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Robert Kenneth Kraft[2] (born June 5, 1941) is an American businessman. He is the chairman and chief executive officer of the Kraft Group, a diversified holding company with assets in paper and packaging, sports and entertainment, real estate development and a private equity portfolio. He is the owner of the National Football League's New England Patriots, Major League Soccer's New England Revolution, and Gillette Stadium, where both teams play. He also owns the Boston Uprising, the first eSports team in New England.

Robert Kraft
Robert Kraft at Patriots at Raiders 12-14-08.JPG
Kraft in 2008, at a Patriots-Raiders game
Born
Robert Kenneth Kraft

(1941-06-05) June 5, 1941 (age 78)
Alma materColumbia University (BA)
Harvard University (MBA)
OccupationBusinessman
Years active1994–present
Net worthUS$6.6 billion, (September 2018)[1]
Political partyDemocratic[2][3]
Spouse(s)
Myra Hiatt
(m. 1963; died 2011)
Partner(s)Ricki Noel Lander
(2012–2018)
Children4, including Jonathan

Football career
New England Patriots
Position:Principal owner
Career history
As executive:
Career highlights and awards

Early lifeEdit

Kraft was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, the son of Sarah Bryna (Webber) and Harry Kraft, a dress manufacturer in Boston's Chinatown.[4] His mother was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.[5] His father was a lay leader at Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline and wanted his son to become a rabbi.[2] The Krafts were a Modern Orthodox Jewish family. Robert grew up in Brookline, where he attended the Edward Devotion School[6] and in 1959, he graduated from Brookline High School, where he was senior class president.[7][8][9] During high school, Kraft was unable to participate in most sports because it interfered with his after-school Hebrew studies and observance of the Sabbath.[2]

Kraft attended Columbia University, where he served as class president.[10] While at Columbia, Kraft joined Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and played running back and safety on the school's freshman and lightweight football teams.[2][8][11][12] On February 2, 1962, Kraft met Myra Hiatt at a delicatessen in Boston's Back Bay.[2] They married in June 1963.[13] That same year, Kraft graduated from Columbia, and in 1965, he received an MBA from Harvard Business School.[2]

At the age of 27, Kraft was elected chairman of the Newton Democratic City Committee. He considered running against Massachusetts's 3rd congressional district Representative Philip J. Philbin in 1970, but chose not to, citing the loss of privacy and strain on his family entering politics would have caused. He was further discouraged from entering politics by the suicide of his friend, State Representative H. James Shea, Jr.[2]

Business careerEdit

Kraft began his professional career with the Rand-Whitney Group, a Worcester-based packaging company run by his father-in-law Jacob Hiatt.[8] In 1968, he gained control of the company through a leveraged buyout.[2] He still serves as this company's chairman. In 1972, he founded International Forest Products, a trader of physical paper commodities. The two combined companies make up the largest privately held paper and packaging companies in the United States. Kraft has stated that he started the company out of a hunch that the increase in international communications and transportation would lead to an expansion of global trade in the late twentieth century.[14]

International Forest Products became a top 100 US exporter/importer in 1997 and in 2013 was ranked No. 20 on the Journal of Commerce's list in that category.[15][16] Kraft said of the business in 1991 that, "We do things for a number of companies, including Avon, Kodak, cosmetics companies, candies, toys." The company produced both corrugated and folding cartons, which he stated, "are used to package everything from the Patriot missile, to mints, to Estee Lauder, Indiana Glass and Polaroid."[17] Kraft acquired interests in other areas, and ultimately formed the Kraft Group as an umbrella for them in 1998.[14]

Kraft was an investor in New England Television Corp., which gained control of WNAC-TV in 1982,[18] and Kraft became a director of the board in 1983. The station then became WNEV-TV. In 1986, he was named president of the corporation.[19] In 1991, Kraft exercised his option to unload his shares for an estimated $25 million.[20]

