5 Owners that Changed the Game

US News and World Report – July 14, 2010 – By Luke Mullins –

George Steinbrenner went by a lot of names—”The Boss” and “Patton in Pinstripes,” just to name two—but for those who value baseball from the business side, his most impressive epithet has little to do with his commanding personality. Notably, Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday, was one of the best buy-and-hold investors in recent memory.

In 1973, Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees for $10 million. Today, according to Forbes, the franchise is worth $1.6 billion. In terms of a return on an investment, that feat is to be rivaled only by the likes of Warren Buffett, whose famous accomplishments include paying $1.3 billion for a stake in Coca-Cola that, as of the end of last year, was worth $11.4 billion.

Owning a sports franchise, of course, is not always a profitable venture. But Steinbrenner, in a way that nobody before him could, leveraged the brand name of the New York Yankees and created a team that was as much a successful business as it was a championship magnet—which says a lot because the Yankees won seven titles in his 37 years as owner. In doing so, he established his reputation as one of the sports community’s shrewdest residents.

Over the past several decades, there have been few owners whose personalities have rivaled Steinbrenner’s and even fewer who have had such a transformative impact on the industry. Here’s a look at five other owners who have changed the way that fans think about sports:

Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys: As the owner of the iconic Dallas Cowboys, Jones has helped entrench the team’s brand in the national psyche. Jones also helped finance the $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium, which opened its doors last year. A hands-on owner, Jones makes strong impressions—but not always positive ones—on the city’s fans. In 2008, Jones and the Steinbrenner family formed a concession and merchandise partnership. “Mr. Jones and my dad have had a mutual respect for each other for decades,” Hal Steinbrenner, George’s son, said at the time.

Walter O’Malley, Los Angeles Dodgers: While noted for serving as the Brooklyn Dodgers’ legal counsel when Jackie Robinson debuted, O’Malley is famous for what he did as the team’s owner. In 1958, he moved the Dodgers from New York to Los Angeles, jumpstarting what eventually turned into a large-scale geographic expansion of Major League Baseball. “The gamble of moving out West when there were no teams out there was certainly a brilliant move,” says Maury Brown, the founder and president of the website The Biz of Baseball.

John Moores, San Diego Padres: Although the San Diego Padres are in first place in their division, chairman John Moores’s most significant contribution to the sports world isn’t the nine players he puts on the field. Moores didn’t just build the 42,000-seat Petco Park, which opened for business in 2004, he also spearheaded the redevelopment of the surrounding neighborhood. The effort, which marshaled more than $3 billion of private development into the once-blighted area, has since become a model for other cities looking to revitalize downtown districts, says Mark Rosentraub, a sports management professor at the University of Michigan. “You can look at what St. Louis has tried to do, you can look at Columbus, Ohio, and you can look at what’s going on now around [the] Washington Nationals’ facility [in Washington, D.C.],” Rosentraub says. “There are lots of examples of cities that are following what [Moores] envisioned.”

Dan Rooney, Pittsburgh Steelers: In his more than 50 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dan Rooney has emerged as one of football’s most highly regarded figures. This universal respect enabled him to play a critical role in the landmark labor agreement between the NFL players and owners in 1993, says Marc Ganis, the president of the consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd. “The resolution was groundbreaking: It included a salary cap and a salary floor…. It included a lot of benefits and it included free agency,” says Ganis. “He was integral in working out an arrangement with the players association and even more integral in persuading his fellow owners to accept that deal—and that lead to the meteoric rise of the NFL over the last two decades.” Today, Rooney remains the chairman emeritus of the Steelers while also serving as the United States ambassador to Ireland.

Wellington Mara, New York Giants: Although Wellington Mara’s ownership of the New York Giants included two Super Bowl championships, his biggest impact on the game had to do with an off-the-field decision he made in the early 1960s. It was then that Mara agreed that television revenues should be split evenly among all teams in the league. That was significant because organizations in larger markets, such as the New York Giants, had the opportunity to profit much more handsomely if they didn’t share these revenues with smaller-market teams, like the Baltimore Colts. “He very selflessly allowed all broadcast revenues from the NFL to be pooled equally [and] in perpetuity,” Ganis says. “That was the start of the national TV contract, which is the start of the NFL as we know it.”

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