Even if the Seattle Seahawks lose to the Denver Broncos in Sunday’s Super Bowl, the team has rewarded owner Paul Allen — by beating his old company, Microsoft, as an investment.
Allen bought the pro-football team in 1997, when his heart was in basketball and his investing firepower was focused on a heady concept he called the “wired world.”
Now, with Microsoft searching for direction, Allen’s investments have recovered from that rocky stretch, thanks, in part, to the football team he once said he purchased out of “civic duty.”
The Seahawks, buoyed by TV broadcast fees, are worth about six times what Allen paid. In the same period, Microsoft shares have a little more than doubled.
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The team’s success has rewarded Allen, 61, in other ways, showering him with affection in a city mad for the Seahawks. The “12th Man” flags honoring the city’s famously loud fans adorn lawns, offices and the Space Needle.
Of course, by measures other than the simple change in value, Microsoft performs better. While a sports franchise isn’t a liquid investment, Allen has been able to whittle his 28 percent Microsoft stake to less than 2 percent, collecting more than $20 billion along the way.
He still holds about 100 million shares, which have earned him $800 million in dividends after taxes in the past decade, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Sometimes called Microsoft’s “other” founder, Allen published a 2011 memoir, “Idea Man,” detailing his productive and at times contentious relationship with Gates. Money hasn’t been everything to him, post-Microsoft. After a brush with Hodgkin’s disease led him to leave in 1983, he started using his wealth for “a life of adventure and discovery,” as a website promoting the book put it.
Allen’s net worth, which was $12.4 billion in 2003, is now pegged at $15.7 billion, ranking him among the world’s 60 wealthiest, according to the Bloomberg ranking.
He didn’t set out to buy the Seahawks, considered by odds makers a slight underdog to the Broncos in Sunday’s Super Bowl. He paid $194 million for the franchise and contributed an additional $130 million toward construction of a new stadium in Seattle.
The team is now worth $1.25 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“It’s a jewel of an asset,” said Steve Patterson, athletic director at the University of Texas and previously a sports-business consultant to National Football League owners, including Allen. Patterson was also general manager of the Allen-owned Portland Trail Blazers from 2003 to 2007.
For all of Allen’s Seahawks success, pro football isn’t a surefire bet, especially because of growing awareness of the dangers of concussions, said New York sports-media consultant Chris Bevilacqua. A federal judge this month denied approval of the NFL’s $914 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by more than 5,000 former players, saying it may be insufficient to cover all future concussion claims.
“There are risks and rewards across the marketplace, and that’s one of the risks,” Bevilacqua said.