Behind the country's most popular game is an exclusive club. Joining now requires billions and the consent of most of its members. The 32 teams that make up the National Football League boast adoring fans, superstar players and endless quarterbacking on Monday mornings.
If you own an NFL team, you can hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy if you win a Super Bowl — or be dragged by the fans if you go years without them. But whether you win or lose, you will always make money. A large part of your earnings is already paid in, mainly from the lucrative distribution of broadcasting rights among all teams. Ticket sales and sponsorship offers can add even more to your pocket.
An NFL team is the ultimate collectible — “more satisfying than the most expensive sports car or watch imaginable,” said Michael MacCambridge, author of “America's Game: The epic story of how professional football conquered a nation.”
With the recent sale of the Washington Commanders (for $6.05 billion, a record for a sports franchise), there will be a new roster in an 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 owned by, or close to, the same owner since the league's inception in 1920.
Shown: Virginia Halas McCaskey (Bears), John Mara (Giants), Michael Bidwill (Cardinals), Art Rooney II (Steelers)
George Halas was among the group of men who laid the foundation for the NFL at an auto showroom in Canton, Ohio. Halas, known as “Papa Bear,” played for the Chicago Bears for 10 years and coached them for 40 years, presenting daily drills and radio broadcasts of the game. When he died in 1983, the team passed to his eldest daughter: Virginia Halas McCaskey.
Tim Mara, a bookmaker, $500 invested In 1925 he moved to the New York Giants. But in 1930 he split ownership between his sons, 14-year-old Wellington and 22-year-old Jack, to avoid losing the team in the Great Depression. Grandson John Mara is now co-owner. The Giants have the second-longest family tenure in the league after the Bears.
Charles Bidwill, a wealthy lawyer who did it Connections to Al Capone, was a part owner of the Bears until he bought rival Chicago Cardinals in 1933. The team moved to St. Louis and then to Arizona. His grandson, Michael Bidwill, is now the owner.
In 1933, Art Rooney used money he reportedly won at a track to invest in a team that would eventually become the Pittsburgh Steelers. Like the Giants, the team is now in its third generation of family ownership, with Art Rooney II at the helm.
Some have become owners following the death of a parent, sibling or spouse.
Shown: Clark Hunt (Chiefs)
The Hunts became one of America's wealthiest families thanks to HL Hunt, who became wealthy investing in an oil field in East Texas in the 1930s. In 1960, his son Lamar Hunt used this wealth to found what later became the Kansas City Chiefs. After Hunt's death in 2006, ownership of the team passed to his wife and children. His eldest son, Clark Hunt, is the current CEO of the team.
Shown: Amy Adams Strunk (Titans)
Bud Adams founded the Houston Oilers in 1960 with an oil fortune. The team moved to Tennessee in 1997 and was eventually renamed the Titans. Amy Adams Strunk gained majority ownership in 2015 after her father's death in 2013.
Shown: Sheila Ford Hamp (Lions)
William Clay Ford, the last surviving grandson of auto giant Henry Ford, bought the Detroit Lions for $6 million in 1963. After his death in 2014, ownership of the team passed to his wife, Martha Firestone Ford, who later passed it on to her second oldest daughter: Sheila Ford Hamp.
Shown: Mike Brown (Bengals)
Paul Brown co-founded and coached a team named after him: the Cleveland Browns. He later led a group that formed the Cincinnati Bengals. He served as the team's head coach from 1968, the Bengals' debut season, through 1975. His son Mike Brown took over management of the Bengals when he died in 1991.
Shown: Mark and Carol Davis (Raiders)
Al Davis – Known for his iconic saying: “Just win, baby!” – was first coach, then owner of the Oakland Raiders. The team shuttled back and forth between Oakland and Los Angeles before landing in Las Vegas. When Davis died in 2011, his wife Carol and son Mark inherited the team.
Shown: Jim Irsay (Colts)
Bob Irsay made his living in heating and air conditioning by acquiring the Baltimore Colts in 1972. He was heavily criticized in 1984 when he transferred the Colts to Indianapolis under cover of darkness. His son Jim Irsay took over ownership when he died in 1997.
