Seahawks’ owner Allen tops list of NFL billionaires
Labor strife is back in the NFL, with preliminary public battles between new Players Association head DeMaurice Smith and the league’s owners setting the stage for fierce negotiations toward the next collective bargaining agreement. With the current deal expiring after this season, a 2011 work stoppage remains a real possibility.
When it comes to contract negotiations, many fans and sports pundits are quick to point out that it’s tough to take sides when “billionaires and millionaires” are arguing over how to divvy up the dough from personal seat licenses and luxury suites. The sentiment is understandable, though not entirely accurate. Peek at most any NFL roster and you’ll find that less than half are making seven figures (though some of those smaller earners could very well be millionaires if they’ve saved and invested wisely, just as some of those making mega millions could be squandering their money). And how many NFL owners are actually billionaires? Exactly half.
|In Pictures: The football billionaires|
Led by Microsoft cofounder and Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, whose $12.7 billion net worth make him one of the world’s wealthiest men, 16 of the NFL’s 32 owners boast a new worth of $1 billion or more (perhaps 16 of 31 is more accurate, since the publicly traded Green Bay Packers have no majority owner). That’s a clear line of demarcation among the NFL ownership fraternity: half in the billionaire’s club, the other half out.
[Related: How long it takes to earn a billion dollars]
Allen, just a Microsoft stock rally away from being able to buy the whole NFL if rules permitted (the 32 teams are worth a collective $32.9 billion, making his personal wealth enough for a 39 percent down payment), leads a pack of owners whose billions were mostly earned outside the sport. Call them the vanity investors – successful men whose wealth enabled them to buy into the fun, exclusive world of big-time sports. Another is Stephen Ross, a real estate developer worth $3.1 billion who bought 50 percent of the Miami Dolphins from fellow billionaire H. Wayne Huizenga in 2008, and then upped his take to 95 percent in 2009. Also in this group: Home Depot cofounder Arthur Blank, who bought the Atlanta Falcons in 2002, and energy industry entrepreneur Robert McNair, who sold his company, Cogen Technologies, to Enron just before its collapse and bought up a controlling interest in the expansion Houston Texans in 1999.
Then there are those NFL billionaires whose fortunes are closely tied to their clubs, thanks to the enormous growth of revenues and franchise values around the league over the past two decades. Jeff Lurie, a former college professor and film industry executive, bought the Philadelphia Eagles for $185 million in 1994. Through a mostly steady diet of winning seasons, sellouts and roughly $140 million in naming rights fees for Lincoln Financial Field (opened in 2003), the Eagles are now worth $1.1 billion and Lurie $1 billion. And Jim Irsay, son of former Colts owner Robert Irsay, inherited full control of the club upon his father’s death in 1997. Playing in new Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts, bought for $15 million by Robert Irsay in 1972 when they played in Baltimore, are worth $1 billion.
And talk about sticking it out with an investment to turn a big profit: Tennessee Titans owner Kenneth “Bud” Adams, is an oilman who bought his team, then the Houston Oilers, for $25,000 when it was an American Football League startup in 1960. He now sits atop a $1 billion NFL enterprise. Even after factoring in 50 years of inflation, Adams made over 5,400 times his money. And, no doubt, he’s had a lot of fun doing it.
The top five: