Behind the nation’s most popular game is an exclusive club. Joining now takes billions and the approval of most of its members. The 32 teams of the National Football League come with rabid fans, superstar players and endless Monday-morning quarterbacking.
Owning an NFL team means you can hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy if you win a Super Bowl — or get dragged by fans if you go years without one. But win or lose, you’ll always make money. A big chunk of your revenue is already baked in, mostly from lucrative broadcast rights split among all teams. You can squeeze in some more in your pocket from ticket sales and sponsorship deals.
An NFL team is the ultimate collectible item — “more satisfying than the most expensive sports car or wristwatch you can imagine,” said Michael MacCambridge, author of “America’s Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation.”
With the recent sale of the Washington Commanders (for $6.05 billion, setting a record for a sports franchise), there’s going to be a new squad in one owner’s box. Here’s a breakdown of who’s who across the league:
For some owners, football is the family business.
These teams have been under the same ownership since the league’s birth in 1920, or close to it.
George Halas was part of the group of men who established the foundations of the NFL in an automotive showroom in Canton, Ohio. Known as “Papa Bear,” Halas played for the Chicago Bears for 10 years and coached them for 40, introducing daily practices and radio broadcasts of the game. When he died in 1983, the team went to his eldest daughter: Virginia Halas McCaskey.
Tim Mara, a bookmaker, invested $500 in the New York Giants in 1925. But in 1930, he split ownership between his sons, 14-year-old Wellington and 22-year-old Jack, so he wouldn’t lose the team in the Great Depression. Grandson John Mara is now a co-owner. After the Bears, the Giants have the next-longest family ownership in the league.
Charles Bidwill, a wealthy lawyer who had ties to Al Capone, was part owner of the Bears until he bought the rival Chicago Cardinals in 1933. The team moved to St. Louis and then Arizona. His grandson, Michael Bidwill, is now the owner.
In 1933, Art Rooney invested in a team that would eventually become the Pittsburgh Steelers with money he reportedly won at a racetrack. Like the Giants, the team is now on its third generation of family owners, with Art Rooney II at the helm.
Some have become owners after the death of a parent, sibling or spouse.
The Hunts became one of America’s wealthiest families thanks to H.L. Hunt, who struck it rich in the 1930s when he invested in an East Texas oil field. In 1960, his son, Lamar Hunt, parlayed that wealth into founding what would become the Kansas City Chiefs. After Hunt died in 2006, ownership of the team was transferred to his wife and children. His eldest son, Clark Hunt, is the team’s current CEO.
Bud Adams started the Houston Oilers in 1960 with fortunes flowing from the petroleum business. The team moved to Tennessee in 1997 and was eventually renamed the Titans. Amy Adams Strunk gained controlling ownership in 2015 following her father’s death in 2013.
William Clay Ford, who was the last surviving grandchild of automotive giant Henry Ford, scooped up the Detroit Lions for $6 million in 1963. After he died in 2014, team ownership was passed to his wife, Martha Firestone Ford, who later passed it to her second-oldest daughter: Sheila Ford Hamp.
Paul Brown co-founded and coached a team named after him: the Cleveland Browns. Later, he led a group that founded the Cincinnati Bengals. Starting in 1968, the Bengals’ debut season, through 1975, he served as the team’s head coach. His son Mike Brown took over the Bengals when he died in 1991.
Al Davis — known for his iconic quip, “Just win, baby!” — was first a coach, then the owner of the Oakland Raiders. The team flipped between Oakland and Los Angeles before landing in Las Vegas. When Davis died in 2011, his wife, Carol, and son Mark inherited the team.
Bob Irsay made his money in heating and air conditioning, acquiring the Baltimore Colts in 1972. He was heavily criticized in 1984 when he moved the Colts to Indianapolis under the cover of darkness. His son, Jim Irsay, assumed ownership when he died in 1997.
Tom Benson spun profits from car dealerships into buying the New Orleans Saints in 1985. When he died in 2018, his wife, Gayle Benson, took on the team, along with the city’s NBA franchise.
Malcolm Glazer had a variety of investments and businesses, from shopping centers to food packing and supplies. He bought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995. When Glazer died in 2014, team management went to three of his sons: Bryan, Joel and Edward Glazer.
Paul Allen formed Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975. When Allen died in 2018, his Seattle Seahawks went to a family trust, overseen by his sister, Jody Allen. He had owned the team since 1997.
Bob McNair brought football back to Houston when the NFL added the Houston Texans, who started playing in 2002. McNair made his fortune after selling his energy company to Enron for $1.5 billion in 1999. When he died in 2018, his wife, Janice McNair, inherited control.
