Ownership of an NFL franchise is one of the most elite fraternities in the world.
The death of Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. on Tuesday will eventually lead to questions regarding who will take over a franchise worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Five other NFL cities have faced similar questions in the last eight years. In four of those instances, controlling interest in the team was passed on to surviving family members. In the other, a minority owner exercised an option to purchase controlling interest.
Owner William Clay Ford, the last surviving grandson of automobile pioneer Henry Ford, died March 9 at the age of 88. At the time of his death, Ford was the second-longest tenured sole owner in the NFL, behind the Buffalo Bills’ Ralph C. Wilson Jr.
Ford purchased the Lions in 1963 and had run the team for the last 50 years. Both he and Wilson were residents of the affluent Grosse Pointe area of Metro Detroit.
The Lions remain in the Ford family. His widow, Martha Ford, took over controlling interest of the team. The couple’s four children are also involved in the ownership, with Ford’s son, William Clay Ford Jr., serving as vice chairman.
Original owner Kenneth Stanley “Bud” Adams Jr. died Oct. 21, 2013, at the age of 90. Adams at the time of his death was the longest-tenured owner in the NFL, establishing the Houston Oilers in 1959 a few months before Wilson did the same with the Buffalo Bills.
Adams’ Oilers called Houston home until 1996. The team relocated to Tennessee in 1997, after Adams failed in his bid to secure public funding for a new stadium for the team in Houston.
Upon Adams’ death, control of the Titans was passed to members of his family. Son-in-law Tommy Smith was named president and CEO, while Adams’ daughters, Susie Adams Smith and Amy Adams Hunt, became co-chairmen. Adams’ grandson, Kenneth Adams IV, was named a member of the Titans’ board of directors.
Adams Smith and Adams Hunt reportedly own 33 percent of the team, while the family of Adams’ late son, Kenneth Adams III, owns the remaining 33 percent.
Owner Al Davis died Oct. 8, 2011 at the age of 82. A legendary figure in professional football, Davis served as the AFL’s commissioner, but resigned in 1966 because he was against the merger with the National Football League.
Davis’ only son, Mark, took over as managing general partner of the team after his father’s death. Mark Davis owns the majority of the team, along with his mother, Carole, Al Davis’ widow.
St. Louis Rams
When the team moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995, majority owner Georgia Frontiere sold 40 percent of the team to Stan Kroenke. Frontiere died in 2008, triggering a series of events that led to Kroenke eventually purchasing controlling interest.
Frontiere’s children, Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, initially reached an agreement to sell the team to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan in 2010, but Kroenke exercised his right of first refusal to purchase majority control.
Kansas City Chiefs
Founder and owner Lamar Hunt died in 2006 at the age of 74. Control of the Chiefs was passed onto his son, Clark, who serves as chairman and CEO.
Clark Hunt’s siblings - Lamar Jr., Sharron and Dan - also have ownership stakes in the Chiefs.