Professional sports are about far more than winning titles and entertaining audiences that watch games in-person or from the comfort of their homes. The top leagues on the planet are massive businesses, companies that swim in money on a yearly basis. Take the National Football League as an example. The average NFL franchise is worth over $1 billion, and the league generates record revenues every year due largely to an incredible television contract that has helped make the league, specifically Sunday Night Football, the most-watched program in all of the United States. The Super Bowl makes TV ratings history every February.
Then, there is the historic television contract netted by the Barclays Premier League earlier in 2015. That three-year broadcasting deal that involves both Sky Sports and BT Sports, one that kicks in come 2016, an agreement that is reportedly worth close to $8 billion. The world's game is growing in popularity in North America, due in part to the exposure the league has gotten through ESPN and more recently NBC and NBC Sports, and thus the days of the Premier League cashing in on such agreements are only just beginning. Expect the next TV contract to be even bigger and better.
The man perceived to be the greatest basketball player in the history of the sport is a newcomer to the Forbes list of billionaires in 2015, and his ownership of a National Basketball Franchise will keep him in it for the foreseeable future. Nobody should be surprised that the richest men who are featured in this piece are linked with the NFL. The NFL is the king of sports as it pertains to making profits, and the league has done well to become an international sensation that has, through the NFL RedZone station, changed the way that fans crave to watch live games.
20 Michael Jordan - Net Worth: $1 billion
It is somewhat surprising that His Airness is cracking into the list of billionaires for the first time. Jordan has, after all, been the face of the Nike brand for decades, and he has also netted large amounts of cash from his playing days and from investments that he has made over the years. Now the principal owner and the chairman of NBA team the Charlotte Hornets, the legendary former Chicago Bulls player is an executive tasked with propelling a franchise to greatness that it has never before reached. The Charlotte players would do well to drink their Gatorade and do whatever else possible to “be like Mike.”
19 Jeffrey Lurie - Net Worth: $1.1 billion
A billion dollars can buy just about anything; well, anything other than a Super Bowl ring, it seems. Most casual sports fans know Lurie as the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, the only team in the NFC East division to have never won a Super Bowl championship. Lurie has given his blessing to allow the Eagles to go all-in on head coach Chip Kelly, who will be calling the shots for the franchise for the foreseeable future. Kelly, who made his name while head coach at the University of Oregon, was named the czar of the club by Lurie in early 2015, and the coach is expected to bring a championship to the city of Philadelphia sooner than later.
18 Alexander Spanos - Net Worth: $1.3 billion
There is a real possibility that 2015 could be a banner year for Spanos regarding his involvement in the American sports world. The real estate mogul currently owns NFL franchise the San Diego Chargers, and it has been heavily rumored that the Chargers could leave town for greener pastures if the team does not get the new stadium that, in fairness, it desperately needs. Los Angeles is the obvious first option were the club to relocate, and such a move could also include the Oakland Raiders. While the Chargers will play in San Diego for the upcoming NFL regular season, an announcement of a future move could come before the end of the calendar year.
17 Jerry Reinsdorf - Net Worth: $1.3 billion
16 Arturo Moreno - Net Worth: $1.5 billion
15 Lorenzo Fertitta - Net Worth: $1.5 billion
The first of the two Fertitta family members featured in this piece took a gamble when he and his older brother acquired the rights to mixed-martial-arts federation the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2001. Since that time, the UFC has become an international sensation, far and away the biggest and best MMA organization in all of the world. Seen as barbarians by detractors of the sport over a decade ago, elite UFC fighters such as Jon Jones and Ronda Rousey are now household names, athletes who are showcased and spotlighted in national advertising campaigns and on television programs such as SportsCenter.
14 Frank Fertitta III - Net Worth: $1.5 billion
This Fertitta is also listed as an owner of Zuffa LLC, which is the MMA organization that stands as the parent company of the UFC. Once a product that could legitimately not get on television in some markets, the UFC is now on TV in the United States seemingly on a weekly basis. Whether it is FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2, FOX or pay-per-view, fans do not have to search for or wait long periods of time for their next UFC fix. Truth be told, some observers and individuals who follow and/or cover the sport have suggested that the UFC has been over-exposed because of the company's current television deals.
