A former college professor who became an Oscar-winning film producer, Jeffrey Lurie has the NFL’s 10th most valuable team back in the Super Bowl for the second time in five years.
Standing in a room filled with reporters, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie somberly delivered a piece of franchise altering news. “We’re going to be saying goodbye to the winningest coach in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles,” he said.
That was December 2012, and Lurie had just fired head coach Andy Reid, after a 14-year stint that featured nine playoff berths and a Super Bowl appearance. In doing so, the Eagles’ owner was tearing away a proverbial safety net. Reid transformed the once beleaguered franchise into a perennial competitor. Despite a 4-12 season, Reid’s prowess was still apparent, and less than a week later he was hired to coach the Kansas City Chiefs, the Eagles’ opponent on Sunday in Super Bowl LVII.
But Lurie, 71, has never hesitated to take a risk, and Reid certainly wasn’t his first. In 1994, he took a nine-figure loan from the Bank of Boston to buy the Eagles for $185 million, believed to be the highest for an existing professional sports franchise at the time. It paid off handsomely. The team is now worth $4.9 billion, according to Forbes’ math, making Lurie a billionaire with an estimated net worth of $4.4 billion. Thanks to his aggressive approach, Lurie is on the verge of football immortality once again.
“You’ve got to make changes in business [and] after a certain period of time, anything can become stale,” says Marc Ganis, president of consulting firm Sportscorp, who has worked with numerous NFL teams and owners. “But Jeffrey saw that that was only going to take them so far. That takes a lot of courage, frankly, on the part of the owner to make a change when things aren’t going terribly because you believe you can make a decision to make things go better.”
The Eagles and Chiefs have each hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in the last five years. But only one can emerge victorious at Super Bowl LVII on Sunday.
Long before he was stewarding arguably the most important franchise in the Philadelphia sports landscape, Lurie was a die-hard sports fan growing up in suburban Boston. Born in 1951, he cheered on the Boston Bruins, Celtics and Red Sox. His passion for football blossomed in 1958, watching Johnny Unitas lead the Baltimore Colts to an overtime victory against the New York Giants in the NFL Championship game. “I was hooked for life,” he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 2018. Two years later, he attended the first-ever home game of the Boston Patriots and later became a season ticket holder.
His family had grown quite successful in the preceding years. Lurie’s grandfather, Philip Smith, founded the General Cinema Corporation in 1935. During the 1940s, it owned nine of the 15 drive-in movie theaters in the United States and dabbled in other things, like becoming the largest independent bottler of Pepsi, according to “The Eagles Encyclopedia,” by Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons. By 1991, General Cinema had 315 movie theater complexes in the U.S. and owned 60% of the Neiman Marcus retail chain. It posted revenues of $2.1 billion and net earnings of $111.3 million that year. A continued desire to diversify led to the $1.4 billion acquisition of struggling book publishing and insurance outfit Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (and a name change to Harcourt General), according to The New York Times.
Lurie steered clear of his family’s business at first. He studied at Clark, Boston and Brandeis Universities, earning a doctorate in social policy from the latter where he wrote his thesis on the depiction of women in film. After briefly working as an adjunct college professor, he joined General Cinema in 1983. Two years later, he went out on his own and founded Chestnut Hill Productions. The Los Angeles-based company produced a number of films, like 1988’s “Sweet Hearts Dance” with Don Johnson, Susan Sarandon and Jeff Daniels, but failed to land a critical or commercial hit. (His Hollywood success would come two decades later, when he won his first two Academy Awards, alongside his now ex-wife Christina Weiss Lurie, for producing two documentaries: “Inside Job” about the 2008 financial crisis and “Inocente” about an undocumented homeless American teen.)
