GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Forbes is out with its annual list of the richest owners in professional sports, and there are a couple of surprises.
First, would you be surprised to learn that there was only one NFL team owner on that list? And would you be surprised to know that it wasn’t the owner of the Dallas Cowboys or New York England Patriots or New York Giants or Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Lakers?
Would it surprise you even more to know that owner is David Tepper, the patriarch of our own Carolina Panthers?
But, yes, Tepper is right there at No. 8, ranked along with three NBA owners, one major-league baseball owner and some names you won’t recognize because they own lucrative international franchises. Tepper also was tied for No. 8 in 2021.
No. 1 this year is Steven Ballmer, owner not of the Los Angeles Lakers but the Clippers. Ballmer was one of Bill Gates’ partners in Microsoft, and he built an empire that Forbes values at $91.4 billion. How many countries could you buy with that? (Based on GDP, Ethiopia, Kenya and the Dominican Republic are yours, and you could stretch and get Cuba.)
Ballmer, by the way, ranks No. 8 on the list of ALL of America’s billionaires in 2022, the one topped by Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Gates and Warren Buffett.
Tepper’s holdings are decidedly more modest, valued at a mere $16.7 billion, but up 15% from last year. Tepper made his money by operating hedge funds, meaning he profited from other people’s failures to some extent.
You may recall he was a minority partner in the Pittsburgh Steelers when Panthers’ founder Jerry Richardson in 2018 found himself in a scandal for how he treated female employees and needed to sell the team. Tepper won the bidding.
Forbes said he paid about $2.3 billion for the Panthers, who were in the Super Bowl in February 2016 but haven’t had a winning season since Tepper took over. But, Forbes said, the team has benefitted from media contracts that have increased its value to $2.91 billion, meaning Tepper has made about 26% on his 3-year-old investment.
The Panthers, though, only rank No. 25 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Valuable Sports Empires. Liberty Media, which owns the World Series champion Atlanta Braves and a few other fringe sports enterprises, is No. 1 (at $17.2 billion). There are 11 NFL teams ranked as more valuable than the Panthers, including their NFC South rivals Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints.
The names of the richest owners you may recognize are Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert (No. 5), who made his money in Quicken and Rocket loans; New York Mets owner Steve Cohen (No. 7), another hedge fund guy; Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera (No. 9), who made his dough in wireless networking; and Los Angeles Kings/LA Galaxy owner Philip Anschutz (No. 10), whose wealth Forbes attributed simply to “investments.”
Soccer, the world’s game, is certainly lucrative. Mekesh Ambani (No. 2), Francois Pinault (No. 3) and Dietrich Mateschitz (No. 4) all own teams. Masayoshi Son (No. 6) of Japan owns the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball, who have won seven titles since he took over.
Ballmer, Gilbert, Mateschitz, Pera and Cohen also were on Forbes’ list for 2021. The No. 1 guy on that one, Mukesh Ambani of the Mumbai Indians, whose wealth at the time was $84.5 billion, fell off entirely. It’s unclear why.