The value of professional sports teams has exploded over the past decade thanks largely to the massive increases in television rights fees paid for games. This asset appreciation has minted several new billionaires, including Michael Jordan, Jerry Reinsdorf and Jeffrey Lurie. There are now 81 sports teams around the world worth at least $1 billion (some of those teams have multiple owners or significant debt keeping the net worth of their owners outside the 10-figure club).
The NBA is home to more billionaire owners than any other sports league, led by Steve Ballmer (left), who is joined by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and fellow billionaire owner Michael Jordan. (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)
Sports have been the road to riches for many people, but the richest of the rich were billionaires long before they ever entered the sporting world. There are 62 billionaires who are majority owner or managing partner of a team in a major sports league. They own 78 teams and are worth a collective $322 billion. Factoring in minority owners and second-tier sports leagues and the ownership ranks expand to 125 billionaires with stakes in 144 teams, including 40 soccer clubs (we did not include teams owned by families like the Steinbrenners and Glazers).
Steve Ballmer, worth $30 billion, is the world's richest sports team owner for the third straight year (see the full top 20 below). He bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014 for $2 billion in the wake of the Donald Sterling scandal, which rocked the NBA when racially charged comments made by Sterling were made public. The Clippers purchase was 10% of Ballmer's fortune at the time and many pegged it as an overpay for a basketball junkie who wanted into the exclusive NBA owners club. Ballmer's timing was perfect as the league inked a new $24 billion TV deal months later and the average NBA franchise value is up 114% over the past three years.
Microsoft's stock price is up 20% over the last 12 months (the S&P 500 rose 16%), which helped push Ballmer's net worth up $6.5 billion from a year ago. Ballmer dropped out of Stanford's MBA program in 1980 to join Microsoft as employee No. 30. He served as CEO from 2000 to 2014.
Indian oil and gas tycoon Mukesh Ambani is the second richest sports team owner on the planet with a net worth of $23.2 billion, up nearly $4 billion from a year ago. He was one of the original owners in the Indian Premier League, which launched in 2008. He owns the Mumbai Indians cricket franchise through his company Reliance Industries. He runs $44.5 billion (revenue) Reliance, which was founded by his father in 1966 and ranks among India's most valuable companies.
Paul Allen ($19.9 billion) ranks third. He also made his fortune with a Microsoft as a co-founder of the company with Bill Gates. He bought the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers and NFL's Seattle Seahawks after leaving Microsoft. Rounding out top five are Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz ($13.4 billion) and Philip Anschutz ($12.5 billion). Mateschitz is the richest person in soccer and auto racing through his stakes in the New York Red Bulls of MLS and two Formula 1 teams, Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso. Anschutz owns the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and MLS' LA Galaxy. He also owns a one-third stake in the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers.
Ballmer and Allen lead a group of 20 NBA majority owners or managing partners. The sport is wildly attractive right now because of soaring revenues and the global opportunities of the sport. “There are a lot of prospective buyers for NBA franchises, but no sellers right now,” says Sal Galatioto, who runs an investment bank focused on the sports industry. Other loaded NBA owners include Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov ($8.9 billion), who has been shopping a minority stake in the Brooklyn Nets, Micky Arison ($8.1 billion) of the Miami Heat and Stanley Kroenke ($7.5 billion) of the Denver Nuggets.
Nineteen NFL teams are owned by billionaires, led by Allen, Shahid Khan ($8.2 billion) of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kroenke, who also owns the recently relocated Los Angeles Rams. The explosion in NFL values has produced more billionaires than any other league with eight people in the 10-figure net worth club as result of the value of their NFL franchises.
There are 11 MLB teams owned or which have a managing partner as a billionaire. Longtime Detroit Tigers owner Michael Ilitch died last month at 87. His wife and family are baseball's richest at $6 billion. They are followed by Charles Johnson ($6 billion), who runs the San Francisco Giants, and Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner ($5.3 billion).
Anschutz ranks as the richest in hockey, followed by Hasso Plattner ($11.2 billion), who co-founded German software company SAP in 1972 and owns the San Jose Sharks, and then Kroenke, who owns the Colorado Avalanche.
Outside of team ownership, more than a dozen other billionaires can credit their fortunes to sports. Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who retired as chairman in June after 52 years with the company, is worth $26.2 billion, No. 28 in the world. Under Armour was the worst-performing sports stock in 2016 and the net worth of company founder Kevin Plank took a 38% hit over the past year to $2 billion. Plank fell behind Ding Shijia and Ding Shizhong ($2.1 billion each) whose fortunes are founded on Chinese sportswear brand Anta Sports.
Michael Rubin, who made his fortune in online retailing and runs Fanatics, is worth $2.3 billion. James France inherited an estimated 36% of Nascar, which his father started in 1948. He is worth $2 billion. Longtime F1 head honcho Bernie Ecclestone relinquished his post atop the sport in January as part of Liberty Media Corp.'s purchase of F1. Ecclestone is worth $2.9 billion.
1. (No. 21 overall) Steve Ballmer
Net worth: $30 billion
Source of wealth: Microsoft
Team: Los Angeles Clippers
2. (33) Mukesh Ambani
Net worth: $23.2 billion
Source of wealth: Petrochemicals, oil & gas
Team: Mumbai Indians
3. (42) Paul Allen
Net worth: $19.9 billion
Source of wealth: Microsoft, investments
Teams: Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers
4. (86) Dietrich Mateschitz
Net worth: $13.4 billion
Source of wealth: Red Bull
Teams: New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso
5. (96) Philip Anschutz
Net worth: $12.5 billion
Source of wealth: Investments
Teams: Los Angeles Kings, LA Galaxy
6. (118) Hasso Plattner & family
Net worth: $11.2 billion
Source of wealth: Software
Team: San Jose Sharks
7. (139) Roman Abramovich
Net worth: $9.1 billion
Source of wealth: Steel, investments
8. (145) Mikhail Prokhorov
Net worth: $8.9 billion
Source of wealth: Investments
Team: Brooklyn Nets
9. (158) Shahid Khan
Net worth: $8.2 billion
Source of wealth: Auto parts
Team: Jacksonville Jaguars
10. (159) Micky Arison
Net worth: $8.1 billion
Source of wealth: Carnival Cruises
Team: Miami Heat
11. (182) Stanley Kroenke
Net worth: $7.5 billion
Source of wealth: Sports, real estate
Teams: Los Angeles Rams, Arsenal, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche