NFL Owners: Shovels or Spoons? Does the Source of Their Money Matter?

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJune 3, 2010

Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones enter  an election  meeting  in suburban Chicago August 8, 2006.  The owners named Roger Goodell to succeed retiring commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images


The NFL’s 32 current majority franchise owners make up a diverse group of individuals hailing from a wide variety of backgrounds. This conglomeration represents leaders in the worlds of banking, finance, retail, technology, real estate, manufacturing, food service, entertainment, etc. 

But, where did the stacks of cash necessary to float membership in the elite ranks of NFL ownership come from?

Was the source a great idea, hard work, savvy investing combined with just a bit of luck, or, instead did the money come from a genetic predecessor who left their heirs with the reigns to an NFL franchise?

Or, perhaps the funding was inherited but not the team, and, the bequeathed money was utilized to purchase the said franchise.

Taking this thought a step further, where NFL ownership and subsequent success is concerned, does it actually make a difference where the money came from?

In other words, is a self made owner (the shovel) preferable to one who inherited his/her fortune and/or franchise (the spoon)? 

Indeed, does rising up triumphantly into the ranks of the financially elite in one’s own lifetime result in being a more successful owner of a winning football team? Or, subsequently, are those who have spent a lifetime as established members of a privileged group more suited to success as owners?

Do the personal qualities necessary for personal financial achievement outweigh the lifelong experience of being groomed for leadership?


The Split

Of the 32 current franchise owners the split would seem to be just about even between those who are personally responsible for their own wealth, and those who received it from a generous benefactor. 16 can arguably fall on each side of this gray line.

It is only fair to point out that the identification process of ownership and funding sources is difficult to define in anything more than general terms. This process involved tracing where the bulk of wealth required to purchase a NFL franchise came from, which was made easier if the entire team was inherited.

Using these admittedly loose guidelines, the “Inherited” or Spoon group of would include the current ownership of the Cardinals, Bears, Bengals, Browns, Broncos, Lions, Colts, Chiefs, Vikings, Patriots, Giants, Jets, Steelers, 49ers, Rams and Titans.

This places the current ownership of the Falcons, Ravens, Bills, Panthers, Cowboys, Texans, Jaguars, Dolphins, Saints, Raiders, Eagles, Chargers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins and arguably the Packers in the “Self Made” or Shovel category.

One of the more subjective rulings is the question of where to place the Green Bay Packers in these categories, since the city uniquely owns its team.

In this analysis the Packers have been cast into the “self made” category as the team was originally financially “saved” by Curly Lambeau who enticed the “Hungry Five” businessmen from Green Bay to rescue the team and form the Green Bay Packer Corporation.


What is Success?

Determining what defines “success” in terms of a professional sports team can also produce a certain amount of controversy. Is it ticket sales, merchandising, luxury boxes, bottom line net income or a combination of these that justify achievement? 

I would argue that instead the true success of a franchise is in actual victories, and, ultimately in championships. Furthermore, the on field triumphs lead, in due course, to the financial rewards listed above. So, in the end one provides the opportunity for the other.


The Numbers

So, which group is more successful in terms of wins and losses, and, in the unique world of the NFL, who has won more Super Bowls?

The “Inherited” group of 16 franchises while under their current ownership posts a combined 2399 wins and 2420 losses resulting in a 49.78 winning percentage, or, just under the .500 mark. 

On the other hand, the “Self Made” current owners bring together a 2711 win and 2580 loss record during their respective tenures netting in a 51.24 winning percentage, or, just over the .500 mark.

In terms of Championships, or, Super Bowls, the “Self Made” ownership group again just edges the “Inherited” faction 11 titles to 10.

In total, the Shovel consortium has a slight edge on the Spoon combination in actual, on the field results. 

Provocatively, taking the Packers out of the mix completely, as it could be argued that they do not have an “owner” in the same sense that the other 31 franchises do, the 15 remaining “Self Made” owned teams tout a 49.93 winning percentage and 8 Super Bowl victories. 

In this case, the “Self Made” assemblage only marginally retains its winning percentage advantage while the Super Bowl victories tip instead in favor of the “Inherited” faction.


44 Super Bowls Speak

So, what about the long line of previous NFL owners?

Since these numbers are based solely on current ownership and discount any previous owners and their associated wealth sources they only tell a part of the story.

Looking back further, using the NFL/AFL merger as a starting point, and presuming that Super Bowl victories are the ultimate gauge for success, which group has the edge? Spoons or Shovels?

In this case, the Self Made Shovels once again edge the Inherited Silver Spoons by a 23 to 21 Super Bowl victory margin.


What Do the Numbers Say?

As the BCS has taught us, allowing mere numbers to direct sport is unsatisfactory at best, and, so, we realize, that there is only so much that sports math can tell us.

Indeed, this brief study leaves much to be desired.

For instance, it does not take into account that some of the teams included are expansion franchises that would be expected to lose many games at the beginning of their lives.

Additionally and as mentioned above, some franchises have experienced tremendous waves of change via a genetic benefactor inheriting a franchise. 

Also of note, some of these franchises were also purchased while down and out, requiring reinvestment and restructure to succeed, and, what of scheduling, draft picks, coaching changes, injuries, etc.?

Regardless, it is interesting to consider the effect the owner’s personality, disposition and background have on his/her team’s actual achievements on the field of play. 

As fans, we all undoubtedly feel more comfortable and confident about an owner we can relate to, respect, and trust with our sacred team. Or, if that is impossible, if nothing else, we manage to survive with someone we can all agree to hate.









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