Feb 2, 2022 - Sports

Brian Flores' lawsuit could be catalyst for ownership rule changes in the NFL

An outline of a football
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The National Football League yesterday was rocked by a racial discrimination lawsuit, brought by recently fired Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. It could change the way teams are bought and sold, and even may put a new one in play.

Driving the news: Flores, who hopes his complaint will become a class action, mostly focuses on hiring practices — including alleged "sham" interview processes with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos. But his list of request injunctive reliefs includes:

"Ensure diversity of ownership by creating and funding a committee dedicated to sourcing Black investors to take majority ownership stakes in NFL Teams."

What to know: The NFL has more barriers to ownership entry than any other major North American pro sports league. Part of this is cost. Part is a requirement that only individuals can become principal owners, and those individuals must be able to pay cash for at least a 30% stake. Plus, there are limits on the size of ownership groups.

  • The league has zero Black owners, and only two owners of color (one of whom is a co-owner with her husband). Around 70% of NFL players are Black.

Kickoff: Flores' suit could be the catalyst that forces the NFL to relax its ownership rules, whether or not it heeds his investor-sourcing committee prescription. This could increase ownership diversity; not only in terms of race, but also in terms allowing private equity and corporate participation.

  • And if the NFL is going to make such changes, which are much easier than rooting out systemic racism in hiring, it could do so right now in an impactful way.
  • The Denver Broncos, yesterday were officially put up for sale. There's has been talk that Vista Equity founder Robert Smith had interest in his hometown team, but that seems to have died down. Unclear if his tax fraud issues played into the equation.
  • The Miami Dolphins could be next, as Flores alleges that owner Stephen Ross offered him extra cash to throw games. If proved true, the Old Boys Club may have no choice but to boot one of its charter members, particularly as the NFL has cozied itself up to legal gambling outfits.

One caveat is that the NFL is already in bunker mode, claiming there's no merit to allegations that it hasn't yet had time to investigate. Tough to make moves when your head is buried deep in the sand.

  • The Broncos and Dolphins also denied Flores' charges.

The bottom line: Flores is forcing lots of issues, at great professional risk, including who gets to sit in the owners boxes.

Editor's note: This story has been clarified to show the Broncos are Robert Smiths' hometown team, he was not a football player.

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