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NFL team owners: The billionaires at the helm of the 2019 play-off franchises

These NFL team owners - who range from the co-founder of Microsoft to a cinema chain mogul - will be aiming for a Superbowl date as they prepare for the 2019 playoffs

American football fans won’t be the only ones cheering on their favourite players as the 2019 play-offs get underway – with a host of billionaire NFL team owners also gearing up for a month of nail-biting action and lucrative brand exposure.

The business moguls behind the franchises set to square off over the next four weeks each have an entrepreneurial story to tell, with many of them having launched their careers from inauspicious beginnings.

Balitmore Ravens supremo Steve Bisciotti, for example, formed a staffing company in his basement that later became the largest in the US – Allegis Group – while Philadelphia Eagles chief Jeffrey Lurie earned a fortune running his family’s cinema.

Here we profile the owners of the 12 NFL teams to feature at the 2019 play-offs.

 

NFL team owners

Tom and Gayle Benson, New Orleans Saints

Starting his career as a car salesman in New Orleans, Tom Benson went on to open several dealerships in the city before entering the banking sector.

He sold his company Benson Financial to Norwest Banks for $440m (£340m) in 1996, which was later bought by Wells Fargo.

Benson, who also bought the New Orleans Saints for $70m (£54m) in 1985, died in March last year, aged 90, following a bout of flu.

His wife Gayle inherited his business empire and now owns the NFL team, currently worth an estimated $2bn (£1.5bn).

 

Paul Allen, Seattle Seahawks

Doubts remain over the future ownership of the Seattle Seahawks following the death of its former owner Paul Allen in October last year.

Alongside Bill Gates, Allen co-founded Microsoft in 1975 and early last year was estimated to be the 44th wealthiest person in the world with a fortune of more than $20bn (£16bn).

nfl team owners
Paul Allen (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

He resigned from his position on the board of directors of the software giant in late 2000, but stayed on as a senior strategy advisor. In January 2014, he still held 100 million shares in the company.

In addition to his business ventures, Allen was a dedicated philanthropist and donated more than $2bn (£1.6bn) to causes in the education, wildlife and environmental conservation and healthcare fields.

He also displayed a profound interest in science and was the founder of a number of research organisations, including the Allen Institute for Brain Science, Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Institute for Cell Science and Apex Learning.

Allen, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma earlier in his life, died after a septic shock in October 2018, aged 65.

 

Stan Kroenke, Los Angeles Rams

Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke is one of the richest NFL team owners with an estimated wealth of $8.3bn (£6.5bn), which he earned primarily as a real estate developer.

He had plenty of success and reaped a lot of profit from developing Walmart stores in the US – which may or may not be related to the fact he was married to Ann Walton, an heiress of the retail conglomerate.

The 71-year-old also owns Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which includes his NFL team as well as NBA team Denver Nuggets, NHL Colorado Avalanche, MLS outfit Colorado Rapids, National Lacrosse League side Colorado Mammoth.

He is also the sole owner of English Premier League football club Arsenal after buying out the club’s other major shareholder Alisher Usmanov in September last year.

Kroenke first bought a stake in the Los Angeles Rams in 1995, before purchasing the team outright in 2010.

After returning the franchise from St Louis to LA in 2015, it is worth now estimated by Forbes to be about $3bn (£2.3bn) – more than twice what it was valued three years ago.

 

Jerral Wayne Jones, Dallas Cowboys

Having owned the Dallas Cowboys since 1989, Jerral Wayne Jones has amassed a wealth reportedly topping $7bn (£5.5bn) as of September last year.

The 76-year-old purchased his NFL team from its previous owner Harvey Roberts “Bum” Bright for $140m (£110m).

After a humbling first season in which his team registered just one win and suffered 15 losses, Mr Jones went on to secure the Dallas Cowboys’ place as one of the best teams of the 1990s.

nfl team owners
Jerry Wayne Jones (Credit: Twitter)

He has come under fire by the public and NFL officials in the past, having been named the least favourite sports personality of the year in Virginia, Delaware and Texas by Sports Illustrated in 2003.

The criticism he has attracted is said to be due to his insistence of often being the team’s “face” and installing himself as general manager.

Meanwhile, the tycoon was also fined $25,000 (£20,000) by the NFL for publicly criticising referee Ed Hochuli after he made a controversial call in a 2008 fixture that didn’t include Mr Jones’ team.

 

Virginia Halas McCaskey, Chicago Bears

Born in 1923, Virginia Halas McCaskey is the principal owner of the Chicago Bears, with her children and grandchildren also contributing to an 80% majority share of the team between the family.

She is the eldest child George Halas, who died in 1983 and left the team to his daughter.

McCaskey became the oldest owner in the NFL in 2014 after the death of former Buffalo Bills chief Ralph Wilson.