Steve Tisch inherited co-ownership of the Giants when his father died in 2005. The Tisch family bought into the Giants in 1991 after decades of sole ownership by the Maras.
Some used the wealth of their families to seed the purchase of their teams.
Jeffrey Lurie’s grandfather founded the General Cinema theater chain. In addition to owning the Philadelphia Eagles, which he bought in 1994, Lurie is an Oscar-winning film producer.
The DeBartolos of the San Francisco 49ers, the Spanos family of the Los Angeles Chargers and the Wilfs of the Minnesota Vikings found their fortunes in real estate. The DeBartolos developed shopping malls starting in the ’50s and bought the team in 1977. The Spanoses built apartments starting in the ’60s, purchasing the then-San Diego Chargers in 1984. The Wilfs have an expansive portfolio that includes homes, apartment complexes and commercial space. They bought the Vikings in 2005.
The Johnson brothers — heirs to Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical brand — run the New York Jets. Woody Johnson purchased the team in 2000 for $635 million.
Jimmy Haslam’s father founded Pilot in 1958. Now, Pilot Flying J is the largest truck stop chain in the United States. Haslam is chairman and owns the Browns with his wife, Dee. They have had the team since 2012.
Then there’s the imprint of Walmart and the Walton family: Heirs to that fortune have ownership in the Denver Broncos (since 2022) and the Los Angeles Rams. Rams owner Stan Kroenke (who took full control of the team in 2010, while it was the St. Louis Rams) is married to a Walmart heiress.
Others are self-made.
But NFL ownership is not all about family money. There are some proverbial rags-to-riches stories here, along with some humble beginnings and start-up windups, where the business got big.
Shahid Khan came to the University of Illinois from Pakistan in 1967 at 16 with $500 — his family’s life savings. His first job in the United States was washing dishes for $1.20 an hour. He went on to buy and expand a maker of vehicle bumpers and other auto parts. He bought the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 for $760 million.
Steve Bisciotti started a staffing and recruiting company in the basement of an Annapolis, Md., townhouse with desks from Goodwill and a weekly salary of $100. He has had full ownership of the Baltimore Ravens since 2004.
After several failed ventures, which included trying to build a string of pizza parlors using money from the Teamsters union, Jerry Jones started a business in Arkansas doing oil and gas exploration. He bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million.
Terry Pegula got a $7,500 loan from friends and family and started drilling for natural gas in the Northeast. The development of fracking as a drilling technique helped, and eventually those assets sold for billions. He met his second wife, Kim, at a restaurant where she was interviewing to be a waitress. She went on to work at Terry’s energy company and now holds leadership roles in their sports and real estate holdings. They’ve owned the Buffalo Bills since 2014, paying a then-record $1.4 billion.
David Tepper went his own way: After being snubbed for a promotion to partner at Goldman Sachs, he left to start his own hedge fund. He bought the Carolina Panthers in 2018 for $2.2 billion.
And the list of founders continues: Arthur Blank (bought the Atlanta Falcons in 2002) co-founded the Home Depot in 1978 after being fired from a home improvement chain; Stephen Ross (bought a stake in the Miami Dolphins in 2008) started a real estate development company that now includes skyscrapers and well-known developments such as Hudson Yards in New York City and the Equinox fitness brand; Robert Kraft (bought the New England Patriots in 1994) began a paper and packaging company that grew to be a big exporter; and Josh Harris (who led the group that bought the Commanders in 2023) helped establish a private equity firm with investments or ownership in a range of brands like the University of Phoenix, Yahoo and Sun Country Airlines.
Fans own one team.
The Green Bay Packers are a nonprofit, community-owned pro sports team, playing in the NFL’s smallest market. They have 537,460 “owners,” stockholders governed by a board of directors. This structure was devised to keep the team afloat starting in 1923. It staved off bankruptcy then and has kept the same ownership ever since.
These five owners have the highest net worth, according to Forbes:
“There are very few sort of sure things and golden tickets in American capitalism,” said Mark Leibovich, author of “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times.” But having an NFL team these days means “you’re printing money,” he added.
The skyrocketing values of teams means fewer individuals have wallets big enough to take a multibillion-dollar plunge. In fact, the last two teams to change hands went to ownership groups: the Walton-Penner group purchased the Broncos, and Josh Harris’s group got the Commanders. That’s also one way to bring in different opinions and backgrounds to the table.
They tend to skew older.
More than half of the owners are older than 70. The oldest, Virginia Halas McCaskey, is 100.
McCaskey is the matriarch of a team whose family ownership stretches to the NFL’s origin. She grew up with the team: Her father was its founder and coach.
