This year, the Boston Blood Sox Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Robert Kraft.
Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994, saving them from a move to St. Louis. He already owned Foxboro Stadium, which gave him the leverage to buy the team. The purchase price was $175 million. The Patriots’ current value: about $1.2 billion. That’s a spicy meatball.
Then again, making money in the NFL is like getting fat while locked in a McDonald’s: it’s pretty easy to do. The average NFL franchise is worth about $925 million, so a $1.2 billion team doesn’t say much.
So let’s look on the field for what Mr. Kraft has done.
In 1994, the Patriots were a joke. They were coming off of 5 consecutive losing seasons. They had won a meager 4 divisional titles in their history. Being demolished by the Bears in Super Bowl XX was their greatest achievement.
In 1994, the Patriots won the AFC East. In ‘96, the Pats won the division, as well as the AFC title before losing to Brett Favre and the Packers in Super Bowl XXXI. But the Pats made the playoffs again in ‘97 and ‘98. Then in 2001, the Patriots went all the way to their first Championship. Then their second in ‘03, and their third in ‘04. Now the club finished the 2007 calendar year with a 16-0 record heading into the post-season. Vegas has put the odds at 5:11 that the Pats will win. That’s not a typo.
Since 1994, the Patriots have made the post-season 10 times. Before 1994, it was only 6 times. Before 1994, the Patriots had a 4-6 record in the playoffs. Since 1994, they’re 15-6 in the post-season. They’ve won 4 AFC titles under Kraft, and three Super Bowls. He’s turned what was once a laughing stock bound for St. Louis into one of the best franchises in American sports.
What makes Kraft a phenomenal owner is that he balances a love of the team with good business sense. He wants nothing more than to see the Patriots win, but he is smart enough not to meddle or overextend himself. Instead, he delegates responsibility to the best people he can find. Men like Scott Pioli, and Bill Belichick. Robert Kraft has also helped secure the future of his sporting empire by involving son Jonathan Kraft. Jonathan currently serves as president of the Patriots, owner of the Revolution, and COO of the Kraft Group.
But Robert Kraft isn’t just the man behind the Patriots. He’s the man who tore down shabby Foxboro Stadium and built the jewel that is Gillette Stadium - with his own money. He’s also the man behind the New England Revolution, who have made it to 4 MLS Cup finals in 6 seasons. The area surrounding Gillette Stadium is being developed into Patriots Place, a shopping and entertainment center that will make Gillette Stadium a destination for millions 365 days a year.
Robert Kraft just might be the best owner in American sports, and that is why he is the winner of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award.