The NFL — get this — is a nonprofit trade association

How they got there

Why do we love Texans owner Robert McNair? He sold his start-up to Enron. Nicely done, Bob.
  • Why do we love Texans owner Robert McNair? He sold his start-up to Enron. Nicely done, Bob.

The best way to become an NFL team owner is by inheriting an NFL team. Second best is by marrying someone who owns an NFL team. Third best is by inheriting a colossal amount of money and buying a team no matter what the damn thing costs. Finally, there is making your own money and plenty of it.

Once you’re in the owner’s suite it’s easy money and sunny skies. The NFL is the perpetual housing bubble. You can be Jacksonville and make money. Okay, Detroit lost money, the only NFL franchise that did, but it required an epic economic collapse. Detroit city lost 25 percent of its population in ten years, is home to 80,000 abandoned buildings, cascading job-melt, and full-on civic bankruptcy. Hundred-year storm. Finally, the Lions recorded a billionaire’s chump-change loss of $3.5 million.

The NFL — get this — is a nonprofit trade association. Oh, sweet tax avoidance. Team valuations go up every year. Throw in revenue sharing, insane TV money, municipal and state handouts, and, bottom line, the NFL won’t let you lose money.

Sweet. So, how do we get to own one of these teams?

According to Forbes magazine, the San Diego Chargers are worth $949 million. Alex G. Spanos, 90, has a net worth of $1.1 billion. He bought the franchise in 1984 for a total of $48.3 million. Spanos the elder made his bones in real estate and construction. His son, Dean, is chairman of the board and president. Another son, Michael, is executive vice president. Grandson A.G. Spanos is executive vice president/chief executive officer. Grandson John is executive vice president of football operations.

We are locked in Spanos World for the next two generations. Judging from the Chargers’ performance since 1984 (229 wins vs. 248 losses), winning appears unlikely.

Holding down the “I Want One of Those” category is car-bumper mogul Shahid Khan, delighted owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars since January 4, 2012. Jags are valued at $840 million. Khan made his money in bumpers. Started out with Flex-N-Gate, a bumper maker, then founded his own bumper company, Bumper Works, then turned around and bought Flex-N-Gate. Bumper Works became the sole bumper supplier to Toyota. Number one and only. Khan paid $760 million for the Jags. The franchise is now worth $80 million more than what he paid for it 23 months ago. And it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars.

New England Patriots. Robert Kraft bought the Pats for $172 million in 1995. Today’s value is $1.8 billion. He came into his money through a friendly father-in-law who owned a packaging-material company. Kraft eventually bought the company and made his bucks in packaging and recycling. SEXY.

Houston Texans. Robert McNair bought the franchise in 1999 for $700 million. The team is now worth $1.4 billion. He made his bankroll in cogeneration (the use of a heat engine or power station to simultaneously generate electricity and useful heat). SEXY. Real estate, power plants, private investment, biotechnology investment, blah, blah, blah.

Yet, we love him. Why? McNair made millions when he sold his cogeneration company to Enron. Nicely done, Bob.

Indianapolis Colts. Inherited. Jim Irsay, fortunate son and owner since 1997. Franchise is worth $1.2 billion.

New York Giants. Double inherited. Team valued at $1.5 billion. Young Mara inherited his part of the team from Dad, who bought the Giants in 1925 for $500. Young Tisch inherited his part of the team from Dad, who bought half of the elder Mara’s interest in 1991.

New York Jets. Inherited money. Robert Wood Johnson IV bought the team in 2000 for $635 million. Nice to be able to write a big check, but where did that money come from? Mr. Bob is heir to Johnson & Johnson. Team valued at $1.3 billion.

Oakland Raiders, owner inherited. Arizona Cardinals, owner inherited. Atlanta Falcons, owner cofounded Home Depot. Baltimore Ravens, owner founded Allegis Group; think technical temps. Chicago Bears, owner inherited. Cincinnati Bengals, owner inherited. Cleveland Browns, owner is CEO of Pilot Flying J truck-stop chain and under investigation by the IRS and FBI for attempting to defraud its customers. Detroit Lions, owner inherited huge money. Kansas City Chiefs, owner inherited. Pittsburgh Steelers, owner inherited. San Francisco 49ers, owner inherited.

There is one glorious exception to the above. Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers. Richardson was a player, a wide receiver for the Baltimore Colts. Played the 1959 and 1960 seasons. After football he bought Hardee’s franchises in South Carolina and went on to become CEO of Flagstar, a food-services company. Flagstar operated every Denny’s in America. Richardson paid $206 million for the Panthers in 1993. The team is valued at $1 billion and change.

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