The values of sports franchises have skyrocketed in recent years fueled by billion-dollar TV contracts for the highly valuable live programming that sporting events offer. There are now 75 sports teams worth at least $1 billion by Forbes’ count. The result: there are more sports team owners on the Forbes 400 than ever before with 44 making the cut this year, up from 32 in 2013.
Steve Ballmer (C) cheers for his team the Los Angeles Clippers. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
The richest sports team owner for the third straight year is Steve Ballmer, who paid $2 billion for the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers in 2014. Ballmer’s net worth jumped $5.9 billion this year to $27.5 billion thanks to a 33% total return for MicrosoftMSFT +0.42% shareholders over the last 12 months. He ranks No. 15 overall on the Forbes 400.
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Most of Ballmer’s wealth is tied to the software company he joined in 1980 and ran as CEO from 2000 to 2014, but Ballmer expanded his portfolio at the end of last year when he bought a 4% stake in Twitter. The Clippers have posted their four best records in franchise history over the past four seasons.
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The cutoff for entry to Forbes’ 35th annual tally of the richest people in the United States is $1.7 billion with Bill Gates leading the way for the 23rd straight year with a net worth of $81 billion. We only included sports owners who hold a majority stake or are the managing partner of a major sports franchise. We did not include cases where ownership is spread across a family like the Steinbrenners (New York Yankees) and Glazers (Manchester United and Tampa Bay Buccaneers). The 44 owners possess 58 teams combined with 10 owners controlling multiple teams. The combined net worth for the 44 sports team owners is $212 billion.
Another Microsoft vet ranks as the second richest American sports owner with Paul Allen at $18.9 billion. Allen founded Microsoft in 1975 with high school friend Gates. He invested some of his riches in sports, buying the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers in 1988 for $70 million and the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks for $194 million in 1997. Both assets have appreciated more than tenfold and today are worth a combined $3.2 billion.
Rounding out the top five among sports owners are Philip Anschutz($10.9 billion), who owns the Los Angeles Kings and Los Angeles Galaxy,Stanley Kroenke ($7.4 billion), who owns the Los Angeles Rams, Arsenal FC and Colorado Rapids, and Stephen Ross ($7.4 billion), who owns the Miami Dolphins.
Ballmer had the biggest dollar gain to his net worth of any sports team owner on the Forbes 400, but in percentage terms, Memphis Grizzlies owner, Robert Pera, had the largest increase, up 45% to $3.2 billion. Pera founded wireless equipment maker Ubiquiti Networks in 2005, and the company’s stock jumped 58% over the last year. Pera used some of those riches to hand Grizzlies guard Mike Conley the richest contract in NBA history this summer worth $153 million.
The NFL ownership ranks have the most members of the Forbes 400 with 18 making the grade, followed by the NBA (15), MLB (9), NHL (9) and soccer (6).
A sports teams is often considered the ultimate billionaire’s toy, but the vast majority of the mega-rich in the 11-figure net worth club eschew sports. Only three of the 50 richest Americans own a sports teams (top 50 cutoff is $8.8 billion). Of course, team ownership is not the only way to get rich in the sports world. NikeNKE +0.00% co-founder Phil Knight is worth $25.5 billion, which ranks No. 18 overall on the Forbes 400. Other 400 members in sports include Under ArmourUA +1.32% founder Kevin Plank ($3 billion) and Michael Rubin ($2.3 billion), who owns Fanatics, the largest retailer of licensed sports merchandise. James France ($2 billion) is a member of Nascar’s first family.
The combined net worth of the Fertitta brothers, Frank and Lorenzo, is up $400 million over last year and they are tied for No. 361 with a net worth of $1.9 billion apiece. The brothers, along with high school pay Dana White, paid $2 million in 1980 for a mixed martial arts company that became the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The Fertittas sold the UFC this summer for $4 billion to talent agency WME-IMGand several investment firms.
Sports team ownership and the Forbes 400 is largely a boys club, but five women in sports cracked the 400s this year. Wal-Mart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke ($6.2 billion) joined the sports ownership ranks over the past year when her husband Stanley transferred his control of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche to her to satisfy the NFL’s cross-ownership rules with owning teams in competing markets.
Marian Ilitch and her husband Michael are worth a combined $5.8 billion and together they own the Detroit Red Wings (Michael also owns the Detroit Tigers). Other female owners on the 400s include Joan Tisch($3.6 billion) with the New York Giants and Denise York ($2.4 billion) with the San Francisco 49ers, as well as Gail Miller ($1.7 billion), who inherited the Utah Jazz when her husband, Larry, died in 2009.