Robert Kraft; The Best Owner in Sports
Learn about Robert Kraft owner of the New England Patriots who has become the best owner in all of sports.
Robert Kraft has always been an excellent businessman. That, however, does not always translate to great sports ownership. It seems, though, that Kraft was destined for excellence even from an early age. Let's take a look at his early business career and how that then translated to him becoming the most successful owner in sports, while taking a fledgeling constant loser and turning them into the most storied franchise in the NFL since his purchase in the early 1990s.
Early Business Career
Robert Kraft, or Bob as he is known, was a graduate of Columbia University. He attended Columbia on a scholarship and later received an MBA from the Harvard Business School in 1965. During that time he had met and married his wife, formerly Myra Hiatt, who became Myra Kraft.
Once married, Bob began working for Rand-Whitney Group, which had been owned by his father in law and philanthropist Jacob Hiatt. Kraft still remains the chairman of this company to this day.
In 1972, Kraft founded a company on his own, International Forest Products, which was a paper company. After the company formed, Kraft merged the two companies. This produced the largest privately owned packaging and paper company in the United States. IFP, still ranks in the top 100 every year for imports and exports.
In the mid 1980s through a minority group, Kraft expanded his businesses to the entertainment industry, when he purchased Boston CBS affiliate WNEV-TV. This later became NBC known as WHDH-TV. He additionally aquired several local radio broadcasting companies.
Move to the NFL
In the mid 80s, Kraft had purchased land adjacent to the then used Foxboro Stadium. In the late 80s, Kraft bought the stadium from then owner Billy Sullivan from bankruptcy court for 25 million dollars.
Kraft had been a long time avid football fan of his local team the New England Patriots since their American Football League days before the NFL was formed. He had been a season ticket holder for years and had attended games regularly at their less than stellar facilities.
During the early 90s, the Patriots were really struggling and were rumored to be moving to St. Louis. The then owner, in 1994, offered Kraft the buy out of the lease on the stadium for 75 million dollars, which would have almost guaranteed the Patriots move to a new city. However, luckily for the Patriots, their fans, and for Kraft, he would decline the offer.
Instead, Kraft counter offered the then owner of the Patriots to buy the franchise for $175,000,000 dollars. At the time it was a new NFL record and many people did not understand the purchase, due to the fact that at the time, the Patriots were one of the least valuable franchises in the NFL because of their terrible track record and low fan support.
The New Patriots Owner
Kraft now owned both the stadium and the organization. He was now set to keep his beloved franchise where they belonged, in the New England Area. However, he still had a lot of work to do.
When Kraft had bought the team, they had only had one Super Bowl appearance, a blowout loss to the Chicago Bears in 1985, and had only had only made the playoffs 5 times in franchise history since joining the NFL(76', 78', 82', 85', 86'). In their franchise history, to that point, they had only played in 8 total playoff games with only 1 conference championship to show for it. The NFL championship had remained elusive.They had not made the playoffs in 9 seasons, 7 previous seasons before Kraft took over.
Additionally, the Patriots had low fan support because most of their games had been blacked out on a regular basis. This was due to policies that block broadcasts locally if the game is not sold out. This has changed with satellite and internet broadcasts today, but still to this day TV broadcasts for local teams on regular season games will not be broadcast unless the game is sold out. They Patriots were having trouble selling out games and therefore mostly Giants games were being shown in the New England area.
However, fans immediately responded to a local New England resident buying the team. Once Kraft finalized the purchase, and the NFL approved it, ticket sales skyrocketed.
Fans also began to have hope, something that had been missing for quite some time, as New England finally had the franchise quarterback they had desperately been missing in Drew Bledsoe. Bledsoe had been taken with the #1 overall pick the year before Kraft bought the team. Additionally, the organization had a then future Hall of Fame coach in place as well in Bill Parcells, who had also been hired the year before. To show their support fans helped the Patriots immediately sell out every single home game during the 1994 season. A trend that has continued to this day.
