Is a football arena a good place to see art? It is if you’re in AT&T Stadium, thanks to Dallas Cowboys team owner and general manager Jerry Jones, just one of many team owners around the world who are also active art collectors. Jones displays in the stadium commissioned works by some of today’s most well-known contemporary artists, among them Doug Aitken, Anish Kapoor, Teresita Fernández, and Jenny Holzer, whose Truisms has been adapted to show on the 160-foot-wide Jumbotron. With an estimated net worth of $6.8 billion, Jones has the obligatory $250 million super-yacht, as well as a personal art collection that includes works by Picasso, Renoir, and Matisse.
Other tycoons in the sports world have long kept out of the public eye, like Coachella music festival owner Philip Anschutz. The entertainment magnate has shares in many an L.A. sports team; owner of the LA Galaxy soccer team and part-owner of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, he recently sold his minority stake in the Lakers. One of the country’s most reclusive billionaires, the octogenarian has a net worth of an estimated $11.7 billion, and a collection of some 600 art objects relating to the American West, from Frederic Remington and Thomas Eakins to Charles Marion Russell and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, has recently emerged as a behemoth in world of Pop culture–related memorabilia. In 2019 he paid $4 million at Christie’s for the Black Strat that once belonged to Pink Floyd lead guitarist David Gilmour. Heir to a heating and cooling industry fortune and having at one time struggled with addiction, Irsay also purchased an Alcoholics Anonymous founding manuscript dated 1939 at auction in 2018 for $2.4 million.
International sports team owners are also entering the game. India’s richest woman, Nita Ambani, with a $20 billion fortune, is co-owner of the Indian Premier League Mumbai Indians cricket team and chair of the company that holds it, Football Sports Development. She has emerged in recent years as a major art world player, establishing the Reliance Foundation, named after her family’s oil and telecom conglomerate, to promote postwar Indian artists. Having supported the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York since 2016, she was named the first Indian honorary trustee of the museum in 2019.
And, of course, there are NFTs, which gained notoriety only this year. In June, Sotheby’s staged an auction of NFTs around the cult digital avatars known as “CryptoPunks.” The sale saw the price for one of the characters, Larva Labs’s CryptoPunk 7523 (2017), run up to a staggering $11.4 million. Israeli billionaire Shalom Meckenzie, a minority owner of the sports-betting operator DraftKings, placed the winning bid.
Indeed, some ARTnews Top 200 Collectors own or have owned major sports teams. Among them are Steven A. Cohen (new owner of the New York Mets), John S. Middleton (Philadelphia Phillies), Steve Tisch (New York Giants), Hasso Plattner (San Jose Sharks), David Thomson (Winnipeg Jets), Roman Abramovich (Chelsea F.C.), Dmitry Rybolovlev (AS Monaco F.C.), François Pinault (Stade Rennais F.C.), Joe Lewis (Tottenham Hotspur F.C.), and the late Paul Allen (Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Sounders F.C.).
A version of this article appears in the October/November 2021 issue of ARTnews, under the title “In It to Win It.”
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