NFL

Who Owns the NFL?

The NFL is moving closer to worldwide dominance with each year. As the league’s popularity grows, so do its profits. While the NFL was once classified as a non-profit, this created more questions than answers. Many fans may not understand how it truly runs from the inside. This raises one question in particular: Who owns the NFL?

Criticisms of the NFL’s status as a non-profit

According to The Atlantic, the NFL secured status as a tax-exempt organization known as a 501 (c)(6) non-profit in the ’60s. For years, people complained about this. After all, the NFL’s profits are huge. For example, in 2019 alone the league reported revenue of around $25 billion.

So, in 2015, the league finally relinquished its status as a non-profit organization. The move was mostly cosmetic, as the tax hit is pennies on the dollar compared to the NFL’s massive profits. It’s represented one less thing the league’s critics could wield against the NFL. 

The NFL’s most important corporate officers

At the top of the NFL’s corporate hierarchy is Commissioner Roger Goodell. The league is also run by its Executive Committee, a 32-person group made up of one representative from each team. This person is either the majority owner or a high-ranking front-office official.

According to the part of the NFL’s website dedicated to league governance: “Any change in game rules, league policy or club ownership or other modification to the game must be approved by at least three-fourths of the committee. Without consensus, nothing will pass.”

Other executives help run the NFL, including Executive Vice President of Operations Troy Vincent. Vincent’s duties include “the business of football, including game analytics, accountability, integrity of the game, development and growth, and policies and procedure.” 

Who owns the NFL? 

NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith signs autographs prior to an NFL game
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith signs autographs before an NFL game | Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

The answer to this question is simple: no one owns the NFL. Or at least, no one person. If you had to pick one group that best fits the definition of a league owner, the only possible answer would be the owners of the 32 NFL teams. 

Make no mistake: No matter how much the league tries to create a sense of impartiality between the NFL’s front office, its teams, and their players, Goodell answers to team owners first and foremost. This is why, during labor negotiations, the NFL Player’s Association and its executive director DeMaurice Smith represent the interests of the players. Goodell represents the team owners’ interests.

While the NFL is a business, each team is its own entity. Compare this to the XFL, the fledgling new football league, Vince McMahon owns all the franchises. With the NFL, all of the owners sit on the executive committee, acting as one governing body. 

The bottom line: Team owners act as the stewards and de facto owners of the NFL. The Executive Committee’s consensus-building approach to decision-making is in place for a reason. Since all the team’s owners have a say in how the league operates and is governed, it only makes sense that each has an equal vote in any changes the league makes.

It also means that the role of NFL Commissioner remains a rather toothless position. As long as the owners pull the strings, Goodell — and any future NFL commissioners — will act as nothing but a glorified puppet of the Executive Committee.