By Dave Wischnowsky–

It was a great season for the Chicago Bears, but a sad week for the family that owns the legendary NFL franchise – and not because it isn’t able to root on Chicago’s favorite team this weekend in Super Bowl XLV.

On Sunday evening, the McCaskey family announced the passing of team Vice President Tim McCaskey following a 17-month battle with cancer. Tim, who held his position as a VP with the organization since 1993, was the second oldest of Ed and Virginia McCaskey’s 11 children and, of course, the grandson of George “Papa Bear” Halas, who founded the Bears in 1920.
And, last night, while researching the McCaskey family history following the news of Tim’s death, my eyes were opened to an interesting fact that I did not previously know about the NFL: Unlike many professional leagues, the NFL forbids corporate ownership.

In other words, the reason you don’t see an entity like the Tribune Co. (former owner of the Chicago Cubs) running an NFL franchise is because an entity like the Tribune Co. can’t run an NFL franchise.

The NFL mandates that teams be family-owned, with a single controlling owner owning 10 percent of the franchise with other family members owning at least 20 percent for a family total of 30 percent. Also, no more than 24 individuals can be part of a total NFL ownership group, a unique business model that has worked well for the lucrative league.

Of the NFL’s 32 teams, the Green Bay Packers are the lone exemption to this policy since the current NFC Champions have been a publicly owned stock corporation since 1923, well before the NFL’s ownership rule was put in place.

By contrast, Major League Baseball, which does not have a ban on corporate ownership, has had so many franchise sales that the longest-tenured ownership group is the Steinbrenner family, which bought the Yankees in 1973. Currently, three MLB teams – the Seattle Mariners (owned by Nintendo of America), the Atlanta Braves (Liberty Media) and the Toronto Blue Jays (Rogers Communications) – are under corporate ownership.

Now, none of this information has anything particularly relevant to do with the current state of the NFL as it prepares this week for the Super Bowl showdown between Pittsburgh and Green Bay. But such management details do serve as an interesting sidelight as the league’s family owners haggle with the NFL Players’ Union over a new collective bargaining agreement that threatens to scuttle the 2011 season.

Since all NFL franchises are under family ownership – including some legacies such as Chicago’s McCaskeys, Pittsburgh’s Rooneys and Arizona’s Bidwills that date back to the 1920s and ’30s – the league has enjoyed greater overall stability than many other pro leagues. As a result, its owners are a particularly powerful force that’s expected to prevail over the wishes of the players amidst the NFL’s current labor drama.

Whatever does transpire with the NFL, though, we can be certain of one thing: It’ll be a family affair.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.