but also the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL and teams in the National Lacrosse League. The two made a successful $1.4 billion cash bid for the Bills upon the former owner’s death in 2014.

Carolina Panthers: David Tepper

- Year acquired: 2018

Studying at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, David Tepper would become a massively successful hedge fund manager. After making a $67 million donation to CMU, it named the business school at the college the Tepper School of Business. After having a 5% stake in the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tepper would sell those shares away as a result of buying the Carolina Panthers with a $2.2 billion bid.

Chicago Bears: Virginia Halas McCaskey

- Year acquired: 1983

At age 96, Virginia Halas McCaskey is the oldest NFL owner. She inherited the Chicago Bears in 1983 after the death of her father, George Halas Sr., who was also a professional football player and later a head coach. Her net worth is estimated at $2.4 billion today, and with the passing of the Cardinals’ Bidwill, she is the longest-tenured owner in the NFL.

Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Brown

- Year acquired: 1991

The Bengals used to be owned by football coach Paul Brown, whom the Cleveland Browns were named after. Upon Brown’s death in 1991, his son Mike Brown inherited the team, and he has since acted as a general manager to the Bengals as well. The Bengals have been mostly unsuccessful during Brown’s tenure, with the owner having a net worth around $925 million.

Cleveland Browns: Jimmy and Dee Haslam

- Year acquired: 2012

On one side is Jimmy Haslam, who is the CEO of the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain, and on the other is Dee Haslam, founder of production company RIVR Media Companies, which produced shows like “Trading Spaces.” Jimmy was also a minority holder in the Pittsburgh Steelers, but sold his shares after the Haslams bought the Cleveland Browns franchise in 2012. The two also own the Columbus Crew SC of Major League Soccer (MLS).

Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones

- Year acquired: 1989

After several failed ventures, now-Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones found success when he began the Jones Oil and Land Lease business in Arkansas. Jones quickly shook up the coaching staff of the Cowboys after buying the team in 1989, and since then has built the team to a perennial contender. His net worth is $8.5 billion.

Denver Broncos: Patrick D. Bowlen Trust

- Year acquired: 2019

Deceased owner Pat Bowlen was born into a wealthy oil family and became a lawyer and executive at his father's Canadian drilling company, Regent Drilling. The Patrick D. Bowlen Trust is administered by Denver Broncos President and CEO Joe Ellis, who slowly climbed the hierarchical ladder in the franchise, already serving as the team's director of marketing from 1983 to 1985 and acting as the team's executive vice president of business operations starting in 1998. Since Bowlen's death in June 2019, his kids and widow have been battling for control of the company in court. 

Detroit Lions: Martha Ford

- Year acquired: 2014

Martha Firestone Ford is the granddaughter of Harvey Firestone, the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Ford is the widow of William Clay Ford Sr., whose grandfather was automobile industrialist Henry Ford. As of now, she is worth $1.4 billion.

Houston Texans: Janice McNair and family

- Year acquired: 2018

As the co-founder of the Houston Texans, Janice McNair retained sole ownership of the team upon the 2018 death of her husband Bob McNair. Robert had made his fortune selling power generator company Cogen Technologies to Enron for $1.5 billion in 1999, following that up with a payment of $600 million to start a new NFL franchise. Now, Janice McNair is worth $4 billion.

[Pictured: Sean Hepburn Ferrer, Janice McNair, and Robert McNair.]

Indianapolis Colts: Jim Irsay

- Year acquired: 1997

Long before Jim Irsay became the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, his father Robert Irsay had built up a fortune from a heating and air conditioning business. The elder Irsay had owned the Los Angeles Rams in 1972, before buying the then-Baltimore based Colts. Infamously, Irsay had all the Colts’ equipment and property moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis at night to avoid media coverage. 

[Pictured: President George W. Bush shows the signed cowboy hat presented to him by Indianapolis Colts team owner and CEO Jim Irsay, left.]

