Billionaire owners of sports teams are everywhere. But how many actually pass the ownership onto the next generation? Very few. Most billionaires either get bored and sell the sports club, or the club gets sold soon after the death of their rich owner. But here are five – four of them in the US – that have lasted past the first generation and are very much still a family business. Does family ownership make them more successful? In some cases yes, but in others, no…
Arguably the most iconic family-owned sports club in the world is the Turin-based football team, Juventus. Owned by the Agnelli family since 1923, Juventus has been the most successful Italian football club of all time, winning 33 Italian league titles and a host of other titles as well. The Agnellis and Juventus are synonymous with each other – many say in Italy you can’t have one without the other. And the family, who also own the automaker Fiat, have stuck by the club in all the good times, but also the bad, when Juventus was demoted to the second division of Italian football after the so-called Calciopoli scandal in the mid-2000s.
The relationship between the family and Juventus was cemented by third generation Gianni Agnelli, who allegedly phoned the team’s manager every day at 6 am to offer his thoughts from anything from the performance of the club’s players to the financial health of the business. Gianni famously once said: “I feel emotional every time I see the letter J in a newspaper headline. I immediately think of Juventus.” Gianni’s legacy has been transferred to his nephew Andrea Agnelli, who has been president of the club since 2010.
If Juventus is owned by a family that made their money elsewhere, the Chicago Bears is very much the core family business of the Halas-McCaskeys. The biggest shareholder of the Bears is Virginia Halas McCaskey, the daughter of the founder of the American football team, George Halas. Virginia, who is now 94, inherited the sports club when her father died in 1983. Her two sons, George and Michael McCaskey, have actively managed the club for much of the last thirty years.
George is currently chairman and recently said in a radio interview when asked if the family would sell the Chicago Bears: “I’ve said it the same way every time. We have no intention of selling. My brother, Pat, says it very well: We intend to hold onto the Bears until the second coming. My brother, Mike, when he was president of the Bears, said it very well. We want to discourage people from even making inquiries. We have no intention (of selling). There is no price. We have no intention.”
But, unlike Juventus, family ownership hasn’t done much good for the Bears when it comes to silverware. The Bears have won the Super Bowl just the once, and that was way back in 1986.
The Rooney family have been the owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers since the club was founded by Art Rooney in 1933. The second generation inherited the business when Art died in 1988; the most prominent second generation owner was Dan Rooney, who died earlier this year. Dan and his son Art Rooney II owned around 30% of the club after a reorganisation of the Steelers in 2009.
There are other members of the Rooney clan that own shares, and another family, the McGinleys, have some stock in the Steelers as well. In a recent interview with Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the ownership of the club, Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president and general counsel, said: “The (Rooney) family ownership I would think can be expected to continue for many, many, many years to come.” And the Rooney family ownership hasn’t done the Steelers any harm – the club has won the Super Bowl six times, more than any other side.
New York Giants
Owned by the Mara and the Tisch families, the New York Giants is very much a dual family ownership structure with each family owning 50% each. Tim Mara founded the Giants back in 1925. He passed the club on to his two sons, Wellington and Jack, soon afterwards. Jack’s son Tim sold his 50% share in the Giants to Bob Tisch back in the early 1990s, and that’s when the business was split between the two families. Bob Tisch’s son Steve inherited his half of the business when he died in 2005. Third generation John Mara inherited the other 50% of the business when his mother and Wellington’s wife Ann died in 2015.
The US basketball team hasn’t been owned by the DeVos family for long – Richard DeVos bought the business in 1991 and he’s still alive. Nevertheless, the club was passed on to the second generation of DeVos ownership in 2005, when Richard gave equal ownership of the team to his four children – Dick, Dan, Cheri, and Doug. Dan is the current chairman of the club.