When you think of a Super Bowl-bound team like the San Francisco 49ers, your mind usually jumps to the current star players. If you’re a big-time football fan, you might recall the team’s past glories or think about the current coaching staff. Even the most dedicated follower, though, probably wouldn’t think about the team’s owner.
If the Bay Area team claims the Lombardi Trophy on Sunday night, however, the ownership will be front and center on the podium. With that in mind, who actually owns the San Francisco 49ers?
The San Francisco 49ers’ original owner
Today, the NFL stretches from coast to coast; no matter where you live, you probably have a team relatively nearby. In the 1940s, however, that wasn’t the case.
In 1942, Tony Morabito tried to change that. The California-native had seen the crowds at local college football games and wanted to bring an NFL franchise to the west coast. The league, however, wasn’t interested. Morabito tried again in 1944 but was met with the same result.
While Morabito couldn’t secure an NFL franchise, he did link up with Arch Ward. When the All-American Football Conference launched its inaugural 1946 campaign, Morabito’s San Francisco 49ers were one of the charter teams. A few seasons later, the club joined the NFL.
Morabito remained at the helm until 1957 when he suffered a heart attack during a 49ers game. His team learned of his passing during halftime; when they returned to the field, they completed an inspired comeback.
The beginning of the DeBartolo era
After Tony Morabito died, the 49ers remained his family for nearly two more additional decades. His younger brother, Victor, ran the club until his death in 1963; after that, the brothers’ wives, Josephine and Jane, took over ownership.
In 1977, however, things changed. Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., the wealthy son of a real estate developer, purchased the team. Under his watch, the 49ers turned into a powerhouse. Beyond the Super Bowl titles, though, DeBartolo transformed the organizational culture; rather than lording over the players as a boss, he made them feel like part of an extended family.
Things wouldn’t end happily, though. In the late 1990s, DeBartolo paid $400,000 to Louisiana governor Edwin Edwards to receive a license to open a riverboat casino. While the 49ers owner never received the license, his payment came up a federal investigation into Edwards corruption. DeBartolo was charged with failing to report a felony and was banned from the NFL for a year; rather than returning to football, he chose to give control of the 49ers to his sister, Denise DeBartolo York.
Who owns the San Francisco 49ers today?
To this day, the San Francisco 49ers are still owned by the York family. Denise DeBartolo York and her husband, John, controlled the team until 2008; after that, they handed the day-to-day reigns to their son, Jed. Denise and John technically serve as co-chairman of the club, while Jed officially holds the title of CEO.
John M. Sobrato, Mark Wan, and Gideon Yu are also on the books as minority owners.
The San Francisco 49ers have had quite a history, going from an upstart AAFC team to a dominant NFL franchise in a matter of decades. The York family might own the club these days, but if they can win another Super Bowl, Tony Morabito would definitely be proud.