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Owners Spotlight: The 5 Most Successful Owners in Sports

Owners are the ones ultimately responsible for shaping a team’s long-term fortunes.

Some, like the late George Steinbrenner, are outspoken and controversial, while others prefer to stay behind the scenes.

Some owners are beloved by their fans, like Robert Kraft or Jerry Jones, and some less so — just try to find a Redskins fan who has anything nice to say about Dan Snyder.

Who are the most successful owners in today’s sports world?

1) The Rooney family (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Any discussion of great current owners has to start with the Rooney’s. Few teams have been as dominant for as long as the Steelers, who have played in eight Super Bowls under Rooney’s management and won six. Since Art Rooney founded the team in 1933, the Rooneys have guided the team to nearly consistent excellence, providing an example that many other teams wish their owners could emulate. The family has also influenced football as a whole through the “Rooney Rule,” encouraging the hiring of minority coaches.

2) Mike Ilitch (Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers)

When this former minor league baseball player and pizza millionaire bought the Red Wings in 1982 for $8 million, they were dismissed as the “Dead Wings.” They had come in under .500 for nine years, crowds had dried up, and they were generally regarded as one of the worst of hockey’s Original Six teams. Under Ilitch’s leadership, the Red Wings have won four Stanley Cups and made 20 consecutive playoffs. They are now one of the NHL’s most valuable franchises, with an estimated worth of $315 million.

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3) Robert Kraft (New England Patriots)

It may be hard to remember now that the Patriots have dominated the NFL for over a decade. But back in the 90s, the Pats were perennial cellar dwellers whose games were regularly blacked out. Their owner was openly making plans to relocate the team to St. Louis. Enter Robert Kraft, who had bought the lease on the Pats’ Foxboro Stadium in bankruptcy court. When the team’s owner offered to buy out Kraft’s lease in 1994 as part of preparations for the move, Kraft responded with a counteroffer of $175,000,000 to buy the team — more than any NFL team had ever sold for. It seemed a foolish waste of money, but Kraft now has three Super Bowl rings, and the Pats have over 200 regular-season and playoff wins since Kraft took over.

4) Jerry Buss (Los Angeles Lakers)

Jerry Buss made millions in Los Angeles real estate in the 1960s, but his real influence on LA came through transforming the Lakers into the city’s favorite sports team. After Buss bought the Lakers, as well as the LA Kings hockey team, in 1979, the Lakers began their “Showtime” era, headlined by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Buss’s genius for marketing and promotion have made the Lakers a $900 million concern today, and his skill at attracting and nurturing talent have made the Lakers a perennial playoff contender.

5) Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks)

Depending on your point of view, Cuban is either a dedicated, passionate owner or a tiresome loudmouth who shoves himself into the spotlight and draws attention away from his players. But it’s impossible to disagree that Cuban took a mediocre franchise and turned it into a force to be reckoned with. For the first couple decades of their existence, the Mavs were at best also-rans in their conference, with a win percentage of 40% and a losing record in the playoffs. Since Cuban paid $285 million for the team in 2000, the Mavs have advanced to win nearly 70% of their games, with a 2011 NBA championship to their credit. Cuban’s investment is now estimated to be worth $438 million by Forbes magazine.

Are there any other pro sports owners that you would include in this list?  Let us know in the comments below or send us a tweet to @sportsnetworker

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