Kraft was rewarded that year with a playoff appearance, when the Patriots went 10-6. However, they lost in the wild card round to the Clevland Browns, who at the time were coached by a young Bill Belichick. Belichick in an amusing twist of fate handed Kraft his first playoff loss as an owner, but would bring a thousand times more glory to New England in the years to come as both an assistant and a head coach.
Taste of Success
The 1995 season was a forgetful one, except for one reason. During that year, the Patriots drafted a young running back out of Pittsburgh named Curtis Martin, who took the NFL by storm and rushed for 1,487 yards and in the process won the Rookie of the Year award.
When the 1996 season rolled around, expectations were finally high, and it would bring Robert Kraft a much higher level of success. New England now had a star quarterback, a star running back, a solid defense, and had also drafted an explosive Rookie receiver in Terry Glenn. This combination would prove highly successful under a coach who had already won two Super Bowls in New York.
Additionally, Belichick, the man who had handed Kraft his first playoff loss as an owner was now back with the club. He had been fired in Cleveland and had been hired as defensive coordinator under Parcells. It was here that Kraft would forge a strong relationship with Belichick, that allowed him to make one one of the greatest future hires in NFL history.
That year the Patriots ended the season 11-5 and eventually won the AFC title. However, once the Super Bowl rolled around, Kraft was not a happy man. He and Parcells were in a dispute, which caused major distractions during a time when Kraft was supposed to be happy and enjoying his team's new found success. Instead, Super Bowl week was filled with questions about Parcells departure and full of distractions. Kraft was not a happy man.
After the Super Bowl ended with the Patriots losing to the Green Bay Packers, the marriage between Kraft and Parcells ended and saw Parcells leave to return to the New York. Only this time, he would become the coach of the Jets, not the Giants.
Kraft and New England now needed to find a new coach. They ended their search when they hired former Jets coach, Pete Carroll, who eventually went on to win multiple National Titles at the college level. However, at the pro level with New England, Carroll was just so, so. When Carroll took over the team they had mixed success. During his tenure they made the playoffs twice, but each season their win totals declined. When Carroll failed to make the playoffs in 1999, he was dismissed by Kraft and the organization. Now, they were in need of something they had been missing, a great head coach.
When the 1999 season ended, Bill Parcells resigned in New York, and without consulting Belichick named him head coach of the Jets. Belichick had had a rocky relationship with Parcells over the years, and was not necessarily interested in the job. He was head coach of the Jets for one day, before resigning and taking the position with New England. This was in part due to his strong relationship with Kraft that had been forged just a few years earlier. Kraft had made the wisest coaching decision of his career as owner of the Patriots, but more great things were soon to come.
Draft Day Jackpot
Kraft's biggest stroke of luck came during draft day in 2000 during the sixth round. With the draft winding down, Belichick walked over to the board and said, "This Brady kid is still on the board." He had been an unheralded yet highly productive quarterback out of the University of Michigan. With the 199th pick in the draft that year, the Patriots struck pay dirt and secured the rights to Brady.
During training camp, Brady walked over to Kraft and introduced himself. Kraft later recounted the story. Kraft responded with "I know who you are, you're our sixth round draft choice." He said Tom Brady looked him like a laser in the eye and said, "That's right and I'm the best decision this organization has ever made!" How true this statement would become along with becoming a legendary story related to Brady's lore.
Tom Brady eventually led the Patriots to their first title in 2001 after then pro bowl quarterback, Drew Bledsoe who had been signed to a huge 100 million dollar contract, had gone down with an injury. Bledsoe would never regain his starting job and was eventually traded for a 1st round selection to the Buffalo Bills.
Kraft was elated to celebrate his first title with his family, including his beloved wife Myra, when the Patriots defeated the heavily favored mighty Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. He was now an owner with a championship. Kraft got his first taste of success, but this would be just the beginning.