13 John Henry - Net Worth: $1.6 billion
Henry has helped the Boston Red Sox go from a franchise that was in the heart of a World Series drought that appeared to be endless to a team that is capable of winning it all every few years. 2014 was a rough year for the Red Sox, but some shrewd acquisitions should have Boston in the race for at least a playoff spot in 2015. Henry is also involved in other sports ventures, most notably Roush Fenway Racing and Liverpool FC. Liverpool contended for the Premier League title in 2013-14, and the club also made a brief return to Champions League football in 2014.
12 Leslie Alexander - Net Worth: $1.6 billion
2015 could be a particularly good year for Mr. Alexander. The Houston Rockets, a team that won back-to-back championships in the years following Alexander's acquisition of the club, are once again in the race for a title, and the team may also have the league's Most Valuable Player. James Harden is silencing any and all doubters with his play in 2014-15, and some are viewing Harden as the best player in pro basketball heading into the upcoming spring. The Rockets are destined for postseason play, and Houston could emerge as the last team standing when all is said and done.
11 Dan Snyder - : $1.7 billion
10 James Irsay - Net Worth: $1.8 billion
9 Tom Benson - Net Worth: $1.9 billion
8 Jim France - Net Worth: $2.1 billion
NASCAR is the top organization in all of American motorsports, and Jim France is the head of the family that runs the king of stock car racing. While some in the sports world would say that the popularity of NASCAR has been on the decline over the past few years, it was only back in 2013 when the company landed a massive television deal with NBC and FOX. That agreement was worth a reported $8.2 billion even though TV ratings have fallen over the past decade. NASCAR is now set to be a cornerstone for cable sports networks FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports 2 and NBC Sports.
7 Robert McNair - Net Worth: $2.4 billion
It was back in January 2014 when Bob McNair took to the official team website of the Houston Texans to voice his admiration for to-be rookie Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans used the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft to acquire the standout defensive end, but Clowney was a disappointment in his first year in the league. McNair and those running the Texans will be hoping that Clowney can recover from a serious knee injury, and those individuals are also banking on Ryan Mallett to be the quarterback that the franchise has sought since it officially joined the NFL over a decade ago.
6 Arthur Blank - Net Worth: $2.5 billion
5 Stephen Bisciotti - Net Worth: $2.7 billion
4 Bernard Ecclestone - Net Worth: $3.9 billion
NASCAR may be the top motorsports league for sports fans who live in the United States, but it is Ecclestone who is financially the king of auto racing. The self-made billionaire from London who turned 84 years old in 2014 is the chief executive of the Formula One Group. Ecclestone is credited for landing Formula One with multiple lucrative television contracts that helped spread the sport to the masses around the world, and he also, for a time, owned English football club Queens Park Rangers. QPR have, in recent years, struggled to remain in the top-flight in England, suggesting that Ecclestone got out of that deal when the getting was good.
3 Jerry Jones - Net Worth: $4.2 billion
Odds are that you either love him or you hate him, but there is little doubt that you know him if you pay attention to the NFL every fall. The eccentric and outspoken owner of the Dallas Cowboys was kept from drafting quarterback Johnny Manziel in the spring of 2014, and that non-move may have been the smartest football decision that Jones has made in recent memory. The Cowboys instead built what became the best offensive line in the NFL, and Dallas made a run to the playoffs that was stopped just shy of a championship game. Jones is already busy this offseason, placing the franchise tag on superstar wide receiver Dez Bryant.
2 Robert Kraft - Net Worth: $4.3 billion
The perception held by many knowledgeable and respected football people is that there is no more influential owner in the NFL than the man who is currently running the New England Patriots. Kraft has, since buying the Patriots in 1995, hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy on four occasions, and his club is a modern-day dynasty during a time when parity is supposed to be the name of the game in pro football. Kraft is not a popular figure among all sports fans in his region, however, as he has not provided Major League Soccer side New England Revolution, which he owns, a soccer-specific stadium.
1 Stan Kroenke - Net Worth: $6.3 billion
The owner of Kroenke Sports Enterprises who is married to Wal-Mart heir Ann Walton is likely going to make and lose friends in different regions of the United States in 2015. Kroenke is reportedly considering moving NFL franchise the St. Louis Rams, a relocation that has been rumored for several years, and he is said to possess a piece of land for a new football stadium just outside of the city of Los Angeles. The Rams will play in St. Louis during the next NFL season, but it is widely believed that it's a matter of when and not if the team is moved back out west.