The labor fight between "millionaires and billionaires" is over – on with the NFL season.
Of course, the labels are a bit oversimplified. Not every player is a millionaire – just ask any undrafted free agent who caught on in training camp as a special teamer and backup linebacker. And while membership in the NFL ownership club is exclusive, it doesn't require a billion dollar net worth.
By Forbes count, based on March 2011 data, less than half of the league's clubs – 15 of 32 – are owned by billionaires (updated billionaire figures are due out from Forbes in late September). And why there's no reason to begrudge their riches and their sporting fun: almost all of them are self-made. With the exception of Cleveland Browns owner Randolph Lerner, heir to the MBNA credit card fortune, all of the NFL owners holding spots on the Forbes billionaires made their own money (Indianapolis's Jim Irsay inherited his club from his late father Robert, though the Colts have grown into a billion-dollar enterprise on his watch).
They made their fortunes in myriad industries, most commonly real estate (the Dolphins' Stephen Ross, the Rams' Stan Kroenke and the Chargers' Alex Spanos, among others). The Cowboy's Jerry Jones is an oil and gas man. In Houston, Texans' owner Robert McNair founded power company Cogen Technologies before assuming control of the expansion club in 1999 and promptly turning it into one of the NFL's most valuable franchises with a lucrative stadium naming rights deal with Reliant Energy.
Some built less traditional paths to big riches. Before football and Six Flags Entertainment, Redskins' owner Dan Snyder got going with a service that provided outsourced marketing services to businesses. Just up I-95, Baltimore Ravens owner Stephen Bisciotti lives out the dream of owning his hometown team after a career that led to a fortune in the professional staffing business.
Leading the pack, of course, is Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, the Microsoft cofounder who's amassed an estimated $13 billion fortune. That's roughly a third of the value of the entire NFL. Allen, who also owns the NBA Portland Trail Blazers, scooped up the Seahawks for $194 million in 1997. Even after inflation, he's made about four times his money on the investment. As much as they probably enjoy their sporting lives, there's money to made, too. Money for everyone, thanks to the league's evenly divided national TV booty. Did anyone really think the lockout would last into the fall? On with the season.
The top five:
1. Paul Allen, Seattle Seahawks – Net Worth: $13 billion
2. Stephen Ross, Miami Dolphins – Net Worth: $3.1 billion
3. Stan Kroenke, St. Louis Rams – Net Worth: $2.6 billion
4. Malcolm Glazer, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Net Worth: $2.6 billion
5. Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys – Net Worth: $2 billion
• See more billionaires
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