There may not be a greater luxury for a football fan than owning an NFL franchise.
For some controlling owners, an NFL team is just another asset in a vast portfolio. But for other owners, it’s a family affair, attached for generations.
NFL team valuations continue to soar because the average NFL ownership tenure lasts 40 years, and a franchise only comes on the market about every four years. So when they do hit the market, the sale always garners attention, with the nation’s wealthiest usually among the bidders.
Walmart heir Rob Walton bought the Denver Broncos for a record $4.65 billion in June. His addition to the group of NFL owners has driven the combined net worth of all 31 principal owners to roughly $200 billion, according to multiple reports. As valuations steadily increase, interested prospective buyers not only face steep financial requirements but need deep pockets to enter the NFL collective. Very deep.
So what does it take to be an NFL owner?
- The NFL requires an incoming principal owner or general partner to hold at least 30% of the equity. However, that minimum alone is unlikely to score a team, because it would put more pressure on limited partners. If you can’t write the check for 50%, then you might want to try to purchase another asset.
- The league now allows up to $1 billion in debt for a team acquisition, up from $500 million, but a new owner must meet certain terms and stipulations in order to be offered a higher ceiling.
- For teams that have been owned by the same owner for at least 10 years, the threshold in the team that a controlling owner needs is 1%, and families must still own 30% of equity. NFL owners voted to lower this threshold from 5% to 1% this past spring. This benefits teams such as the New York Giants and Chicago Bears, with longtime family ownership.
- No more than 25 people, including the general partner, can be in one franchise ownership group.
- A succession plan is required to purchase an NFL team and is typically updated on an annual basis. And of course, there’s an extensive background check, so no skeletons can be left in the closet.
- Twenty-four of the 32 NFL owners must approve the transaction. A buyer and a seller may agree on a final price, but the deal can’t be finalized until approved by other members.
- The NFL doesn’t allow nonprofit organizations, corporations or private institutions, such as private equity firms, to purchase minority or majority stakes in franchises. The Green Bay Packers are the league’s lone nonprofit, publicly owned team as they were grandfathered in before the current ownership structure was in place. This list also includes crypto collectives; a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), which had the support of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, was interested in purchasing the Broncos before they were bought by Walton’s ownership group.
- The NFL scrapped a rule in 2018 that prevented controlling owners from owning non-NFL teams in markets containing other NFL teams. This presumably was meant to avoid competition with other major sports leagues but also for NFL owners not to compete with each other for local ticket sales, sponsorships and other revenue streams, which they ultimately share under NFL rules. That option is now on the table, a move that widens the pool for potential wealthy buyers as valuations continue to skyrocket.
The NFL, after all, isn’t a private company. It’s a glamorized trade association, financially supported by its 32 members. It’s an exclusive club that even the world’s richest don’t get the chance to be part of. So, if you build the relationships and understand the process, you can join too. Just don’t forget the cheddar.
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