Jacksonville Jaguars: Shahid Khan

- Year acquired: 2012

An immigrant originally from Pakistan, Shahid Khan became one of the wealthiest people in the world through the car bumper industry. Originally an engineering manager at auto parts company Flex-N-Gate, Khan not only streamlined the bumper manufacturing process, but started his own company Bumper Works, eventually buying Flex-N-Gate itself. Since then, Khan has bought the Jacksonville Jaguars, Fulham F.C., and a stake in his son’s All Elite Wrestling.

Kansas City Chiefs: Clark Hunt and family

- Year acquired: 2006

The grandson of oil tycoon H. L. Hunt, Clark takes after his grandfather in wealth and takes after his father, Lamar, in career choice. Alongside his father, Clark was a key force in creating Major League Soccer, co-running the Kansas City Wizards until 2006. Hunt inherited the Kansas City Chiefs upon his father's death; interestingly enough, Lamar is credited for coining the term "Super Bowl" for the AFL-NFL championship game.

Los Angeles Chargers: Dean Spanos

- Year acquired: 2018

Former Chargers owner Alex Spanos began his business career with a catering company, eventually using those profits to get into real estate. After finding massive success through A.G. Spanos Companies, Spanos would purchase a majority stake of the then-San Diego Chargers. His son Dean Spanos gained full ownership upon his death and led the criticized initiative to move the Chargers back to their original home in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Rams: Stan Kroenke

- Year acquired: 2010

As the owner of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, Stan Kroenke’s company holds not just the Rams, but Arsenal, the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche, the Colorado Rapids in the MLS, the Colorado Mammoth in the National Lacrosse League, and even the Los Angeles Gladiators of the eSports Overwatch League. Kroenke married Walmart heiress Ann Walton, who technically owns the Nuggets and Avalanche, to satisfy NFL team owning restrictions; Kroenke also thrived in the real estate business. He led the Rams’ relocation to Los Angeles in 2016, citing a lack of financial support from St. Louis. 

[Pictured: Josh Kroenke, NFL player Todd Gurley, and Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke.]

Miami Dolphins: Stephen M. Ross

- Year acquired: 2008

As a real estate developer, Stephen M. Ross led massive projects such as the Time Warner Center and the Hudson Yards development, both in Manhattan. Ross bought 50% of the Miami Dolphins and its stadium in 2008, later buying an additional 45% stake in 2009 for $1.1 billion. Ross has a net worth of $7.6 billion.

Minnesota Vikings: Zygi Wilf

- Year acquired: 2005

Coming from Poland to the United States after surviving the Holocaust, the family of Vikings owner Zygi Wilf found business success in building and selling single-family homes. This business venture eventually grew into Garden Homes and Garden Commercial Properties run by Wilf and his brothers. Wilf purchased the Minnesota Vikings for $600 million, later leading the initiative for a new stadium for the team which opened in 2016. 

[Pictured: Starkey Hearing Foundation Executive Director of Philanthropy Brady Forseth (L) and Vikings co-owner Zygi Wilf.]

New England Patriots: Robert Kraft

- Year acquired: 1994

The Kraft Group, owned by Robert Kraft, holds several companies that represent several industries, such as paper and packaging, real estate, and professional sports. Kraft owns not just the Patriots, but also the New England Revolution for MLS and the Boston Uprising for the Overwatch League.

New Orleans Saints: Gayle Benson

- Year acquired: 2018

Before becoming a sports franchise owner, Gayle Benson owned businesses in home renovation and interior decoration. Her third husband, Tom Benson, owned several car dealerships, eventually purchasing the New Orleans Saints in 1985. Their family drama was highly publicized when Tom Benson made his wife his heir, stating he did not want further contact with his daughter and two grandchildren.

