The NFL as We Know It Was Built on the Back of the Oil Industry

The NFL as it’s known today, wouldn’t be where it is if not for a group of prominent oil tycoons. These men were essential in forming the core teams we know today. Oil tycoons continue to own and run a good number of the NFL teams, but with other sports seeing a rise in tech owners, will it continue?

The NFL was born from the dreams of oil tycoons

At the end of the ’50s, the NFL was soaring in popularity. The Chicago Cardinals were one of the only teams that weren’t as prosperous as others. According to a YouTube video by Digital Wildcatters, the team’s owner, Violet Wolfner, was entertaining offers to move the franchise.

Enter Lamar Hunt, son of millionaire oil tycoon H.L. Hunt and Bud Adams, owner of a wildcatting oil company. The duo had plans to move the Chicago team to Dallas, but Wolfner wouldn’t sign off on the deal. Instead, she let slip the names of other investors interested in the team.

Hunt and Adams made note of those other investors and quickly got in touch with them. Since their plans to form expansion teams within the NFL was rejected, Hunt and Adams decided to start a new league — the AFL.

Other members of the group included Bob Howsam — Denver Broncos founder, Barron Hilton — owner of the Los Angeles Chargers, and Harry Wismer — owner of what would become the New York Jets. 

League mergers and more oil associated ownership

By the mid-’60s, half of the AFL teams were owned by oil tycoons and that wasn’t about to change, but the look of the league was. The AFL and NFL both vied for the same players and fans.

Serious discussions to merge the two leagues started happening in the mid-’60s with the intention to fully merge the two leagues by 1970. Part of the discussion, credited to Lamar Hunt, was to play a championship game between the AFL and NFL, dubbed the Super Bowl. 

The oilmen ownership, which formed many of the teams, still continues today. The Buffalo Bills Western theme was due in part to the Frontier Oil Company’s involvement. Their current owner worked in natural gas development.

The New Orleans Saints were founded by John W. Mecom Jr., who is heavily involved in the oil and gas industry. And America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, were one of the only teams to be entirely founded and owned by those in the oil industry. Their current owner, Jerry Jones, made his fortune drilling for oil and flipping land.

The new wave of professional sports team owners

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While the majority of NFL teams have some connection to the oil industry, there’s a new wave of owners coming to town — the tech titans. Like their oilmen counterparts, these wealthy businessmen and women are looking to expand their riches by getting involved in sports teams. Some of the most prominent and outspoken sports team owners are from the tech industry. 

People like Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner and founder of Microsystems, a software and computer systems company, and Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and former Microsoft CEO, are some of the most well-known owners to come out of the tech world.

Robert Pera, owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, made his fortune through his wireless networking company, and he is one of the richest owners in all of sports.

While most NFL teams still have ties to the oil industry, the shift toward tech owners is slowly trending, but will they ever make their way to football? That’s a hard question to answer. With oil so heavily involved in the formation of the NFL, that industry might always play a role in its ownership.