Sports teamsEdit

Boston Lobsters and early bids for sports teamsEdit

In 1974, Kraft and five others purchased the Boston Lobsters of World Team Tennis (WTT).[21] The group spent heavily to lure a number of top players, including Martina Navratilova, and the Lobsters became one of the best teams in WTT. Following the 1978 season, Kraft announced that the franchise would fold.[22] The league itself folded soon thereafter.[2]

After the Lobsters folded, Kraft was also mentioned as a bidder for the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Celtics.[2]

New England PatriotsEdit

Kraft and Bill Belichick with the last three Presidents, Bush (pictured in May 2004), Obama (pictured in April 2015) and Trump (pictured in April 2017) at the Patriots' respective White House ceremonies

A Patriots fan since their American Football League days, Kraft has been a season ticket holder since 1971, when the team moved to the then-Schaefer Stadium.[8] In 1985, Kraft bought a 10-year option on Foxboro Raceway, a horse track adjacent to the stadium. The purchase prevented Patriots owner Billy Sullivan from holding non-Patriot events at Sullivan Stadium while races were being held.[23] Kraft took advantage of the fact that the Sullivans owned the stadium, but not the surrounding land. It was the beginning of a quest to buy not only the stadium, but the Patriots as well.[24] Sullivan's family was reeling from a series of bad investments, principally The Jackson Five 1984 Victory Tour, for which they had to pledge Sullivan Stadium as collateral.[25] Those problems ultimately forced Sullivan to sell controlling interest of the team in 1988, while the stadium lapsed into bankruptcy.[26]

In 1988, Kraft outbid several competitors to buy the stadium out of bankruptcy court from Sullivan for $22 million. The stadium was considered to be outdated and nearly worthless, but the purchase included the stadium's lease to the Patriots, which ran through 2001.[27] While Kraft placed a bid on the Patriots franchise as well, he lost the bidding to Victor Kiam.[28] The lease was ironclad enough to end Sullivan's three-decade involvement with the Patriots. When he and Kiam tried to move the team to Jacksonville, Kraft refused to let them break the lease. As a result, when Kiam was nearly brought down by bad investments of his own, he was forced to sell the Patriots to James Orthwein.[26]

Ever since Orthwein had bought the team in 1992, there had been constant rumors that he wanted to move the Patriots to St. Louis. In 1994, Orthwein offered Kraft $75 million to buy out the remainder of the team's lease at what was now Foxboro Stadium. Had Kraft accepted Orthwein's offer, it would have cleared the last significant hurdle to moving the team. However, Kraft turned it down.[29][30][31][32]

By 1994, Orthwein was not interested in operating the team in New England long-term, and decided to sell it. Due to the terms of the operating covenant, any prospective buyers had to deal with Kraft. With this in mind, Kraft made an offer for an outright purchase of the team for $172 million, which Orthwein accepted. At the time, it was the highest price ever paid for an NFL team.[33] Years later, Kraft said his passion for the Patriots led him to "break every one of my financial rules" in his pursuit of the team. Kraft has stated he keeps a Victory Tour poster among his mementos as a reminder of what allowed him to realize his longstanding dream of becoming a major league team owner.[24]

Following the NFL's approval of the sale, the Patriots sold out their entire 1994 season – the first full sellout in franchise history. Every home game – including preseason, regular season, and playoffs – has been sold out ever since.[34]

In 1998, Kraft considered moving the Patriots to Hartford, Connecticut, based on an offer that the state of Connecticut would finance a new stadium in downtown Hartford. On April 30, 1998, Kraft terminated the deal just before it would become binding, choosing to instead build a new stadium in Foxboro with Commonwealth of Massachusetts infrastructure funding.[35]

In 2002, a $350-million stadium for the Patriots was privately financed by Kraft, initially called the CMGI Field (later renamed Gillette Stadium).[36] In 2007, Kraft began to develop the land around Gillette Stadium, creating a $375-million open-air shopping and entertainment center called Patriot Place. The development included "The Hall at Patriot Place presented by Raytheon," a multi-story museum and hall of fame attached to the stadium, and the "CBS Scene," a CBS-themed restaurant.[37][38]

