The cheap, the greedy, the inept and unlikeable: These are sports' worst owners | Opinion
There are no wrong answers here and, sadly, few team owners who wouldn’t make an appearance on somebody’s list.
Between John Fisher doing his best to alienate Oakland A’s fans so he can move the team and get a sweet new stadium, and Phil Castellini telling the Cincinnati Reds faithful that they’re stuck with his low-budget – and losing – operation, it’s hard to say who is the worse owner.
But they’re not the only ones!
Look around the major leagues, and you’ll find plenty of objectionable owners. Some are cheap and some are greedy. Some are inept. Some are just plain unlikeable. And some are all those things -- yes, Dan Snyder, I am referring to you.
Sadly for fans, there’s little they can do about the overlords who own their beloved teams. Boycotts aren’t likely to change anything. Burn your beloved jerseys in protest, and you’re going to have to buy new clothes. Take the pennants and posters off your walls, and you’ll have to repaint.
So what can you do? Complain! We’ve seen from some of the thin-skinned responses – ahem, James Dolan – that complaints do not fall on deaf ears. I’ve compiled a list of the worst owners in sports, and you can discuss it, share it with your friends, even mail a copy to your team’s headquarters!
Better yet, make up one of your own. There are no wrong answers here and, sadly, few owners who wouldn’t make an appearance on somebody’s list.
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Jimmy and Dee Haslam, Cleveland Browns
The incompetence alone is enough to land the Haslams on this list. The Browns have had just one winning season in the decade since they bought the team and were 1-31 during one stretch, neither of which is a surprise when you consider some of the decisions the Haslams have made.
Drafting Johnny Manziel. Putting an analytics guy in charge of football operations, an experiment that lasted all of two seasons. Burning through six coaches before finally – finally! – finding one, Kevin Stefanski, who will seemingly work. Alienating the one QB who has gotten Cleveland to the playoffs in the last 20 years.
But it is the Deshaun Watson signing, and the stench it has cast on the Browns, that earns the Haslams the dubious title of worst owners in the NFL.
Watson is facing civil lawsuits from almost two dozen women who have accused him of sexual misconduct during massages, and the details are damning. He’s the subject of an NFL investigation, and is likely to be suspended for a significant portion of the upcoming season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Despite all that, and having a serviceable quarterback in Baker Mayfield, the Haslams gave Watson a truckload of money. His $230 million contract is the largest fully guaranteed deal in NFL history, and it’s structured so he has an absurdly low base salary this season to lessen the impact of a suspension.
When fans expressed outrage at the signing, the Browns defended their background check of Watson – “We feel good about the person. Really good about the player,” Jimmy Haslam said – despite not reaching out to a single woman suing Watson or their attorney.
Awful owners, bad people.
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James Dolan, New York Knicks
Aside from a brief resurgence from 2010-13, the New York Knicks have largely been irrelevant in the NBA since Dolan became chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company in 1999. How is that even possible? This is New York, for heaven’s sake, a city that high-profile free agents should be tripping over themselves to want to play in.
Well, they are. But it’s for the other team in New York, the Brooklyn Nets. Difference-making players, along with everyone else, know well what’s going on with Dolan and his Knicks, and they want nothing to do with it.
Dolan is the NBA’s version of the Emperor Who Had No Clothes, brooking dissent from no one. He excludes reporters and media outlets he believes are too critical, and once had a fan banned from the Garden for life because he had the audacity to tell Dolan to sell the team.
Worse, he had Charles Oakley forcibly ejected from the Garden in 2017 and forbade him from coming back. Charles Oakley! A fan favorite who was key to the Knicks’ run to the NBA Finals in 1994. All because Dolan was upset by Oakley’s criticism of him.
If Dolan can’t handle fans complaining about how he runs the Knicks, there’s a real easy solution:
Sell the team.
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Major League Baseball
John Fisher, Oakland A’s
What, exactly, does Fisher want? Is it a fancy new stadium? Or is it to stuff his pockets with as much revenue-sharing cash as he can grab? No one really knows because Fisher isn’t talking.