New York Giants: John Mara and Steve Tisch

- Year acquired: 2005

The original owner of the New York Giants was Tim Mara, a bookkeeper in the horse racing circuit; his grandson John Mara, uncle of actresses Rooney Mara and Kate Mara, would eventually inherit the team. Movie producer Steve Tisch made his name with films like “Risky Business” and “Forrest Gump” and inherited his stake in the Giants from his father Bob Tisch, a former chairman and owner of Loews Corporation.

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

- Year acquired: 2000

Robert “Woody” Johnson is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson company and purchased the New York Jets franchise for $635 million. He co-owns the team with his brother, Christopher Johnson. A staunch Republican, Johnson is also serving as the United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom under the Donald Trump Administration.

Oakland Raiders: Carol and Mark Davis

- Year acquired: 2011

The family of Mark Davis has a history with American football, as his father, football coach Al Davis, was the owner of the Oakland Raiders all the way back to their days in the AFL. Upon the death of Al Davis, ownership of the Raiders went to his wife, Carol, and their son, Mark. The team is relocating to Las Vegas, with the move scheduled to be completed by 2020.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jeffrey Lurie and Christina Weiss Lurie

- Year acquired: 1994

As a businessman in the film industry, Jeffrey Lurie continued his family's legacy, joining the General Cinema Corporation founded by his grandfather, Philip Smith. His Chestnut Hill Productions company would produce several films, including the Oscar-winning documentary "Inside Job." Lurie considered bids for several sports teams, before buying the Philadelphia Eagles for $185 million; his ex-wife, Christina, keeps a minority stake in the team.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Art Rooney II

- Year acquired: 2017

Executive Dan Rooney contributed to the success of his father Art’s Pittsburgh Steelers early in his career, eventually working his way up to ownership. Rooney would also become the United States Ambassador to Ireland under President Barack Obama. After Rooney’s death in 2017, his son, Art Rooney II, inherited the team. 

[Pictured: Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Legendary Entertainment, Thomas Tull, The Jackie Robinson Foundation's Founder, Rachel Robinson, Honoree, Dan Rooney, and Art Rooney II.]

San Francisco 49ers: Denise DeBartolo York and Jed York

- Year acquired: 2009

The family of Denise DeBartolo York made their fortune through real estate and construction, with the company building some of the first suburban malls in the country. DeBartolo owned the Pittsburgh Penguins in the National Hockey League, later selling the franchise to support her family’s company during the real estate crash of 1987. Her son, Jed York, acts as the CEO of the team.

[Pictured: Jed York, Denise DeBartolo York, and Eddie DeBartolo]

Seattle Seahawks: Jody Allen

- Year acquired: 2018

Perhaps the richest NFL owner during his tenure, Paul Allen of the Seattle Seahawks was a co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates. At the time of his death in 2018, his net worth was $20.3 billion. His sister, Jody, became the executor and trustee of his estate, taking ownership of the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bryan Glazer and family

- Year acquired: 2014

Descending from a Lithuanian-Jewish immigrant family, Bryan Glazer and his family inherited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers upon the death of his father, Malcolm, in 2014. The elder Glazer entered several different industries, from real estate to television broadcasting. While his holding company took a hit during the recession, Glazer continued to make a fortune from owning the Buccaneers and English football club Manchester United.

Tennessee Titans: Amy Adams Strunk

- Year acquired: 2013

Former Titans owner Bud Adams not only controlled a franchise, but was also instrumental in the establishment of the American Football League. Other than the sports franchise business, Adams also made a fortune in petroleum and automobiles. Adams passed away in 2013, with daughter Amy Adams Strunk inheriting a third of the team; she became the controlling owner of the Titans in 2015.

Washington Redskins: Dan Snyder

- Year acquired: 1999

Dan Snyder started in advertising and marketing, primarily through wallboards and specializing in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Snyder also owns marketing companies Snyder Communications and Red Zebra Broadcasting, and he purchased the Redskins in 1999. Snyder has been under criticism for refusing to change the name of the controversial Washington-based team.

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