Under Kraft's ownership, the Patriots experienced newfound and sustained success. While the Patriots appeared in Super Bowl XX under their original owners, the Sullivans, this was one of only six playoff appearances in 34 years. Since Kraft bought the team, however, they have made the playoffs 19 times in 24 years. They won AFC East titles in 1996, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018; they represented the AFC in the Super Bowl that concluded each of the following seasons: 1996 (lost), 2001 (won), 2003 (won), 2004 (won), 2007 (lost), 2011 (lost), 2014 (won), 2016 (won), 2017 (lost), and 2018 (won). The Patriots finished the 2003, 2004, 2010, and 2016 seasons with identical 14–2 regular-season records – after having never won more than 11 games prior to Kraft buying the team – and finished the 2007 regular season at 16–0 before losing to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII.[39]

Kraft was principally involved in the 2011 NFL labor negotiations. NFLPA representative and Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday praised Kraft for his role in the negotiations, stating, "without him, this deal does not get done... He is a man who helped us save football."[40]

In 2005, it was reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin had taken one of Kraft's three Super Bowl rings. Kraft quickly issued a statement saying that he had given Putin the ring out of "respect and admiration" he had for the Russian people and Putin's leadership.[41] Kraft later said his earlier statement was not true, and had been issued under pressure from the White House.[42][43][44][45] The ring is on display with state gifts at the Kremlin.[46]

Former Patriot Ryan O'Callaghan wrote in his book that Kraft supported him when he publicly came out as gay in 2017. According to O'Callaghan, Kraft invited him to a reception and said, "What you did took a lot of courage. I'm so proud of you" and that he would be "forever a Patriot".[47]

SoccerEdit

In 1996, Kraft founded the New England Revolution, a charter member of Major League Soccer which began playing alongside the Patriots at Foxboro Stadium.[48] Kraft also owned the San Jose Clash (later San Jose Earthquakes) from 1998 to 2000.[49]

In November 2005, Kraft met with Rick Parry, the Chief Executive of English Premier League team Liverpool. Kraft was rumored to be interested in investing money into the 2004–05 Champions League winners. Kraft told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Liverpool is a great brand and it's something our family respects a lot. We're always interested in opportunities and growing, so you never know what can happen." Eventually, however, the club was sold to American duo George Gillett and Tom Hicks.[50] Liverpool is now owned by Fenway Sports Group, owners of fellow Boston-based sport team the Boston Red Sox.

In October 2017, Kraft said he was "still intrigued" by the possibility of buying a Premier League football club, but that he was concerned about the lack of a salary cap in UK football.[51]

In 2017, Kraft was named the Honorary Chairman of the Board of Directors for the successful joint Canadian-Mexican-American bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

EsportsEdit

Blizzard Entertainment announced in July 2017 that Kraft bought ownership in the Boston Uprising, one of the first seven teams for the professional esports Overwatch League.[52] They played in Season 1 of the Overwatch League. Preseason for the league began December 6, 2017, and the regular season started on January 10, 2018.[53] Boston Uprising finished third in the Overwatch League's inaugural season.[54]

PhilanthropyEdit

The Krafts have donated over $100 million to a variety of philanthropic causes including education, child- and women-related issues, healthcare, youth sports and American and Israeli causes.[55]

Israel and Jewish causesEdit

One of their most distinctive projects is supporting American Football Israel, including Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem and the Kraft Family Israel Football League. In 2017, Kraft announced a contribution of $6 million to build the first ever regulation size American football field in Israel.[56] In June 2017, Robert Kraft, along with several NFL Hall of Famers, traveled to Israel for the grand opening of the new Kraft Family Sports Campus.[57] In December 2018, following Pittsburgh synagogue shooting at Tree of Life, Kraft visited the synagogue to pay his respects and attended services with the congregation[58] before the Patriots played the Steelers in a game the next day.

