Davis was among most significant team owners
Al Davis’ death, if nothing else, marks the end of an era. Controversial or not, Davis was without a doubt one of the most influential owners in not just pro football, but all of sports. His contributions to the game went far beyond owning a team and achieving success with it. On and off the field, Davis was a titan who had considerable impact in making the NFL the most profitable sports league in the world.
There are owners who made large sums of money – win or lose – from their sports franchises. There are those who became famous because their teams won multiple championships, such as Jerry Buss of the Lakers and Eddie DeBartolo of the 49ers. There are also those who became infamous because of persistent losing (Donald Sterling), or worse (Frank McCourt).
|Slideshow: Most significant owners|
But rarer still are the owners who transformed their sport, both in terms of how the games are played and how business is done. In the NFL, before Davis, there was George Halas, who was instrumental in the formation of the league and throughout its development into the behemoth that we know today. Halas improvised the T-formation to include the passing game, was an early adaptor of technology and an advocate of the revenue-sharing model that more or less led to the league being able to print its own money.
In baseball, there are such outsized personalities as well. Born a year after Davis, also on the Fourth of July, George Steinbrenner utterly changed the country-club culture of baseball ownership into a cut-throat business. His profligate spending at the dawn of baseball’s free agent era also helped enrich the players, their agents, and some of the owners. For an initial investment of $10 million, the Yankees are easily worth 100 times that.
But before The Boss came along to the Bronx, a couple of owners of the crosstown rival Dodgers already remade baseball by popularizing it by very different means.
Branch Rickey handpicked the great Jackie Robinson to break the color barrier, beginning a trickle, then a flood of Negro League talent into baseball and pushing Africa-American participation in the sport, both on and off the field. Rickey’s one-time fellow owner Walter O’Malley moved the team west to Los Angeles, making baseball a coast-to-coast enterprise and expanding the reach of the American pastime.
These owners, and a few others, left behind legacies that are celebrated long after they’re gone. And in one case, he’s still around to preside over the monument affectionately known as JerryWorld. Those are our most significant owners in sports:
The top five:
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