Entry to the Forbes 400 is harder than ever, with a minimum net worth of $2 billion needed to crack the list of richest Americans. The bar for entry is up 18% from last year thanks to a booming stock market. The world of sports is well represented, with more than 10% of the 400 owning a major sports team.
Franchise owners are profiting from a media landscape in which they can command blockbuster contracts from broadcasters for the rights to televise live sports at a time when more and more Americans are streaming ad-free content on demand or recording it for playback on commercial-skipping DVRs. There are 87 sports teams worldwide worth at least $1 billion.
Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for WE Day )
Steve Ballmer retains his hold as America’s richest sports team owner for the fourth straight year with a net worth of $33.6 billion, up $6.1 billion from a year ago and No. 15 among all Americans.
Ballmer dropped out of Stanford’s MBA program to become Microsoft’s 30th employee and served as its CEO between 2000 and 2014. He bought the Los Angeles Clippers for a record $2 billion the same year he stepped down.
Microsoft’s stock is up 35% over the past 12 months, fueling the gains in Ballmer’s net worth. The Clippers are in a transition stage with the departure of perennial All-Star Chris Paul, who was traded to the Houston Rockets in July. Blake Griffin is the team’s centerpiece now after signing a five-year, $173 million contract this summer.
Ballmer is looking for a new home for the Clippers, who share the Staples Center with the Los Angeles Lakers. He entered negotiations in June with the city of Inglewood to explore the possibility of building a new arena there.
Another Microsoft alum, Paul Allen, ranks as the second richest sports owner in the U.S. Allen co-founded the company in 1975 with high school friend Bill Gates, who has topped Forbes' list of the richest Americans for 24 straight years. Allen has sold most of his Microsoft stock since leaving the company in 1983 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (he beat it).
Allen owns the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers. His net worth jumped $1.7 billion to $20.6 billion.
We only counted 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).
There are more than a dozen billionaires with minority stakes in teams like Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs ($19.4 billion), who recently purchased an estimated 20% stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which includes the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals and the arena they share.
The 43 owners control 55 teams combined, with 11 owners possessing multiple teams. The combined net worth for the 43 sports team owners is $238 billion. The newest member of the exclusive club is Tilman Fertitta ($3.5 billion) who closed on his $2.2 billion purchase of the Houston Rockets this month.
Following Paul Allen. rounding out the top five richest owners is Philip Anschutz ($12.6 billion), owner of the Los Angeles Kings and LA Galaxy, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison ($9.4 billion) and Stanley Kroenke ($8.1 billion), whose sports empire touches the NFL, NBA, NHL and European soccer.
The average NFL franchise is worth $2.5 billion, and not surprisingly football owners are the best-represented sports league among the 400. Eighteen owners made the cut, led by Allen, Kroenke and Stephen Ross ($7.5 billion). The NBA landed 15 owners on the list, followed by nine in MLB with Charles Johnson ($5.9 billion), Marian Ilitch ($5.2 billion) and Ted Lerner ($4.9 billion) on top.
Sports have paved the road to riches for many other Americans outside of team ownership. Nike founder Phil Knight is worth $25.2 billion and ranks as the 18th richest person American. Last year he pledged $500 million to the University of Oregon and $400 million to Stanford, his alma maters. The net worth of Fanatics owner Michael Rubin got a boost in August when SoftBank announced a $1 billion investment in the sports merchandise online retailer. Rubin is worth $2.9 billion, up $600 million. Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta are each worth $2 billion after selling their mixed-martial-arts firm UFC for $4 billion last year to WME-IMG.
Several Forbes 400 members from the world of sports dropped off the list this year, including Under Armour founder Kevin Plank ($1.7 billion). His net worth is off $1.3 billion after a 60% decline in the stock price of the sports apparel maker. Nascar's struggles caused a $300 million drop in the net worth of James France ($1.7 billion) who owns an estimated 36% of the stock car racing series founded by his father.
America's Richest Sports Team Owners
1. Steve Ballmer: $33.6 billion (Los Angeles Clippers)
2. Paul Allen: $20.6 billion (Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers)
3. Philip Anschutz: $12.6 billion (Los Angeles Kings, LA Galaxy)
4. Micky Arison: $9.4 billion (Miami Heat)
5. Stanley Kroenke: $8.1 billion (Los Angeles Rams, Arsenal)