DECYFR’D: The NFL’s Connection with UK Sports Investment

DECYFR’D: The NFL’s Connection with UK Sports Investment

One of the NFL’s greatest-ever defensive players has become the latest American celebrity to join the world of English football club ownership.

J.J. Watt, former Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals defensive end, has announced he is investing in Burnley Football Club – who will make their return to the Premier League next season after securing promotion from the Championship last month – alongside his wife Kealia, who earned three caps for the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT).

In a video released on social media, Watt joked about “retiring from retirement” before releasing a statement saying: “When you invest in a club that’s been around since 1882, you must have great respect for its history and tradition.

“We understand that not only are we investing in the squad and manager, we’re investing in the town and its people.”

Alongside Lawrence Taylor and Aaron Donald, Watt is one of three players in league history to be named NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times, winning the award in the 2012, 2014 and 2015 seasons, but he’s also, in fact, the second NFL player to invest in Burnley. Two-time Super Bowl champion, and three-time Pro Bowl, safety Malcolm Jenkins became a minority owner in 2021, as a part of the ALK Capital investment group that took over the club in 2020.

Of course, a few Premier League clubs and NFL teams share owners. The Los Angeles Rams and Arsenal are owned by Stan Kroenke, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham are owned by Shahid Khan, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Manchester United are owned by the Glazer family.

However, there is another Premier League team with connections to American Football, but that’s because they’re owned by an NFL franchise.

The San Francisco 49ers, more specifically San Francisco 49ers Enterprises, are minority owners of Leeds United and aim to become majority owners sooner rather than later. The 49ers reportedly have an option to purchase the club for £475 million in 2024, which could be brought forward to this summer.

Watt joins the ever-growing list of former and current NFL superstars investing in professional sports teams – even if the majority are involved with American team ownership. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is a minority owner of MLS side Sporting Kansas City, Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is part of MLS team the Seattle Sounders’ ownership group, and New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers won an NBA championship as a minority owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 NBA Finals – a team Arizona Cardinals legend Larry Fitzgerald previously held a minority ownership stake in.

And on this side of the pond, there’s one incredibly famous UK athlete who’s stepped into the world of NFL ownership.

Sir Lewis Hamilton, a winner of seven Formula 1 World Drivers’ Championships,  joined the Denver Broncos’ new ownership group in August 2022, after a group led by Rob Walton, heir to the Walmart fortune, agreed to purchase the franchise for a then-record $4.65 billion. Hamilton even managed to take in a Broncos game as owner, watching Denver face the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium last October.

Athlete investment in sports teams isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon – with Michael Jordan buying a minority stake in the Charlotte Hornets (then known as the Charlotte Bobcats) in 2006, before becoming majority owner in 2010, and Serena Williams joining a celebrity-led purchase of a minority stake in the Miami Dolphins in 2009. That said, it’s undoubtedly been on the rise in recent times. Throw into the mix mammoth contracts, lucrative commercial partnerships and savvy investment portfolios – and the era of the athlete investor may well and truly be upon us.

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