How Much Does It Cost to Buy an NFL Team?

The NFL is the most popular professional sports league in America, and as such, its teams are more valuable than those in other sports. The teams are all valued in the billions of dollars, which means you need to be among the country’s wealthiest people to even have a chance to become an owner in the NFL. The NFL likes to control who can or cannot buy a franchise and has rules that regulate financial and other terms someone needs to meet to have a chance to buy a team — and some high-profile individuals have failed in their attempts to enter the fraternity of NFL ownership.

The rules for becoming an NFL owner

Dallas Cowboys draft pick Tyler Smith with coach Mike McCarthy and owner Jerry Jones
Dallas Cowboys draft pick Tyler Smith with coach Mike McCarthy and owner Jerry Jones | Amanda McCoy/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Bleacher Report tells us some rules the NFL requires of potential buyers of teams. The NFL wants an ownership “face” for each franchise, so it does not allow corporate partnerships or funds to be used in buying a team. That means an individual must serve as the general partner in purchasing the franchise. That person must put up at least 30% of the purchase price — which, based on Forbes’ valuations, would cost more than $1 billion for the most valuable franchises. Even the least valuable NFL teams would require an investment in the hundreds of millions of dollars to represent a third of the purchase price. Team buyers are also limited in how much they can borrow toward the purchase.

The most and least valuable NFL teams in 2021

In its annual listing of sports’ most valuable franchises, Forbes lists the Dallas Cowboys as the most valuable sports team in the world. The franchise known as “America’s Team” has an estimated value of $5.7 billion, according to the publication. That represents an increase of 43% over the past five years. Perhaps more importantly, it is a massive increase from the $150 million Jerry Jones paid for the team in 1989, a sign of how valuable NFL teams have become. You have to go to No. 8 on Forbes’ list to find the next NFL team, which is the Patriots at an estimated value of $4.4 billion, a five-year change of 38%.

Yahoo! reports that the Cincinnati Bengals sit at the other end of the spectrum, with an estimated value of about $2 billion, almost a third of the Cowboys’ value but still a hefty sum that proves even smaller-market teams without much recent success cost billions of dollars. The average value of an NFL franchise is more than $3 billion for the first time in the history of the league.

Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh have failed in attempts to buy NFL teams

Being a celebrity doesn’t necessarily give you a better chance of becoming an NFL team owner. Sports Illustrated writes about Donald Trump’s attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills when the team went up for sale in the spring of 2014 following the death of longtime owner Ralph Wilson. Trump was one of three finalists for the franchise, which was ultimately purchased by Buffalo Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula. Trump reportedly falsified his financial records in his bid for the Bills, which was the second time he tried to buy an NFL team; he failed in an attempt to purchase the New England Patriots in 1988.

Rush Limbaugh was also unsuccessful in an attempt to join the ranks of NFL owners. He tried to buy the St. Louis Rams in 2009, but the controversial radio host’s outspoken personality hurt him in his quest for the team. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was quoted as saying, “divisive comments are not what the NFL is all about” when asked about Limbaugh’s potential bid. Among the comments Goodell didn’t like was when Limbaugh, then working on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, suggested in 2003 that members of the media overrated Donovan McNabb because they wanted a Black quarterback to succeed in the league.

RELATED: The Time America Nearly Had a Black-Owned NFL Team