Owning a professional sports franchise is expensive. There are only 122 teams across the four major American sports leagues and many of them have never changed ownership. Simple supply and demand indicates that these teams are precious commodities.
In the last five years, 2009-2014, four NFL teams were sold and a fifth, the Buffalo Bills, just became available when owner Ralph Wilson passed away. In the five years before that, from 2004-2009, only three teams were sold. While many NBA teams have been sold in the last decade, eight teams have not been on the market in over 20 years.
These teams are very expensive and their owners have tremendous wealth, especially those who bought their teams in recent years at the peak of the market for professional sports franchises. This chart illustrates the industries in which franchise owners acquired their wealth:
Family wealth leads the way in professional sports, but the majority of these franchises are concentrated in the NFL. Several current franchise owners, such as Bill Bidwell of the Cardinals, Mark Davis of the Raiders, Jed York of the 49ers and of course the Mara’s and Rooney’s, inherited their ownership positions from family members. The Rooney family bought the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933 for $2,500 and the family fortune stems from that purchase.
Aside from family wealth, the most common source of wealth for owners across all four leagues is finance — investment in stocks, businesses, venture capital firms and mutual funds. While the bulk of owners’ wealth is concentrated in several industries, over 13 percent fall into the “other” category. This category includes franchise owners such as former Walmart president and Kansas City Royals owner, David Glass, Miami Marlins owner, art dealer Jeffrey Loria, and several others who have thrived in various professional endeavors.
Six percent of owners have accumulated their wealth through the hospitality industry, notably Mickey Arison, Miami Heat owner and CEO of Carnival Corporation (Carnival Cruise Lines). Owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers, Little Caesar’s Pizza founder Mike Ilitch, is also among those included in this category. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan leads the way for former athlete owners, having gained notoriety and a fair share of his wealth through basketball and the Jordan brand.