Family Business Super Bowl LVI: Rams vs. Bengals

by | Feb 12, 2022 | Celebrating Family Business

Shutterstock Steve Cukrov

When you think of football, you think of your dad’s or your brother’s favorite team. If you’re a longtime fan yourself, you would know that many of the National Football League franchises are owned by the most prominent families in the United States and even the world. The NFL itself has stringent restrictions on the team ownership of their current 32 teams. 

As a rule, no groups with more than 24 people or publicly-traded companies are allowed ownership of any NFL team. The only exception is the Green Bay Packers, which are owned by Green Bay Packers, Inc. and were established before this rule was in place. Given this restriction, the NFL teams are mostly owned by wealthy individuals who have then passed their shares to their family members. 

The Family Business Kickoffs

Given the limit on the number of investors, the league has a healthy number of team owners who are wealthy individuals and who over time have brought their family members into the operations. Therefore, many of the teams are owned and operated as family businesses. 

From their grandfathers acquiring these teams, or even helping establish them, in the early 1900s to the current owners now, ownership of these teams has been passed down or inherited, in a sense. Research has shown that the success rate of transitioning a family business, no matter what kind, from the first to the second generation is approximately 30 percent. 

That’s pretty high considering the percentages for the second to the third generation is less than half, only at about 12 percent. Interestingly enough, these statistics seem to hold for family-owned NFL teams as well. Many of these teams are now owned by the second generation while only about four teams are owned by the third generation. 

The Football Teams 

Despite the NFL gaining so much popularity in recent decades and ballooning into a multi-billion dollar industry, multi-generational teams are still dwindling. The reason could range from family disputes to shareholder conflict to a lack of a successor. All the usual reasons for family businesses to fizzle out in any other industry.

However, there are still family-owned NFL teams that are going steady, with some even on a winning streak. Most of these teams are multi-generationally owned by wealthy individuals in the 1900s who had the purchasing power to invest in sports groups. Back then, you can buy an entire team in a league for as little as two grand. These franchises’ worth now goes as far up as $6.5 billion. Below are some of the most renowned family-owned NFL franchises today.

Buffalo Bills — The Pegulas

In 2014, American billionaire businessman Terrence Pegula made a winning bid to purchase the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. The team was up for sale after the passing of the original owner, Ralph Wilson. Terrence was favored by many of the team’s fans because of his commitment to the Western New York area and local connections.

He even outbid former Republican U.S. President Donald Trump and musician Bon Jovi. Pegula has interests in many industries including real estate, entertainment, and other professional sports. He owns the Pegula Sports and Entertainment which owns the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL and the Buffalo Bills together with his wife, Kim Pegula. 

Even before they co-managed the Bills, Kim was already well-involved in all of her husband’s businesses. She is now the president of Pegula Sports and Entertainment and, by extension, all of the sports teams that are under its management. In 2018, she was named to the NFL’s business ventures committee. Kim also became the first female team president in the history of both the NFL and NHL

Cincinnati Bengals — The Browns

When the Bengals’ co-founder and original coach of the Cleveland Browns Paul Brown established the team in 1968, his sons were next in line to inherit his legacy. When Paul died in 1991, his son Michael immediately assumed ownership of the team. His other son, Pete, was the Senior Vice-President of Bengals’ player personnel until his death in 2017.

Michael began his executive duties with the Bengals as the assistant general manager. His father trained him well for the ownership job before he died and passed on the mantle. Michael’s ownership and leadership of the Bengals have been highly criticized over the years for a lack of on-field success. The team only has eight winning seasons out of the 30 they have played and no playoff won in seven appearances from 1991 to 2020.

His refusal to give full and day-to-day operations to a general manager plus the Bengal’s dispute with Hamilton County before and after a voter-approved tax increase to fund the Paul Brown Stadium has also gained Michael plenty of raised eyebrows and scowls from the League and its fans.

The losing streak was broken when the team won their first playoffs in the 2021 season with Zac Taylor as their head coach. In addition to being the majority owner of the Bengals now, Micahel is considered the team’s de facto general manager as well. Despite the many losing streaks and controversies that the Bengals have faced over the decades, they are still going strong.

Cleveland Browns — The Haslams

James Haslam III and Dee Haslam co-own the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. They also own another sports group, the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer (MLS). In 2008, James bought a minority interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers but in 2012, he reached an agreement with then-Browns owner Randy Lerner to purchase the franchise for $1 billion. 

