Most NFL teams operate as family-owned businesses. When the person in charge no longer is able to run the business, another family member must take over.
In a recent interview with Jeff Schultz of TheAthletic.com, Falcons owner Arthur Blank peeled back the curtain on current league protocol regarding the potentially sudden change that can happen, if the primary owner of a team either dies or becomes incapacitated.
“We are required once a year to submit a succession plan to the NFL,” Blank said while explaining that he has no plans to transfer the team outside of his family.
“The league went through difficult [family estate] situations with the Saints, Denver and Indianapolis,” Blank said. “I’m sure [late Broncos owner] Pat Bowlen, God bless him, is flipping in his grave because of the difficulties with his family. It’s not a happy thing. [Late Saints owner] Tom Benson, you know what happened. It was ugly.”
The NFL also had a multi-year problem with the Titans, after the passing of team founder Bud Adams. His estate failed to give control over the team to any specific branch of his family tree.
The submission of a succession plan minimizes the chances of additional messes. Every team must have a succession plan in place, and that plan must be given to the league. Blank has one. Every owner has one. Ideally, the presence of that plan — updated annual — will avoid future problems when it’s time for control of a team to pass from one family member to another.
Last year, the league created a rule that allows teams to be fined $10 million and individual owners to be fined $2 million for failure to comply with the rule mandating that one person hold the minimum amount of equity in the team and, most importantly, possess final say over any and all matters on which the various teams periodically vote.