Steve Ballmer bought the Los Angeles Clippers in 2014, the same year he retired from Microsoft, where he’d served as CEO since 2000. The $2 billion price tag for the Clippers was deemed a significant overpay by many at the time, when the average NBA franchise, according to Forbes, was worth $634 million. But with a net worth then of $20 billion, Ballmer could certainly afford the premium price.
Ballmer’s Clippers purchase doesn’t look so crazy now that NBA franchise values have tripled since 2014 due to a new $24 billion TV contract with ESPN and TNT, along with the best international prospects of any U.S. sports league. Ballmer is doing okay too. His net worth has more than doubled to $42.3 billion, thanks to a surge in the share price of Microsoft. As has been the case since he entered the league, Ballmer is once again the richest sports team owner, according to the latest Forbes 400, which tallies the richest Americans.
The entry point to qualify for The Forbes 400 is up again, to $2.1 billion, versus $2 billion last year. Forty-three people made the cut who are majority owners or managing partners of major sports franchises. They are worth $251 billion collectively and own 56 teams. Ballmer ranks 14th on The Forbes 400, which is led by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos at $160 billion.
Ballmer is worth more than twice as much as the next richest American sports owner, Paul Allen, whose original fortune was derived from founding Microsoft with Bill Gates. Allen long ago diversified his portfolio, which also includes the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks.
Hedge fund titan David Tepper is new to the ranks of richest sports team owners. Yes, he was a minority investor in his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, but he took control of another NFL team this year when he bought the Carolina Panthers for $2.3 billion (he sold his Steelers stake to comply with NFL rules). It was a record sale price for a sports team. Tepper can afford it. His $11.6 billion net worth is third highest among team owners.
Rounding out the top five are Phil Anschutz ($11.3 billion) and Micky Arison ($9.3 billion).
Ballmer was the biggest gainer in dollar terms, with a jump of $8.7 billion. But Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera scored best on a percentage basis, with his net worth up 66% to $5.3 billion. Pera founded wireless equipment maker Ubiquiti Networks and still owns three quarters of the company. The stock is up 70% over the past 12 months.
Three Forbes 400 team owners died in the past year: Tom Benson, Joan Tisch and Richard DeVos. Tisch and Devos passed their stakes in the New York Giants and Orlando Magic, respectively, to their children, none of whom qualified for the 400. Benson’s third wife, Gayle, inherited the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans, following a very public, protracted battle with his children. She is worth $2.8 billion.
The NFL is the richest, most powerful sports league, and it has 17 owners on The Forbes 400, led by Allen. The Seahawks represent just over 10% of Allen’s net worth but make up almost the entire fortunes of owners James Irsay ($2.7 billion), Denise York ($2.5 billion), Dan Snyder ($2.2 billion) and Jeffrey Lurie ($2.1 billion).
Ballmer heads the 14 NBA owners that made the cut, while Charles Johnson, who owns the largest stake in the San Francisco Giants, is the richest in baseball at $5 billion. Charles Dolan and his family ($5.7 billion) are the richest in the NHL through their ownership stake in publicly traded Madison Square Garden, which owns the New York Rangers and New York Knicks.
Below are the richest American sports team owners and how they made their money.
Rank, Owner, Net Worth, Source of wealth, Team(s)
1. Steve Ballmer: $42.3 billion, Microsoft (Los Angeles Clippers)
2. Paul Allen: $20.3 billion, Microsoft, investments (Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers)
3. David Tepper: $11.6 billion, hedge funds (Charlotte Panthers)
4. Philip Anschutz: $11.3 billion, investments (Los Angeles Kings, LA Galaxy)
5. Micky Arison: $9.4 billion, Carnival Cruises (Miami Heat)
6. Stanley Kroenke: $8.5 billion, sports, real estate (Los Angeles Rams, Arsenal, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche)
7. Shahid Khan: $7.6 billion, auto parts (Jacksonville Jaguars)
7. Stephen Ross: $7.6 billion, real estate (Miami Dolphins)
9. Daniel Gilbert: $7.1 billion, Quicken Loans (Cleveland Cavaliers)
10. Jerry Jones: $6.9 billion, Dallas Cowboys
11. Robert Kraft: $6.6 billion, New England Patriots, New England Revolution
12. Charles Dolan family: $5.7 billion, cable TV (New York Knicks, New York Rangers)
13. Robert Pera: $5.3 billion, wireless networking gear (Memphis Grizzlies)
14. Charles Johnson: $5 billion, money management (San Francisco Giants)
15. Ted Lerner family: $4.9 billion, real estate (Washington Nationals)
16. Arthur Blank: $4.9 billion, Home Depot (Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United)
17. Tilman Fertitta: $4.5 billion, Houston Rockets, entertainment
17. Terrence Pegula: $4.5 billion, natural gas (Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres)
19. Stephen Bisciotti: $4.3 billion, Baltimore Ravens, staffing
20. Jeremy Jacobs Sr: $4.2 billion, food service (Boston Bruins)
21. Marian Ilitch: $4 billion, Little Ceasers (Detroit Red Wings)
22. Henry Samueli: $3.9 billion, semiconductors (Anaheim Ducks)
23. Tom Gores: $3.9 billion, private equity (Detroit Pistons)
24. Mark Cuban: $3.9 billion, online media (Dallas Mavericks)
25. Robert McNair: $3.8 billion, energy, sports (Houston Texans)
26. Joshua Harris: $3.7 billion, private equity (Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils)
27. Mark Walter: $3.5 billion, finance (Los Angeles Dodgers)
28. John Middleton: $3.2 billion, tobacco (Philadelphia Phillies)
28. Herbert Simon: $3.2 billion, real estate (Indiana Pacers)
30. Arturo Moreno: $3 billion, Los Angeles Angels, billboards
31. Glen Taylor: $2.9 billion, printing (Minnesota Timberwolves)
32. Gayle Benson: $2.8 billion, sports teams (New Orleans Pelicans, New Orleans Saints)
32. John Fisher: $2.8 billion, Gap (Oakland Athletics)
34. James Irsay: $2.7 billion, Indianapolis Colts
34. Jimmy Haslam: $2.7 billion, gas stations, retail (Cleveland Browns)
36. Ray Davis: $2.6 billion, pipelines (Texas Rangers)
36. John Henry: $2.6 billion, sports (Boston Red Sox, Liverpool, Roush Fenway Racing)
38. Denise York: $2.5 billion, San Francisco 49ers
39. Alexander Spanos family: $2.4 billion, San Diego Chargers, real estate
39. Vincent Viola: $2.4 billion, electronic trading (Florida Panthers)
41. Dan Snyder: $2.2 billion, Washington Redskins
42. Jeffrey Lurie: $2.1 billion, Philadelphia Eagles
42. Anthony Ressler: $2.1 billion, finance, Atlanta Hawks