Shown: Gayle Benson (Saints)
Tom Benson invested profits from car dealerships in the 1985 purchase of the New Orleans Saints. When he died in 2018, his wife, Gayle Benson, took over the city's team and NBA franchise.
Shown: Edward, Bryan and Joel Glazer (Buccaneers)
Malcolm Glazer had a variety of investments and businesses from shopping malls to food packaging and supplies. He bought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995. When Glazer died in 2014, leadership of the team passed to three of his sons: Bryan, Joel and Edward Glazer.
Shown: Jody Allen (Seahawks)
Paul Allen co-founded 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 has owned the team since 1997.
Shown: Janice Mcnair (Texan)
Bob McNair brought football back to Houston when the NFL added the Houston Texans, who started the game in 2002. McNair made his fortune after selling his energy company to Enron in 1999 for $1.5 billion. When he died in 2018, his wife Janice McNair left inherited control.
Shown: Steve Tisch (Giants)
Steve Tisch inherited partial ownership of the Giants when his father died in 2005. The Tisch family bought into the Giants in 1991 after decades of being the Maras' sole property.
Some used their families' wealth to fuel their teams' purchases.
Shown: Jeffrey Lurie (Eagles)
Jeffrey Lurie's grandfather founded the theater chain General Cinema. In addition to owning the Philadelphia Eagles, which he bought in 1994, Lurie is also a Oscar-winning film producer.
Shown: The DeBartolos (San Francisco 49ers), The Spanos Family (Los Angeles Chargers) and Wilf (Minnesota Vikings)
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 started in the 50's and bought the team in 1977. The Spanoses built apartments He started in the '60s and bought what was then the San Diego Chargers in 1984. The Wilfs have one extensive portfolio This includes houses, apartment complexes and commercial spaces. They bought the Vikings in 2005.
Shown: The Johnson Brothers (Jets), Jimmy Haslam (Browns), Stan Kroenke (Rams), Penner and Walton (Broncos)
The Johnson brothers – heirs to the pharmaceutical brand Johnson & Johnson – run the New York Jets. Woody Johnson bought the team in 2000 for $635 million.
Jimmy Haslam's father founded Pilot in 1958. Today, Pilot Flying J is the largest rest stop chain in the United States. Haslam is chairman and owner of the Browns with his wife Dee. They've had the team since 2012.
Then there's the imprint of Walmart and the Walton family: the heirs to that fortune are owners of the Denver Broncos (since 2022) and the Los Angeles Rams. Rams owner Stan Kroenke (who took full control of the team in 2010, then the St. Louis Rams) is married to a Walmart heiress.
Others are homemade.
But NFL ownership isn't just about family money. There are some proverbial rags to riches stories here, along with some humble beginnings and startup degrees where the company grew.
Shown: Shahid Khan (Jaguars)
Shahid Khan came to the University of Illinois He arrived from Pakistan in 1967 at the age of 16 with $500 – his family's savings. His first job in the United States was washing dishes for $1.20 an hour. He then bought and expanded a manufacturer of vehicle bumpers and other auto parts. He bought the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2011 for $760 million.
Shown: Steve Bisciotti (Ravens)
Steve Bisciotti started a recruiting and recruiting business in the basement of a townhouse in Annapolis, Maryland with desks owned by Goodwill and a $100-a-week salary. He has been the sole owner of the Baltimore Ravens since 2004.
Depicted: Jerry Jones (Cowboys)
After several failed ventures, including trying to build a series of pizzerias with funds from the Teamsters union, Jerry Jones founded an oil and gas exploration company in Arkansas. He bought the Dallas Cowboys in 1989 for $140 million.
Shown: Terry & Kim Pegula (Bills)
Terry Pegula received a $7,500 loan from friends and family and began drilling for natural gas in the Northeast. The development of fracking as a drilling technique helped, and eventually these assets were sold for billions. He met his second wife, Kim, in a restaurant where she applied to be a waitress. She then worked at Terry's energy company and now holds senior positions in their sports and real estate companies. They have owned the Buffalo Bills since 2014 and paid what was then a record $1.4 billion.