Building a Winner
Kraft had known for a while that the Patriots former stadium, Foxboro, had been one of the worst in the NFL. With locker rooms that had been as bad as some high schools, and metal benches that had been uncomfortable and terrible to sit on especially in the freezing New England winters, Kraft had begun the construction of a new stadium during the previous year.
In 2002, Kraft and the Patriots unveiled Gillette Stadium, a state of the art facility that allowed fans to comfortably enjoy the games their favorite team was playing in. This helped the Patriots immensely and that combined with a high level of success would help produce record home winning streaks that broke NFL records.
They would win 3 more AFC Championships in this building and go on to two Super Bowl titles. The Patriots were now the model organization in sports. But greater things were still to come for Kraft and his organization.
Kraft thought of some ingenious ideas that would allow him to both make money and attract visitors to his stadium when there were no events happening. These moves would help him become one of the most successful owner in sports.
In the fall of 2007, Kraft opened Patriots Place, an open air shopping center that would attract shoppers year round. He featured Bass Pro Shops another company he owned that dealt with gear for the outdoors such as fishing and hunting equipment. It was a huge success.
Then, a year later, in 2008, Kraft opened the Hall at Patriots Place. This would give the fans an awesome experience and really attract football fans to the stadium and shopping areas on a year round basis.
He had transformed the once sleepy town of Foxborough, Mass into one of the most visited places in New England.
Then came the lock out after the 2010 season ended. The NFL owners and players were in a heated battle that threatened the existence of the 2011 season. Kraft always maintained the position that if both sides could sit down and talk like adults without lawyers in the room that they could reach a suitable deal for both sides. While other owners held the hard line and threatened the players, Kraft took a different approach treating all involved like respected adults.
This was an especially hard time for Kraft personally as his wife was dying of cancer. During her last days he spent time convincing everyone involved that it would be in their best interest to reach a deal and get back to work as usual. In the process, he gained the utmost respect from many of the owners and especially from players from various ball clubs that were involved in the negotiating process.
While he ended up being the most instrumental person in saving the season, which brought major success, at the same time, he suffered bitter defeat. On July 20th, 2011, just as the new deal was announced, he lost his wife Myra to cancer. He was heart broken.
The Patriots organization dedicated the 2011 season to Myra Kraft and will be wearing her initials, MHK, on a patch located on their left chests over their hearts. Additionally, the Patriot's players, who look at Bob as they had looked at Myra like family with this painting that they had commissioned and gave to Bob, during the win over the Miami Dolphins on December 24th, 2011. Bob Kraft has seen it as a good luck omen that has guided them to victory in difficult times.
Kraft was rewarded with a victory against the Baltimore Ravens on January 23, 2011. With that victory the Patriots took home their sixth AFC title under Kraft's ownership and provided a sense of forces at work that were bringing them to victory in the season that Robert Kraft was instrumental in saving.
In doing so Kraft has become the most successful owner over the past 17 seasons. During that time no team or owner has experienced this amount of success. He has taken home 3 Super Bowl titles with one pending, 6 AFC championships, 18 straight years of sell outs, 13 playoff berths, and played in multiple playoff games. He has taken New England from a team with only 1 AFC title and now put them second behind only the Pittsburgh Steelers with 7 berths in the Super Bowl. He has also won more games than any owner during that time along with the most titles in the salary cap era.
His Patriot's season is almost complete and will culminate in the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis on February 5, 2012. If the Patriots are victorious it will be the perfect ending to both a heartbreaking and beautiful story for the Kraft family.
His initial investments of 25 million in the adjacent land and stadium and his initial purchase price of 175 million for the club are now valued to be estimated to be valued by Forbes Magazine at 1.4 billion dollars. This is how he became to become the most successful owner in sports. However, his love for people and especially his staff and players, along with his business savvy, have allowed him to become the best owner in sports!
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