Ownership of one of the NFL’s 32 franchises puts you in 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 join that esteemed company by taking over a franchise worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Five other NFL cities have faced similar questions in the past 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, last surviving grandson of automobile pioneer Henry Ford, died March 9 at age 88. At the time of his death, Ford was the second-longest- tenured sole owner in the NFL, behind Wilson.
Ford purchased the Lions in 1963 and had run the team for the past 50 years. Both he and Wilson were residents of the affluent Grosse Pointe area near Detroit.
Twice during Ford’s tenure, new stadiums were built for the Lions – the Pontiac Silverdome (in 1975) and Ford Field (in 2002), which was built largely with private funds, a rarity in the NFL. Ford also refused the use of personal seat licenses in the construction of the new stadium.
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 age 90. At the time of his death, he was the longest-tenured owner in the NFL, establishing the Houston Oilers in 1960 a few months before Wilson did the same with the Bills.
Along with late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, Adams co-founded the American Football League. The eight original owners of AFL teams, including Wilson, became known as the “Foolish Club,” for their willingness to compete with the established NFL. Eventually, the two leagues merged, with 10 AFL teams joining their NFL counterparts for the 1970 season.
Adams’ Oilers called Houston home until 1996. The team relocated to Tennessee in 1997, after Adams failed to secure public funding for a new stadium 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.
“We will be taking all the necessary steps, in concert with the league office, to remain in compliance with league rules in our ownership structure,” Smith said upon being named president.
Adams Smith and Adams Hunt reportedly each own 33 percent of the team, while the family of Adams’ late son, Kenneth Adams III, owns the remaining 33 percent.
St. Louis Rams
When the team moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 1995 – again, because public support for needed renovations to Anaheim Stadium couldn’t be secured – 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 a 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.
Kroenke raised eyebrows earlier this year when he purchased a 60-acre tract of land in Inglewood, Calif. That has fueled speculation the Rams could eventually return to the city they called home from 1946 to 1994. The Rams’ current lease with St. Louis has an escape clause after the season if the Edward Jones Dome hasn’t been upgraded to one of the eight best venues in the NFL.
To do that, the Rams are looking for close to $700 million in renovations. The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission proposed a $124 million upgrade – a gap of nearly $575 million.
Kroenke’s land purchase could be a precursor to a move – or simply leverage in the team’s negotiations with its current city.
Owner Al Davis died Oct. 8, 2011, at age 82. A legendary, polarizing figure in the world of professional football, Davis had owned 67 percent of the Raiders but sold a 20 percent stake in 2007 to a group of investors.
Davis’ only son, Mark, took over as managing general partner of the team after his father’s death. Mark Davis and his mother, Carol, Al Davis’ widow, own 47 percent of the team – the controlling stake.
Mark Davis acknowledged this week a move back to Los Angeles was a possibility if a proposed new home for the team in Oakland fails to come to fruition. The Coliseum City Project would construct new homes for the Raiders, the NBA’s Warriors and Major League Baseball’s Athletics on an 850-acre plot of land, but the deadline for a deal has been pushed back to this summer.
The Raiders have a one-year lease to play in Oakland Coliseum, which they share with the A’s.
Kansas City Chiefs
Founder and owner Lamar Hunt died in 2006 at age 74. Control of the Chiefs was passed on to his son, Clark, who serves as chairman and CEO of the franchise.
Clark Hunt’s siblings – Lamar Jr., Sharron and Dan – are also involved in the ownership structure. The family’s sports holdings are valued at more than $1 billion and include a stake in the Chicago Bulls, as well as FC Dallas of Major League Soccer.
The last time an NFL owner died and the team was sold to an outside party was in 2002, when Arthur Blank purchased the Atlanta Falcons. Blank paid $545 million for the team, purchasing it from Taylor Smith, the son of team founder Rankin Smith Sr., who died in 1997.
In the past three years, two other NFL teams have also been sold.
Jimmy Haslam purchased the Cleveland Browns for $1 billion in 2012 from Randy Lerner, the son of Al Lerner, who brought the team back into the NFL in 1999 after it had relocated to Baltimore.
Khan was successful in becoming an NFL owner in early 2012, when his $760 million purchase of the Jacksonville Jaguars from original owner Wayne Weaver was finalized.