When the Bears turned 100, a Chicago television station asked McCaskey, then 96, if she took pride in being one of the first women of football.
“Pride is a word I try to avoid, because I’m in this position due to my inheritance. I haven’t done anything to earn it,” she said. “I still consider it a man’s world. And I’m very grateful to be involved as much I am. I think it’s a great privilege, and I have to make sure I don’t disappoint.”
The three youngest owners are approaching their mid 50s.
Some are married co-owners.
These husband-wife duos present themselves as teams of equals. Terry and Kim Pegula have an energy and real estate empire. They also own a record label in Nashville and four other sports teams, including the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres.
“Terry always comes up with the big ideas, but then after that he’s out and he says, ‘Okay, Kim, you finish it,’ ” Kim Pegula told the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle in 2015. “We argue, and I say, ‘He inspired it, and I brought it to fruition.’ ”
Jimmy and Dee Haslam had never worked together before buying the Browns. Her background: a television production executive. His: running a chain of truck stops and convenience stores.
“I’m the one who’s more conservative and [says], ‘Let’s think about that before we do it.’ Jimmy is more like, ‘Fire, ready, aim,’” Dee Haslam said in a 2017 interview with a television station in Knoxville, Tenn., the Haslams’ hometown.
Denise DeBartolo York worked with her father as he built a major real estate development business. Husband John York is a pathologist by training.
“As a team, we’ve really helped each other in a lot of ways,” she said in a 2006 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “He’s helped me be more focused and direct, because that’s how he is when gets involved with a project. And I’ve helped him to look at people in a different way and to have a more panoramic view of things.”
None of the principal owners are Black.
The NFL has been criticized for its lack of Black principal owners. In a league where 58 percent of the players were Black in the 2022 season, diversity is lacking across all levels of leadership. Going into the 2023 season, three head coaches are Black. But there are some limited partners, including ex-players John Stallworth (Steelers) and Warrick Dunn (Falcons). Tennis champs Venus and Serena Williams bought in to the Dolphins.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mellody Hobson, a business executive and the wife of filmmaker George Lucas, are both part of the Broncos’ ownership group, along with British Formula One driver (and seven-time champion) Lewis Hamilton.
With the sale of the Commanders, NBA legend Magic Johnson now has an ownership stake, too.
Three principal owners were born outside the United States.
Three owners were born on foreign soil. Kim Pegula was an orphan in South Korea and never knew her biological parents. She was adopted by a family in New York State when she was 5 years old. Shahid Khan came to study industrial engineering at the University of Illinois. Zygi Wilf’s parents were Holocaust survivors. He emigrated with his family from Europe in the 1950s. His father and uncle started buying property and building homes, which became a major real estate business centered on shopping centers and apartments.
Some own other pro sports teams.
Own an NFL team, and you’re essentially in the entertainment business. So why just stop at football? There are lots of crossovers when it comes to marketing teams and moving tickets. NFL owners also like the other football — the “beautiful game” kind. Stakes in MLS and Premier League are popular.
The owners shown here either control teams outright or are part of ownership groups with other partners. The Portland Trail Blazers belong to a family trust of late owner Paul Allen that’s overseen by his sister, Jody Allen.
Others dabble in non-football pursuits.
Among 32 teams, it’s no surprise some folks have extracurricular activities.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay may get the class prize for “most interesting”: he collects rock 'n’ roll memorabilia like iconic guitars and pieces of Americana, like racehorse Secretariat’s saddle and Abraham Lincoln’s pocket knife. Together, it’s known as the Jim Irsay Collection, and it goes on tours with the Jim Irsay Band — where Irsay sings and plays guitar. Irsay also tried to relocate and free an orca whale. But Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki, died before being moved.
Stan Kroenke of the Rams is the fifth-largest landowner in the United States, owning about 1.62 million acres across Texas and Montana, according to a 2021 report by Land Report magazine. Kroenke also owns the largest ranch in Canada.
Arthur Blank of the Falcons is also in the land business — with a series of ranches in Montana, including a dude ranch for paying guests. In addition to co-founding the Home Depot, he also owns the PGA Tour Superstore, with some 60 locations around the country.
Jerry Jones of the Cowboys has a stake in a company that is involved in concessions and merchandising sales to other sports teams, including ones in the NFL. He’s also leveraged the Cowboys brand, with a mammoth stadium used for other big events, a fan-friendly campus built around the team’s practice facility, and a golf resort.
Woody Johnson, who owns the Jets with his brother, was appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom by President Donald Trump. Johnson, a longtime Republican donor who once hosted a $25,000-per-person fundraiser for Trump, had no prior diplomatic experience before taking the job.
Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this story.