Superbowl XLIX: The Seattle Seahawks And Five Other Tech-Funded Sports Teams

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

Follow on: Google +

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen helped keep the Seahawks in Seattle, but how have other sports teams owned by tech firms and executives fared?

This weekend, the Seattle Seahawks will attempt to win their second Superbowl in a row when they take on the New England Patriots at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Arizona.

The Seahawks are renowned for having one of the most passionate fan bases in the NFL, but this was not the case in the mid-1990s when a poor team and boardroom turmoil meant the franchise was close to leaving the city – a common occurrence in US sport.

But Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen stepped in with $288m offer and, with a bit of luck and a few conditions, helped keep the Seahawks in Seattle and put them on the path towards Superbowl glory.

Allen also part-owns the Seattle Sounders, one of the best supported football teams in Major League Soccer, and is the sole owner of the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers. But Seattle are far from the first sports team to benefit from the billions created by the technology industry – here are five of the more interesting examples

Los Angeles Clippers (basketball) – Steve Ballmer

steve-ballmer-tongue-3-460x276We couldn’t have this list without Steve Ballmer who bought Los Angeles’ ‘other’ team last year for $2bn after disgraced former owner Donald Sterling was forced to sell. Having reportedly considered purchasing the Milwaukee Bucks, Ballmer opted for the Clippers, one of the NBA’s most improved teams.

Ballmer, who stepped down as Microsoft CEO last January, plans to use technology to help the Clippers outshine their more famous city rivals, the LA Lakers, and for those who will miss his energetic performances at Microsoft conferences over the years needn’t worry as he’s brought his ‘unique’ style to Clippers games too. Sadly, Clippy hasn’t been hired as team mascot…yet.

Tottenham Hotspur (football) – Lord Alan Sugar

Lord Sugar is the only entrant on this list not to be a current sports team owner having sold his majority stake in Tottenham to ENIC in 2001, but long before he became famous for firing people, the Amstrad founder left professional football a huge legacy – bigger than the one he left Spurs.

In 1992, the chairmen of the fledgling Premier League voted on whether to award its television rights to ITV or BskyB and Lord Sugar, then just called ‘Alan’, was the only chairman of a big club to favour Sky’s bid. When it appeared likely that ITV was going to win the rights, Sugar is alleged to have phoned Sky, urging them to up its bid.

Why? Well, Amstrad was making satellite dishes for Sky, which at the time wasn’t profitable, and football was seen as a last-ditch attempt for the company to be successful. The two firms’ fates were therefore intertwined.

The Premier League voted 16-4 in favour of Sky, with two abstentions, and British football was changed forever as live matches went behind Sky’s paywall. Amstrad went on to make digital satellite set-top boxes for Sky and was eventually bought by the broadcaster in 2006.

As for Spurs, aside for a League Cup win in 1999 and Jurgen Klinsmann’s cameos, Sugar’s tenure was unsuccessful. He later described his time at Tottenham as a “waste of his life.”

Seattle Mariners (baseball) – Nintendo

One of just three Major League Baseball (MLB) teams under corporate ownership, the Seattle Mariners are also one of eight teams never to have won a World Series and just one of two never to have even made the ‘Fall Classic’.

The Mariners were originally purchased by Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi in 1992 to prevent the team moving to Florida (sound familiar) and although his 55 percent stake was transferred to Nintendo of America in 2004, he retained control over most major decisions.

Yamauchi’s ownership of the Mariners, opposed by many In baseball circles because he wasn’t American, paved the way for Japanese players to enter the MLB.

However, he never actually attended a game in person before he died in 2013, making him possibly the only ever owner of a major US sports team to boast that claim. Of course, Microsoft has to be involved in some way, with former executive Chris Larson holding a 30 percent stake in the franchise.

Samsung Lions (baseball) – Samsung

But if Nintendo or Yamauchi bought a baseball team in their native Japan or South Korea, they could have named it after the company. The Korea Baseball Championship features teams such as the Samsung Lions and LG Twins as well as the KT Wiz and SK Wyverns, both owned by major Korean telecoms firms.

Samsung also has a team in football’s K-League, the Suwon Samsung Bluewings, while Japanese baseball boasts the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Somehow we don’t imagine Tottenham fans would have been too receptive to being called the ‘Amstrad Spurs’

Oracle Team USA (sailing) – Larry Ellison

Americas Cup 2Oracle CEO Larry Ellison angered many when he decided to skip his keynote at the Oracle Openworld conference in 2013 in favour of spending the day at San Francisco Bay to see his Team Oracle USA on its way to winning the 34th America’s Cup against Team New Zealand.

However, given the amount of time and money he has invested in his sailing team, it was perhaps understandable – especially as Ellison’s influence had led to one of the most exciting series in the America’s Cup’s long and famous history.

Team Oracle USA was 8-1 down at one point, but won the contest 9-8 by winning the last eight races. It was hailed as one of the greatest comebacks in sporting history, but the use of powerful, fast AC72 catamarans and the location of San Francisco Bay did much to attract sponsors and television interest. The fact that the action on the water was so exciting helped too – even if Oracle Openworld attendees might have disagreed.

Are you a tech Olympian? Find out with our sporting IT quiz!