Shown: David Tepper (Panthers)
David Tepper went his own way: after being turned down 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.
Depicted: Arthur Blank (Falcons), Stephen Ross (Dolphins), Robert Kraft (Patriots), Josh Harris (Commanders)
And the list of founders goes on: Arthur Blank (bought the Atlanta Falcons in 2002) co-founded Home Depot in 1978 after dismissal from a hardware store chain; Stephen Ross (acquired an interest in the Miami Dolphins in 2008) founded a real estate development company that today includes: Skyscrapers and well-known developments like Hudson Yards in New York City and fitness brand Equinox; Robert Kraft (bought the New England Patriots in 1994) started one paper and packaging company that grew into a major exporter; and Josh Harris (who led the group that bought the Commanders in 2023) helped build a private equity firm with interests or ownership interests in a number of brands including the University of Phoenix, Yahoo, and Sun Country Airlines.
Fans own a team.
Pictured: Green Bay Packers fan with cheesehead
The Green Bay Packers are a non-profit, community-owned professional sport Team that plays in the smallest market in the NFL. They have 537,460 “owners,” shareholders who are governed by a board of directors. This structure was designed to keep the team alive from 1923 onwards. It avoided bankruptcy at the time and has kept the same owners ever since.
These five owners have the highest net worth, according to Forbes:
Shown: Rob Walton $59.8B (Broncos) Jody Allen/Paul G. Allen Trust $20.3B (Seahawks) David Tepper $18.5B (Panthers) Clark Hunt/Hunt Family 15.3 $Bn (Chiefs) Jerry Jones $13.6Bn (Cowboys)
“In American capitalism, there are very few sure things and golden tickets,” said Mark Leibovich, author of “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times.” But having an NFL team these days means “printing money,” he added.
The soaring value of teams means fewer and fewer individuals have purses big enough to take a billion-dollar leap. In fact, the last two teams to change hands went to owner groups: the Walton-Bums group bought the Broncos, and Josh Harris' group got the Commanders. This is also an opportunity to bring in different opinions and backgrounds.
They tend to get older.
Shown: Virginia Halas McCaskey (Chicago Bears) who is 100 years old
More than half of the owners are over 70. The oldest, Virginia Halas McCaskey, is 100.
McCaskey is the matriarch of a team whose family ties stretch back to the origins of the NFL. She grew up with the team: her father was its founder and coach.
When the Bears turned 100, a Chicago television network asked McCaskey, then 96, if she was proud to be one of the first women in football.
“Pride is a word I try to avoid because of the situation I'm in by my heritage. I didn't do anything to deserve it,” she said. “I still think it's a man's world. And I am very grateful that I can get involved so much. I think it's a great privilege and I have to make sure I don't disappoint.”
The three youngest owners are in their mid-50s.
Who: Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim Pegula is 54. Denver Broncos co-owner Greg Penner and Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-owner Edward Glazer are both 53.
Some are married co-owners.
Shown: Terry and Kim Pegula (Buffalo Bills)
These man-woman duos present themselves as equal teams. 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 Sabers.
“Terry always has the big ideas, but after that he's out there and he's like, ‘Okay, Kim, you finish it,'” Kim Pegula told the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle in 2015. “We argue and I say, ‘He inspired it, and I made it happen.'”
Jimmy and Dee Haslam (Cleveland Browns)
Jimmy and Dee Haslam had never worked together before buying the Browns. Her background: a television production manager. His job: He manages a chain of rest stops and convenience stores.
“I'm the one who's more conservative and [says]”Let's think about it before we do it.” Jimmy's 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 and John York (San Francisco 49ers)
Denise DeBartolo York worked with her father as he built a large real estate development company. Husband John York is a trained pathologist.
“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 helped me be more focused and direct because that's how he is when he's involved in a project. And I helped him look at people from a different angle and have a broader view of things.”
None of the major owners are black.
