LONG HULMAN-GEORGE ERA RARE IN PRO SPORTS OWNERSHIP IN U.S.
INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005 -- In this era of mergers, takeovers, buyouts and bankruptcies, it's close to an anomaly that the Hulman-George family still owns and operates the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after 60 years.
Until the modern era of major league sports, it was quite common for one person to buy a team, run it for a number of years and then hand control to his or her descendents. But the advent of television and the ensuing tremendous hike in team monetary value as cities across the country and wealthy business people eagerly bid for ownership has reduced the family-run operations to a scant few.
On Nov. 14, 1945, Terre Haute, Ind., businessman Tony Hulman purchased the famed but rundown 2 ½-mile racetrack located 3 miles from downtown Indianapolis at the urging of Wilbur Shaw, who won three of the last five 500-Mile Races held there before the U.S. entered World War II. The Speedway remains under family control, with chairman Mari Hulman George, Hulman's daughter, and Speedway chief executive officer Tony George, his grandson.
Elsewhere today, only a few major league team family ownerships outdate that of the Hulman-George longevity. Five of them are in the National Football League.
The Halas family still controls the Chicago Bears, one of the league's original teams. But the Chicago Park District owns Soldier Field, the team's longtime home stadium.
Wellington Mara still owned half of the New York Giants and was calling the shots when he died Oct. 25 at age 89. He was the last of the league's founding members. The Arizona Cardinals, starting as the Chicago Cardinals and later known as the St. Louis Cardinals, have continually been in the Bidwell family since 1932. And the Rooneys, another pioneer NFL family, have operated the Pittsburgh Steelers since July 8, 1933.
But the fifth team, the Green Bay Packers, is unique unto itself in major league sports. It isn't owned by one particular family but by thousands of them. In August 1923, the bankrupt team was transformed into a non-profit organization called the Green Bay Packers Corp. A thousand shares of stock were sold that year at $5 each to raise $5,000 and put the team back into business. There have been four stock sales since, and the team has a "family" ownership of 111,921 people.
The Indianapolis Colts of the NFL came to Indianapolis in 1984. Robert Irsay, owner of one of the world's largest heating and air-conditioning companies, purchased the Los Angeles Rams in 1972, then traded the team to Carroll Rosenbloom for the Baltimore Colts.
Irsay moved the team to Indianapolis following construction of the RCA Dome and son Jim has run the team since his father's death Jan. 14, 1997.
The Indiana Pacers of the NBA were founded in 1967 and played in the American Basketball Association until ownership bought the team into the National Basketball Association for the 1976-77 season. Following several years of financial struggle, Indianapolis-based shopping mall magnates Mel and Herb Simon purchased the franchise in 1983. Today, the Pacers are one of the premier organizations in the NBA.
The Capital Improvement Board, an Indianapolis city agency, owns and operates the RCA Dome and Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the Pacers.
The Indianapolis Indians, who have played baseball in Indianapolis longer than the Speedway has existed, also is community-owned. Threatened with bankruptcy in 1955, the minor-league team was bailed out by the sale of 6,672 stock shares that brought in $204,880. A buy-back many years later reduced the outstanding shares to 215.
The NBA had some longstanding owners like Fred Zollner of the Detroit Pistons and Walter Brown of the Boston Celtics, but none is around today. Major League Baseball also had individual owners during the pre-World War II days who stayed around for many years.
For instance, Connie Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years and also was owner for most of them. Charles Comiskey owned the Chicago White Sox from 1901-31. Jerry Reinsdorf has owned the new World Champions since 1981. The Wrigley family owned the Chicago Cubs for many years, but today the Chicago Tribune controls the city's National League team and its iconic stadium, Wrigley Field.
The longest-standing current owner in baseball is George Steinbrenner, who purchased the New York Yankees in 1973. But the City of New York owns Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium, home of the crosstown rival New York Mets.
In the National Hockey League, the Wirtz family has owned the Chicago Blackhawks since 1954. Arthur M. Wirtz originally purchased the team along with Jim Norris, who also owned the Detroit Red Wings. Arthur's son William became president in 1966 and served in that position since. Brother Michael also has been involved.
In auto racing, the France family has been a constant in stock car racing. Bill France founded NASCAR in 1948 and built Daytona International Speedway, holding the first race there in 1959. Bill France Jr. succeeded his father and now grandson Brian is head of the organization.
The France family also controls International Speedway Corporation, which solely owns 11 major racing facilities around the United States, all of which play host to annual NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of only three major speedways still under family ownership that play host to an annual NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race. The others are the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway, opened in 1968 as a ¾-mile oval by current owner Dr. Joseph Mattioli, and the 1-mile New Hampshire International Speedway, opened in 1990 by current owners Bob and Gary Bahre.
Churchill Downs, site of the annual Kentucky Derby, is owned by Churchill Downs, Inc. That company, formed in 1942, includes four other horse racing tracks in its portfolio, including Hoosier Park in Anderson, Ind.
Augusta National Golf Club, annual site of golf's The Masters, is equity-owned, with members of the ultra-exclusive club holding shares of ownership.
But when it comes to major motor racing facilities, the 60 years of Hulman-George family ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway remain a remarkable aspect of worldwide sports.