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Trash owner, trash team: Why the success of a sports franchise starts at the top

Poor ownership derails the entire franchise. With a poor owner leading the way, the organization is doomed.

Prime example: the Detroit Lions.

Longtime owner Martha Firestone Ford stepped down in June after years of missed playoff opportunities. She had led the team since 2014 when her husband William passed away at 88.

“It has been a great honor for our family to be associated with the Lions and with the National Football League,” Firestone Ford said.

“I am gratified that this family tradition, which my husband and I began almost six decades ago, will continue under Sheila’s guiding hand.”

Martha’s daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp, will continue work as the team’s principal owner and chairman.


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@barrysanders: “I just wanted to get one more last thank you in to Mrs. Ford.”

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The Lions were purchased by William Clay Ford Sr. on November 22, 1963. They have been under ownership of the Ford family for more than six decades, and are on their third principal owner.

During that time, the Lions have only won one playoff game and have not won a division title since the 1993 season.

This is the problem with declining sports organizations today: the refusal to acknowledge ownership as a primary cause for failure.

Now, Mrs. Hamp could very well be the magnificent change that the organization needs, and guide them to multiple Super Bowls in the next decade. It is certainly unfair to judge her based on her family’s failures.

However, the problem exists when there is a lack of accountability for the owner. Oftentimes, owners evade the responsibility of losses by terminating a head coach or general manager. This is not always the case, but is very common in dysfunctional and loss-heavy organizations.


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Which uniform would you rock on a game day? Rank your combos from favorite to least favorite.

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“Ownership is the biggest reason why teams struggle or remain competitive; whether a decision is made rashly or not, smartly or not,” Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report says.

“Owners seem to evade criticism because they aren’t as visible. It’s much easier to point the finger at coaches, whose decisions are more immediately tangible. Ownership decisions play out over time, but they are no less impactful, and carry greater import for a club’s long-term health,” concluded Freeman.

Freeman’s comments explain how the owner’s actions can be masked in professional sports. Two consecutive seasons of failure can be pinned on a coach, while it takes upwards of a decade to circle around to the owner.

The four most important pieces to an NFL club in no particular order are the head coach, quarterback, owner, and general manager. While one could argue that the blame should be shifted equally between each role, the owner has the responsibility of ensuring that all positions are effective.

They are the one(s) signing the paychecks, running the ship. And just like a ship’s captain, do you want a leader that is insecure, incompetent, and fragile? No.

Furthermore, most owners have the final word with draft picks, talent acquisition, and team development structure. Clearly, the owners hire more qualified individuals to perform these separate duties, but again, it is their responsibility to ensure the proper hirings.

New York Knicks owner James Dolan is an example of doing everything the wrong way, with a fragile ego adding onto his ineptitude. His two decades as a higher-up have been filled with losing and poor management.

In Dolan’s first season with the team in 1999, the Knicks squad made the league Finals. It was their twelfth-straight playoff appearance.

The fun ended there. The next eighteen seasons, thirteen different head coaches were hired, and the team won only one playoff series.

As per usual, fans and analysts would blame the coaches and players during the loss-filled run.

The perspective has shifted, though, as Dolan is one of the most controversial and publicly-renounced owners in professional sports. His methods and lack of action have garnered national attention, and fans have been calling for a shift in ownership for years.

Owning a professional sports team is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. It takes commitment, expertise, and passion for the sport itself.

If an individual chooses to own a sports franchise, they must be prepared to face backlash and controversy from fans, analysts, and fellow executives alike.

The most important thing, though, is that they must hold themselves accountable. They must be prepared to take action for the success of their franchise by owning the most widespread responsibility.

We wish Sheila Ford Hamp the best of luck going forward, and we are interested to see what new measures she will take. To Mrs. Hamp and all other owners: don’t blame others. Get your organization right.