Speaking about her philosophy regarding sports team management, she said: “Our Hall of Fame general manager Jim Finks used to say ‘do the right thing.’

“Those are pretty good words for any situation, including running a professional sports team.”

 

Jeffrey Lurie, Philadelphia Eagles

Jeffrey Lurie accumulated much of his estimated $2bn (£1.5bn) fortune by running his family’s cinema chain General Cinema.

nfl franchise owners
Jeffrey Lurie (Credit: Wikipedia/Senior Airman Moses Ross)

He later founded a Hollywood production studio known as Chestnut Hill Productions, the releases of which you won’t see in many Hall of Fame lists – featuring flops like Angelina Jolie-starring Foxfire and Kathleen Turner’s VI Warshawski.

The 66-year-old bought the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994 for $195m (£151m) and has since seen its value grow to $2.65bn (£2bn).

 

Clark Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs were formed in 1963 and have been owned by the Hunt family ever since.

Clark Hunt took over the team as chairman and CEO following the death of his father Lamar Hunt in 2006.

nfl franchise owners
Clark Hunt – Credit: Wikipedia/Conman33

The 53-year-old has gathered a $2bn (£1.5bn) fortune off the back of his career as an analyst at Goldman Sachs and by acting as one of the founding investors in Major League Soccer.

He also sits on the NFL’s international committee and its executive committee.

 

Robert Kraft, New England Patriots

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft started his career working at his father-in-law’s packaging materials company.

After climbing his way to the top, he bought the firm before absorbing it into International Forest Products, a business he founded that has gone on to become one of the world’s largest suppliers of paper products.

The company is part of the 77-year-old’s private holding company The Kraft Group, which also controls his sports investments.

They include e-sports for competitive video gaming and mixed martial arts.

nfl franchise owners
Robert Kraft (Credit: Wikipedia)

Kraft, estimated to be worth $6.5bn (£5bn), bought the Patriots for $172m (£133m) in 1994, and has since seen its value grow to $3.7bn (£2.85bn) – in no small part due to five championship wins since 2001.

 

The McNairs, Houstan Texans

Up until his death in November 2018, Bob McNair was the owner of the Houston Texans, garnering a net worth that peaked at $3.3bn (£2.6bn) in 2015.

His early business career was spent as a struggling salesman and largely unsuccessful entrepreneur, before he got up-and-running when he founded a power generation company known as Cogen Technologies.

He sold the firm in 1999 and, in the same year, assumed control of the Houston Texans – leading the franchise to two Super Bowl victories in 2004 and 2017.

Today, ownership of the team has been passed his wife Janice McNair and son D Cal McNair.

 

Stephen J Bisciotti, Baltimore Ravens

The NFL approved the sale of a 49% share of the Baltimore Ravens team to Stephen Bisciotti in 2000, before the 58-year-old went on to purchase the other 51% in 2004 for $325m (£256m).

One of the first projects Bisciotti oversaw as owner was to build the team’s training and practice facility, known as The Castle, which opened later that year.

nfl team owners
Steven Bisciotti (Credit: Wikipedia)

He ranked 378th on Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans in 2005, with his net worth now estimated at more than $4bn (£3.2bn), and led his team to a Super Bowl victory in 2012 against the San Francisco 49ers.

Bisciotti is the co-founder of Allegis Group, an international talent management firm headquartered in Hanover, Maryland, which posted a 2016 revenue of more than $11bn (£8.7bn) in 2016.

 

Dean Spanos, Los Angeles Chargers

Dean Spanos took over the reigns of the Los Angeles Chargers in late 2018 after the death of his father, Alexander Spanos, who bought the franchise for $72m (£57m) in 1984.

He had been running the day-to-day operations of the team since 1995, and became president and CEO in 2005.

Under Spanos’ leadership, the Chargers won 113 games between 2004 and 2014, before he chose to relocate it in 2017, moving the Chargers from San Diego to their current base in Los Angeles.

Similar to a number of his fellow NFL team owners, Spanos also dabbles in philanthropy, having launched the Chargers Community Foundation to support community non-profits in 1995 and the Chargers Champions to support local schools five years later.

 

James Irsay, Indianapolis Colts

James Isray inherited the Indianapolis Colts from his father in 1997 after becoming general manager in 1984 at age 24.

His early life was spent working in everything from ticket sales to public relations for the franchise, and as a child he would travel with the team on the bus that took them from match to match.

Since he became a majority owner, the Indianapolis Colts have enjoyed a rise in fortune, registering 14 winning seasons a Super Bowl win in 2006.

nfl team owners
The original manuscript (a 120-foot scroll) of Jack Kerouac’s novel, “On The Road”. (Credit: Wikipedia)

Isray has displayed a strong passion for arts and culture in the past, purchasing the original manuscript of the novel On the Road, a 120ft scroll of tracing paper sheets cut down and taped together, for $2.43m (£1.9m).