PHOENIX (Reuters) - There will be one happy billionaire on Sunday when either Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen or New England Patriots counterpart Robert Kraft hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy as the Super Bowl champion.
One will return home a hero, feted and paraded through the streets to wild cheers showered with confetti and praise.
The other will arrive to a heartbroken city, fans left crushed by defeat, humbled in front of an estimated television audience of over 100 million.
Many will vent their disappointment on social media, directing some of that anger and bile at the losing owner.
It is not all fun and games for the 32 National Football League owners who often find themselves in the unwanted public spotlight, facing harsh criticism and personal attacks over their team’s and the league’s failures.
A string of domestic violence cases involving players has left a stain on several teams and the NFL while concussions remain a contentious issue, casting owners in an uncaring light.
For the past 14 years, Dan Snyder, principal owner of the Washington Redskins franchise, has defied calls from activists and journalists to change his team’s name and Indian logo to something less “offensive.”
Even U.S. President Barack Obama has waded into the debate, saying that if he owned the team he would consider changing the name, which American Indians and others have long pilloried as racist.
The NFL is unique in that unlike other North American professional sports leagues, franchises must have a majority individual owner (the only exception being the community owned Green Bay Packers).
There are no faceless corporations running NFL teams, which in many cases have remained in families for generations and rarely come on the open market, making the owner a familiar and convenient target for everything from rising ticket prices to losing records.
Some like flamboyant Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones are media darlings, eager to entertain and be seen.
Others work hard to avoid the limelight.
Detroit Lions owner William Clay Ford, grandson of automotive pioneer Henry Ford, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer, who both passed away last year, were reclusive, rarely talking to reporters.
Crafty businessmen have not always been able to translate their business acumen to success on the field.
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross bought the team six years ago but has yet to see his $1.1 billion investment pay off with a playoff appearance.
The 74-year-old real-estate developer is an unpopular figure in South Beach, criticized for being more interested in entertainment than putting a winning team on the field.
“It’s on-the-job learning and no matter how successful you are in life, it doesn’t really set you up to run a National Football League team,” Ross told CBS4 News in a rare one-on-one interview. “I want to build that consistent winner... but the challenge is great. It’s much greater than I thought
when I bought the team.
“It’s a lot easier to succeed in business than it is having a winning football team on a consistent basis.”
Microsoft co-founder and Seahawks owner Allen, now ranked 47th on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s wealthiest people with a fortune of $17 billion, has managed to plant his flag at the summit of both the business and sporting worlds.
He is also massive benefactor in Seattle, funding everything from libraries and universities to brain research. He put $100 million into Ebola research last year, making him the biggest private donor fighting the disease.
But it is his support of the Seahawks that makes him a local hero.
Most NFL owners are recognized for their philanthropic efforts, but their teams are what cities and fans are identified with.
For fans the bonds are personal while cities and teams are often a reflection of each other.
Detroit was at ground zero of the auto industry collapse, then floored by a recession, but it was the Lions’ 0-16 record in 2008 that crushed the Motor City spirit.
With 25 of 32 franchise valued at more than $1 billion by Forbes, few fans feel sorry for owners, especially those who have held cities hostage by demanding new stadiums and concessions or run the risk of the franchise relocating to another city.
Owning an NFL team is big business, but for some owners it is also a very expensive toy. Yet any owners simply enjoy the thrill of being around the team.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who made billions in the paper industry, views his team as an extension of his family with all welcome in his home.
“After my family, my team is my passion,” said Kraft. “I love being around the guys. There isn’t one guy in our locker room I wouldn’t be pleased to have at our dinner table.”
Editing by Gene Cherry