The Football Team’s Public Face: The Owners

By Howie Long, John Czarnecki

People buy football teams for many different reasons, but most owners simply want to be public figures. The NFL is structured financially so that every club receives an equal share of television revenue and splits the ticket revenue — it’s more or less a socialist system. The concept is that the weakest franchise can gross as much revenue as the strongest franchise.

However, a team’s revenue from local radio broadcasts, luxury boxes, parking, concessions, and private seat licenses (fans pay a fee for the right to own a season ticket) isn’t totally shared with the other teams. But the revenue from NFL Properties (income generated from selling NFL logo clothing, hats, and so on) and the Super Bowl is shared. Therefore, you don’t have to own a Super Bowl team to do well financially.

After the head coach and the star players on the team, the owner may be the next most visible person. Most football fans know, for example, that Jerry Jones owns the Dallas Cowboys. At one time Jones had his own television show in Dallas and also wrote a newspaper column. He’s very visible in marketing his football team and is very active in network television negotiations. However, many franchise owners are rarely interviewed, choosing to remain behind the scenes, preferring that their coach and general manager speak for the franchise.

The NFL requires one person to own at least 30 percent of a particular franchise and prefers that this person has no financial interest in any other professional sports leagues. Some franchises, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears, have been owned for decades by members of one family. The New York Giants have two owners, each with a 50 percent stake in the franchise.

In its August 2014 annual listing of NFL franchise values, Forbes magazine placed the value of franchises between $930 million and $3.2 billion. You must be extremely wealthy to own an NFL franchise. Although the financial return is generous, many businesspeople would tell you that better ways exist to invest that amount of money.

Many NFL owners are actually sports fans, people who love the game as much as their pursuit of financial success. Many of them contribute their time, energy, and financial resources to their respective communities, believing that football is part of their region’s social fabric.