The New N.F.L. Owners?

As team valuations skyrocket, the league is weighing whether to relax ownership rules that prohibit investment from private equity funds.

The biggest upcoming football event for many of the N.F.L. owners and business executives who will populate luxury boxes at the Super Bowl this weekend is not, perhaps surprisingly, the game. It actually won’t take place until six weeks later, in Orlando, Fla., when football executives gather for the National Football League’s annual meeting — an event that has particular significance this year.

At the meeting, the league is expected to address a long-simmering question: whether to allow passive investment from private equity firms, which work with money sourced everywhere from sovereign wealth funds to pension funds to wealthy individuals.

Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have already relaxed their ownership rules. But the N.F.L. both prohibits private equity money and has some of the strictest rules for investing, requiring general partners to buy at least a 30 percent stake in the team and limiting the use of debt to $1.2 billion. Allowing institutional investors to own teams could vault already high-flying valuations higher and change the culture of team ownership.

In Florida, a committee of five team owners that includes Arthur Blank, the Atlanta Falcons owner and a founder of Home Depot, and Greg Penner, the Walmart chairman and an owner of the Denver Broncos, is likely to weigh in on the issue, according to two people familiar with the process who asked not to be named to discuss private deliberations. It is unclear whether that will immediately lead to a vote or whether the league will take time to study those recommendations. The N.F.L. declined to comment.

“I don’t want to predict one way or another whether we will ultimately adopt it,” Clark Hunt, the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, who is also on the committee, said this week. “But I do think it is an avenue that can be helpful from a capital standpoint.”

Industry insiders have been whispering about the meeting and have a lot of questions. Among them:

Would the N.F.L. allow sovereign investors? Soon after the N.B.A. allowed pension and sovereign funds to invest in its leagues, the Qatar Investment Authority bought a 5 percent stake in three Washington, D.C., teams. Saudi Arabia’s wealth fund, which struck a splashy (though far from certain) deal with the PGA Tour last year, has also been eyeing tennis.

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