Robert Kraft Has Built a Legacy Like No Other Thanks to Relationships, Business Savviness, and Passion

Robert Kraft received the Sports Business Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award. There’s simply no shortage of reasons why he received it, from the countless philanthropic acts heads made to the incredible business decisions that have built a strong, powerful success story for him. 

It’s easy to see all of that he’s accomplished with a simple look around his office at Gillette Stadium. There are pictures of Kraft with 7 presidents, rap star Meek Mill, Fanatics CEO Michal Rubin, and the Dalai Lama, to name just a few. Kraft, now 80, has lived a life that is filled with incredible moments, well beyond just what these photos show. Take a look at some of the most important parts of that spectacular life and career. 

A Humble Beginning and Fast Growth

He was born into a lower-middle-class family just outside of Boston. It was the start of the World War II era, but from his early beginnings, he was set to stand out. He sold newspapers early on before graduating from Columbia with a BA in history and economics. He was the president of this fraternity and class president. He went on to earn a master’s from Harvard Business School. 

In 1965, he began working with his father-in-law at Rand-Whitney, a packaging company, and by 1968, he bought half of his father-in-law’s interest in the company. By 1972, he would take complete control of Rand-Whitney and found International Forest Products, that combines the two companies. 

In 1983, Kraft became the director and chairman of the New England Television Corp. 

A Move into Sports and the Patriots 

In 1971, he purchased New England Patriots season tickets. That’s the same year the team moved to Schaefer Stadium in Foxborough. In 1975, Robert Kraft led up an investment group that created the World Team Tennis Boston Lobsters, though it folded just three years later. In 1985, he signed a 10-year lease with an option to purchase the Foxboro Raceway, which is located next to the Patriot’s Sullivan Stadium. 

It would be three years later, in 1988, that he bids to purchase the Patriots, but it fails. Instead, he, along with Steve Karp, a real estate developer, bought the stadium out of bankruptcy court for $25 million and, in doing so, locked the Patriots into a lease through 2001. 

The stadium noted as one of the worst in the league, would serve as a valuable tool. In 1991, he used the stadium lease to keep the current owner of the Patriots from moving the team to Jacksonville, though in 1992, James Orthwein purchased the team with plans to move it to St. Louis. 

Noting the importance of a new stadium for the team, Kraft develops a $700 million proposal to redevelop it, but it fails to get the support of officials. 

In 1994, Kraft won a bid to purchase the Patriots for $172 million, the highest price ever paid for a team in the NFL. 

During this time, Kraft is also working to build his soccer affiliation. In 1995, he became the founding investor of the New England Revolution, which was part of a 10-team Major League Soccer association. In 1998, he took operating control over the MLS San Jose Clash. 

The Building of a Stadium and a Team

After numerous negotiations, Kraft signed a conditional agreement to move the Patriots to a $374 million taxpayer funded downtown stadium, with numerous concessions from the state to help cover the costs. Construction began in 2000. The stadium would be the only one in the league with 100 percent of the facility, land, and parking costs privately paid for and 100 percent of the infrastructure costs reimbursed to the public by the team. 

Also that year, Robert Kraft hired Bill Belichick to be the head coach of the Patriots. In 2001, he helped to broker a 10-year deal worth $250 million for Reebok, run by Paul Fireman, his friend, to be the exclusive uniform supplier for the NFL. 

In the coming years, he would work to accomplish many tasks within the league, including being credited by both the league and players in securing a 10-year labor agreement that ended a 135-day lockout. The Patriots won the Lombardi Trophy three times from 2001 to 2004, as well as won it another three times between 2014 and 2018. The turnaround for the team from his purchase of it through its current successes is nothing short of incredibly on stats alone. 

Countless Philanthropic Services 

Throughout his career, Robert Kraft did what he could to support important endeavors. He was the lead giver for the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life at Columbia University. He made a $20 million donation to Partners Health Care, a nonprofit hospital in Boston, and launched the Kraft Center for Community Health Leadership. 

Creating Success

Part of Robert Kraft’s success comes from the incredible relationships he builds, not just with business leaders and politicians, but with athletes, musicians, celebrities of all types, and everyday people who he consistently aims to support. In 2020, just after the pandemic shutdowns began, he sent a team to China to bring back 1.2 million N95 masks for front line workers. 

In total, the Kraft family has donated more than $800 million to charitable causes, including covering tuition for college students and supporting numerous educational funds. In most of his instances of giving, Kraft does not create a one-off gift but rather works to establish leadership programs and other programs that continue to give and support the community around him in various ways. 

There’s little doubt that Kraft is a true business leader and has managed to build an incredible organization from a business standpoint. Yet, for many people, it’s the turning around of the Patriots as well as the countless opportunities for giving that have defined Kraft as a leader in Boston, in the NFL, and around the world. These are just a few short bits of his legacy that continues to be built.

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