The New England Patriots have become a powerful dynasty in the National Football League (NFL), especially since the early 2000s. Observers often credit the partnership between owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick as a driving factor behind this success, despite the well-known personal friction between the two men. One of the reasons often cited for this apparent paradox is that Kraft very rarely attempts to influence Belichick’s coaching decisions.
Robert Kraft is an American billionaire with a net worth of $8.3 billion as of 2022. He is also the chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) of the diversified holding company Kraft Group, which has assets in a variety of sectors, including sports and entertainment, real estate development, paper and packaging, and private equity. Kraft has been the sole owner of the Patriots since 1994, although his quest to acquire the franchise began nearly a decade earlier.
He was a Patriots fan for decades and has been a season ticket holder since 1971. Kraft made his first move towards buying the team in 1985, when he bought a 10-year option on Foxboro Raceway. This horse track is adjacent to the Patriots’ stadium, and the terms of the purchase prevented Patriots owner Billy Sullivan from holding non-Patriot events at the stadium while Foxboro was holding races. As a result, Sullivan’s revenue from the stadium was limited, hitting him particularly hard after a series of bad investments during the early 1980s.
Sullivan was then forced to place the stadium into bankruptcy in 1988, and Robert Kraft won the bid to the bankruptcy court with an offer of $22 million. The stadium itself was nearly worthless at this point, but the purchase included the stadium’s lease to the Patriots through 2001. The acquisition of the lease was Kraft’s real goal, as it prevented anyone buying the Patriots from relocating the team. Kraft lost his own bid on the Patriots franchise to Victor Kiam, who was unable to move the team to Jacksonville, Florida when Kraft refused to let him break the lease on the stadium.
Acquisition of the Patriots
Kiam was unable to renovate the stadium due to his own bad investments, forcing him to sell the Patriots to James Orthwein in 1992. Orthwein offered Kraft $75 million to break the lease in 1994, but Kraft refused. Orthwein then decided to sell the team instead of continuing to operate it in Boston, and this time Kraft won the bid with an offer of $172 million for an outright purchase. Orthwein accepted, making it the highest sale price for an NFL team at that time.
Kraft believes to this day that he overpaid for the franchise, adding that he broke every one of his financial rules to acquire it. Despite his misgivings, the Patriots sold out all of their games for the 1994 season, marking the first season sellout in the franchise’s history. In addition, all of the Patriots’ games have sold out since then, including preseason games.
Kraft Belichick Partnership
The relationship between Kraft and Belichick is often credited with turning the Patriots from the brink of bankruptcy to one of the most dominant dynasties in NFL history. Observers have long speculated on the dynamics between the two men, which have been marked by challenges from the beginning of this partnership. For example, Seth Wicksham recounts Kraft’s extreme dislike for Belichick in his book, “It’s Better to be Feared.” Tensions between the two appeared to peak in 2018, when Belichick traded backup quarterback Jimmy Garrappolo to San Francisco. While Kraft made his disapproval of the trade known, he publicly questioned Belichick’s decision.
Most recently, the Patriots lost to the Miami Dolphins in September 2022, which Kraft may attribute to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne’s lack of playing time. The star receiver only took the field for two plays, one of which resulted in a 41-yard reception from quarterback Mac Jones. Insider Tom E. Curran reports that his understanding is that Bourne will have a bigger role on the team, although he wasn’t told this directly. It isn’t clear whether this information is coming from Kraft or Belichick, so there’s no way to determine if this is an example of an owner influencing a coach’s decision.
However, it does call to mind Kraft’s frustration at not winning a playoff game during the past three seasons, which he expressed at NFL owners meeting in the spring of 2022. These statements follow the NFL’s 2021 free agency season, during which Kraft invested heavily in new talent. Bourne was one of the few offensive players acquired in this buying spree who has outperformed his price, with 800 receiving yards in 53 catches during the 2021 season. Kraft appears to be close to Bourne, as the two have been seen celebrating wins together.
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