Luckily for Lurie, another opportunity, involving a different passion, presented itself. The New England Patriots were for sale in 1993, and he jumped at the chance to buy his childhood team. “I was obsessed with the Pats. I was at virtually every single game in the stands for, I don’t know, 20-30 years,” he told the Boston Globe on Monday. But the bidding proved too rich for his blood. Lurie exited the process when the price hit $150 million, a tough number to swallow considering the Patriots’ dire financial situation at the time. The team ultimately went to Robert Kraft in January 1994, who paid $172 million. Undeterred, he shifted his focus to bringing an expansion team to Baltimore. That failed too when the NFL selected Jacksonville and Carolina.
“It takes a lot of courage on the part of the owner to make a change when things aren’t going terribly because you believe you can make a decision to make things go better.”
—MARC GANIS, Sportscorp
It all worked out a few months later, though. Eagles owner Norman Braman, a luxury-car dealer based in Miami that is worth an estimated $3 billion today, put the team up for sale as a result of a personal illness and subsequent surgery in 1991. ”I felt the stress and pressure of owning a professional football team was something that I just didn’t want to continue to undertake,” the Philadelphia native and lifelong Eagles fan tells Forbes. “It was that simple.”
Lurie swooped in and paid $185 million for the franchise. Working out the finances proved tricky. Lurie and his mother borrowed from the Bank of Boston, using their stock in Harcourt General as equity and pledging more from the family trust as collateral, according to “The Eagles Encyclopedia.” In retrospect, it was “arguably the smartest investment the family’s ever made,” Sportcorp’s Ganis says. Thanks to Braman’s less-than-stellar reputation among the fanbase, Eagles supporters eagerly accepted the regime change. Lurie also brought in two minority owners in 1995: Richard Green, who apparently tried to buy the Eagles in the 1980s and whose family-owned Firstrust Bank became the official bank of the team in 2020, and Mike Michelson, a longtime executive at KKR. (Forbes estimates they still own 8% of the team combined.)
Upon taking control, Lurie made replacing the Eagles’ practice facility and home venue, Veterans Stadium, a priority. “I think it’s one of the worst facilities in all of sports. Everyone who has to go to work there, I feel bad for,” Lurie said in 1997, according to Philadelphia Magazine. He delivered within the decade, opening the $37 million training ground NovaCare Complex in 2001. Lurie then built the $512 million Lincoln Financial Field, financed with $200 million in public money and $140 million in naming rights.
“You build a new stadium and that adds an economic vitality to the city,” says Tim Derdenger, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. “All those extra dollars spent before and after the football games are crucial for Philadelphia as a whole, but particularly those small, medium-sized family owned businesses around the stadium.”
When the venue opened in 2003, the Eagles were already knee-deep into the tenure of Andy Reid, who posted 59 regular season wins from 2000 to 2004. Reid joined the organization not long after winning the Super Bowl as an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers in 1997. Sportscorp’s Ganis describes the hiring as arguably Lurie’s best moves because it turned “the franchise into a perennial potential winner.”
While not necessarily an attention-grabber, Ganis says Lurie has been a strong behind-the-scenes contributor to the league for many years. Lurie, whose family controls an estimated 92% of the team, serves on the NFL’s finance, media and international committees. His son, Julian, joined the organization in business and football operations this season. Lurie continues to produce films, adding a third academy award for best documentary in 2022 for “Summer of Soul,” which looked back at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. He has also used his team as an instrument of philanthropy, starting with the Eagles Youth Partnership, which he and his ex-wife Christina (she still holds a minority stake in the team) founded in 1995, as well as the Eagles Social Justice Council in 2018 and the Eagles Autism Foundation (over $16 million raised) in 2019.
“He really is a forward thinker,” Ganis says. “Jeff brings progressive values to the role.”
Still, Lurie has never lost his taste for greatness, or his risk tolerance to reach it. He sacked Doug Pederson after the 2020 season, just under three years removed from leading the Eagles to their first and only Super Bowl victory. Months later, Lurie’s club shipped off star quarterback Carson Wentz in favor of a struggling rookie with only four starts under his belt. “To me, there is no substitute for the joy of winning,” he said in 1994.