The Haslams’ purchase of the Browns was unanimously approved by 32 teams on the NFL and the deal was closed shortly after. Dee Haslam is now the CEO of Haslam Sports Group and the co-owner of the team as well. The couple is also in the family ownership group of the Pilot Flying J, a truck stop chain founded by James Haslam’s father.

Houston Texans — The McNairs

After the death of her husband Bob McNair in 2018, Janice Suber McNair assumed full ownership of the NFL team Houston Texans. She and her husband co-founded the team in 1999, the same year Bob founded Cogen Technologies. Janice became the Texans’ principal owner with the title Senior Chair. Their son Cal McNair is currently the CEO and operations head of the franchise.

While she may not be CEO of the team, Janice still represents the Texans at NFL owners’ meetings and other league-related businesses. She is one of ten women NFL team owners and co-founders and is currently the richest among them all and all other women sports owners in the United States. 

Kansas City Chiefs — The Hunts

When the founder of the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar Hunt, passed in 2006, he left his legacy with his wife and four children. Lamar founded the team in 1960 as the Dallas Texans and moved to Kansas City three years later. One of his sons, Clark Hunt, is now part owner, chairman, and CEO of the franchise. 

Clark was named chairman in 2005 before his father passed so he had the most say on the management of the team even before the formal ownership was transferred to him and other members of his family. He is now also the chairman of Hunt Sports Group and oversees the overall operations of the Chiefs. 

While his family still has shares in the franchise, Clark officially represents the Chiefs as its owner. Under Clark’s leadership, the Chiefs have made the playoffs eight times. They have also won the AFC West 6 times and won one Super Bowl.

Las Vegas Raiders — The Davises

Longtime Raiders’ owner Al Davis passed in 2011 and left the team in his wife’s capable hands. Carol Sagal Davis is now part-owner of the NFL team Las Vegas Raiders after her husband named her as his successor way back in 1997. After her husband’s passing, the team’s chief executive Amy Trask said that the team “will remain in the Davis family.”

True enough, after Carol took over, she and their son Mark held the controlling interest in the franchise. Mark took his father’s old post as managing general partner operating head of the team. He now mostly manages the team with some guidance from his mother.

Los Angeles Rams — The Kroenkes

Owned by Enos Stanly “Stan” Kroenke, the Los Angeles Rams were originally founded in 1995 in Anaheim but was moved to St. Louis when Stan purchased 30% of the franchise. Then in another turn of events, they went back to Los Angeles and reclaimed their former franchise name in 2016. Stan’s decision came after he argued that St. Louis was no longer a viable market for the NFL and questioned his franchise’s financial future.

Before Stan was ever near the Rams, he first married Walmart heiress Ann Walton in 1974, daughter of Walmart co-founder James “Bud” Walton. When the chain store started climbing up the market, Stan founded the Kroenke Group in 1983. The company is a real estate development firm that focuses on commercial infrastructures like shopping centers and plazas. Naturally, many of these buildings are near Walmart stores all over the United States. 

Currently, Stan serves as the CEO and majority owner of the Los Angeles Rams NFL franchise. His wife Ann, owns the rest of his elusive sports franchise to bypass the NFL restriction of owning teams in other sports markets. The couple currently owns franchises in the NFL, NHL, NBA, WSL, and a few others.

New York Giants — The Maras

The Giants are one of the few teams left that are owned by multi-generational families. Currently, the owner John Mara is the third of his generation to own the New York Giants NFL franchise. John’s grandfather, Tim Mara, founded the team in 1925. Tim’s sons, Wellington and Jack Mara inherited the team in 1959 when their father died. John followed suit in 1991.

Apart from being the third-generation owner of one of the longest-running franchises in the history of the NFL, John is also a lawyer. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from the Fordham University School of Law and specialized in labor and employment law and litigation before joining the Giants. 

Pittsburgh Steelers — The Rooneys

Since the formation of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933, the Rooneys have had a hand in their run. Art Rooney was the founder and owner of the team until his passing in 1988. He then gave over his legacy to his eldest son, Dan Rooney, who was also a former United States Ambassador to Ireland. In 2017, Dan died and ownership was transferred to his son Art Rooney II.

All three generations have been credited for much of the team’s success. Along with the Giants, the Steelers are also one of the earliest founded NFL teams that are still playing. One interesting fact is that Dan Rooney established something that would be nicknamed by NFL fans as the “Rooney Rule.” 

As chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee, he made it a requirement for any team looking for a new head coach to include an interview with at least one ethnic minority candidate during the recruitment process. The Steelers themselves have only had three head coaches employed since 1969, proving that consistency and stability are major keys to success.