What is clear is that he’s choking the life out of what was once one of the most entertaining and interesting franchises in baseball.
As recently as two years ago, the A’s were making do with their small-market payroll, winning the AL West in the COVID-shortened season and advancing to the AL Division Series. But whether it’s the stadium odyssey or being tired of pinching pennies, Fisher has essentially given up the ghost. Oakland traded away phenom infielders Matt Chapman and Matt Olson in the offseason, and is now last in the AL West, two games behind Seattle.
The A’s have always developed young talent only to be forced to trade the players away, but the loss of the Matts has prompted a revolt from fans. Oakland is averaging 8,165 fans per game this season, by far the worst in the majors. The A’s have drawn fewer than 5,000 fans eight times already, including a mere 2,488 on May 2, in a stadium that can seat almost 57,000.
Fisher’s silence is only made worse by Oakland president Dave Kaval, who has (prematurely) mocked attendance at San Francisco Giants games to try and make the A’s look better.
Merritt Paulson, Portland Timbers, Portland Thorns
The Timbers and Thorns are among the most successful teams in their leagues, winning a total of four league titles, so props to Paulson for that. But there have been deeply troubling issues off the field with both franchises, and Paulson bears the ultimate responsibility for that.
The NWSL and NWSL Players Association are currently investigating abuse allegations against several coaches, including former Thorns coach Paul Riley. One former Thorns player said she filed a formal complaint against Riley with Portland’s front office, Paulson included.
The Timbers were fined $25,000 in March for not reporting domestic abuse allegations against former player Andy Polo to the league before they became public. The lawyer for Polo’s ex-partner had accused the Timbers of encouraging the woman not to press charges against the player, but MLS said its investigation did not find evidence of that.
Rocky Wirtz, Chicago Blackhawks
Wirtz was a model owner early in his tenure, putting the Blackhawks back on local TV, mending relationships with former players and spending freely to revive a franchise that had fallen into deep disrepair under his father. Those moves, along with the good fortune of getting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the NHL draft, paid off, and the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three times in a five-year span.
Now, not so much. Wirtz has become a grumpy, out-of-touch old man with a bad team – not much different than his father once was.
That was on full display in February, when Wirtz snapped at a reporter who dared ask about the franchise badly mishandling sexual assault allegations against a former video coach during the 2010 Stanley Cup run. Never mind that the town hall was Wirtz’s first public appearance since the team issued a report on its botched response.
Wirtz apologized a few days later, but the damage was done.
Hall of Shame
Yes, I know there are some obvious names missing from this list. That’s because there are some owners so bad they need a special distinction. The Hall of Shame, if you will.
Dean Spanos, Los Angeles Chargers
First, he subjected the good people of San Diego to a godawful team. Then he threw a temper tantrum when they wouldn’t build him a new stadium and moved the team to Los Angeles.
But the deserved joke is on him. The Chargers are tenants in Stan Kroenke’s Taj Mahal, so Spanos is reaping only a fraction of the benefits he would have had, had he built a stadium himself. Plus, he remains so toxic that the fans who will travel to SoFi Stadium for Chargers games are often there to see the visitors.
Jim Crane, Houston Astros
He’s still trying to justify the sign-stealing scandal that should have cost the Houston Astros their World Series title. Just go away already.
Peter Angelos, Baltimore Orioles
There are many reasons Angelos is on the list, but his greatest sin is blowing off Cal Ripken Jr.
Seriously. The best player in franchise history once offered to help out the struggling O's by mentoring some of their younger players, and Angelos turned him down. A Hall of Famer wants to give you the benefit of his expertise, and you reject it.
That alone ought to disqualify you from owning a team.
Daniel Snyder, Washington Commanders
Snyder’s team is perennially awful. He’s fostered a culture of toxic misogyny at team headquarters, and is under investigation himself for sexual harassment. He stubbornly refused to give up a racist nickname and then, once he finally did, replaced it with the lamest of the options available.
He’s the worst owner in sports, as a team steward and as a person, and it’s not even close.