The NFL has been criticized for its lack of major black owners. In a league where 58 percent of the players were black in the 2022 season, there is a lack of diversity at all levels of leadership. As the 2023 season begins, three head coaches are black. But there are some limited partners, including ex-players John Stallworth (Steelers) and Warrick Dunn (Falcons). Tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams bought into the Dolphins.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mellody Hobson, a business executive and wife of filmmaker George Lucas, are both part of the Broncos ownership groupalong with British Formula 1 driver (and seven-time champion) Lewis Hamilton.
With the sale of the Commanders, NBA legend Magic Johnson is now also involved.
Three major owners were born outside of the United States.
Shown: Kim Pegula (Bills) was born in South Korea, Shahid Khan (Jaguars) was born in Pakistan, Zygi Wilf (Vikings) was born in Germany
Three owners were born abroad. Kim Pegula was an orphan in South Korea and never knew her birth parents. She was adopted by a family in upstate New York when she was 5 years old. Shahid Khan studied 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 real estate and building houses, which grew into a large real estate company with a focus on shopping malls and apartments.
Some own other professional sports teams.
Owner Names/Teams: MLS: Arthur Blank (Atlanta United), David Tepper (Charlotte FC), Jimmy and Dee Haslam (Columbus Crew), Hunt Family (FC Dallas), Stan Kroenke (Colorado Rapids), Zygi Wilf (Orlando City SC ) , Robert Kraft (New England Revolution) Premier League: Shahid Khan (Fulham FC), Stan Kroenke (Arsenal FC and Arsenal WFC), The Glazers (Manchester United), Josh Harris, General Partner (Crystal Palace FC) NHL: Terry and Kim Pegula (Buffalo Sabers), Stan Kroenke (Colorado Avalanche), Josh Harris (NJ Devils) NBA: Jimmy and Dee Haslam (stake in Milwaukee Bucks), Stan Kroenke (Denver Nuggets), Gayle Benson (New Orleans Pelicans), Paul Allen Trust (Portland Trailblazers), Josh Harris (Philadelphia 76ers) WNBA: Mark Davis (Las Vegas Aces)
When you own an NFL team, you are essentially in the entertainment business. So why just stop playing football? There's a lot of overlap when it comes to marketing teams and moving tickets. NFL owners like it too other Soccer – the “nice game” kind. MLS and Premier League assignments are popular.
The owners shown here either control the teams entirely or are part of owner groups with other partners. The Portland Trail Blazers are part of a family trust owned by the late Paul Allen and run by his sister Jody Allen.
Others engage in pursuits outside of football.
Among the 32 teams, it's no surprise that some people offer extracurricular activities.
Jim Irsay plays guitar
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay may receive the class award “the most interesting”: He collects rock ‘n' roll memorabilia like iconic guitars and Americana pieces like Secretariat's saddle and Abraham Lincoln's pocket knife. Collectively known as the Jim Irsay Collection, it tours with the Jim Irsay Band – where Irsay sings and plays guitar. Irsay also attempted to relocate and free an orca whale. But Lolita, also known as Tokitae or Toki, died before she was relocated.
Stan Kroenke disguised as a cowboy and twists a lasso
According to one report, Stan Kroenke of the Rams is the fifth largest landowner in the United States, owning approximately 1.62 million acres in Texas and Montana Report 2021 from Land Report magazine. Kroenke also owns Canada's largest ranch.
Arthur Blank on a buffalo, swinging a golf club
The Falcons' Arthur Blank is also in the land business – with one Row of ranches in Montana, including a dude ranch for paying guests. In addition to being a co-founder of Home Depot, he is also the owner of the PGA Tour Superstore, which has around 60 locations across the country.
Jerry Jones from the Cowboys has one participation in a company which engages in franchises and merchandising sales to other sports teams, including those in the NFL. He has also used the Cowboys brand and used a massive stadium for other major events including: fan-friendly campus built around the team's practice facility and golf resort.
Woody Johnson drinks tea
Woody Johnson, who owns the Jets with his brother, has been appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom by President Donald Trump. Johnson, a longtime Republican donor who once hosted a $25,000-a-person fundraiser for Trump, had no diplomatic experience before taking office.
Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this story.