In 2000, Kraft donated $11.5 million to construct the Columbia/Hillel which is made of the same white stone used in Jerusalem.[59]

Combatting the boycotts against IsraelEdit

In June 2019, Kraft received Israel's prestigious Genesis Prize, a $1 million award granted to an individual who is committed to Jewish values and is an inspiration to the next generation of Jews. At the Jerusalem event, Kraft pledged $20 million to establish a foundation that will fight antisemitism and combat the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, also known as BDS.[60][61]

EducationEdit

In 1990 Kraft, his wife, and his father-in-law funded a joint professorship between Brandeis University and Holy Cross College, forming the Kraft-Hiatt endowed chairs in comparative religion – the first inter-religious endowed chairs in the United States.[62]

Among the many institutions the Krafts have supported are Columbia University, Harvard Business School, Brandeis University, The College of the Holy Cross, Boston College, Tufts University, the Belmont Hill School, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston.

In 2007, in recognition of a gift of $5 million in support of Columbia's intercollegiate athletics program, the playing field at Columbia's Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at the Baker Field Athletics Complex was named Robert K. Kraft Field.

HealthcareEdit

In 2011, the Krafts pledged $20 million to Partners HealthCare to launch the Kraft Family National Center for Leadership and Training in Community Health,[63] an initiative designed to improve access to quality healthcare at community health centers throughout New England. The Krafts supported the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Following the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombings, Kraft announced he would match up to $100,000 in donations made for the victims through the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation.[64]

In 2017, Kraft funded a new van as part of the Kraft Center for Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital in order to help combat the opioid crisis in Boston. The vans allows those struggling with opioid addiction to seek health services in their own neighborhood.[65]

MiscellaneousEdit

On July 13, 2019, Kraft pledged $100,000 to the families of seven motorcyclists killed in a crash the month before.[66] "Kraft joined thousands of bikers at a memorial event for the victims outside Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. and pledged to donate the money to a GoFundMe page set up to assist the victims' families. All seven of those killed in the June 21 crash were members or supporters of the Jarheads, a New England motorcycle club that includes Marines and their spouses. 'The Jarheads are what makes America the greatest,' Kraft told the crowd. 'We are all Patriots and you are the true patriots.'"

Personal lifeEdit

FamilyEdit

In June 1963, Kraft married Myra Nathalie Hiatt, a 1964 graduate of Brandeis University and the daughter of the late Worcester, Massachusetts, businessman and philanthropist Jacob Hiatt. She died due to ovarian cancer, aged 68, on July 20, 2011.[67][68] The Krafts were members of Temple Emanuel in Newton, Massachusetts.[69] A patch bearing Kraft's initials (MHK) appeared on the Patriots' uniform jersey throughout the 2011 season.[70] The couple had four sons:[71]

Ricki Noel LanderEdit

In June 2012, Kraft began dating actress Ricki Noel Lander, who is 39 years younger than he.[73][74][75] In July 2012, Kraft assisted Lander in creating an audition video for a role in The Internship, a then-upcoming Vince Vaughn/Owen Wilson film. In the video, Kraft reads Wilson's lines for a bikini-clad Lander, dances briefly, curses, and throws a punch at another actor. After an anonymously supplied copy of the video was hosted on the Barstool Sports website, it went viral and became a subject of commentary on late night television. In a statement, Kraft said, "I tried to help Ricki prepare an audition tape ... I never intended that it would be made public and I regret that it has. I think we can all agree that Owen Wilson has nothing to worry about. I am going to stick to my day job."[76][77][78][79]

Lander gave birth to a child in the fall of 2017. While there was speculation that Kraft was the father, he denied paternity of the child when the birth was announced in May 2018.[80]

Kraft and Lander broke up in 2018.[81]

2019 solicitation chargesEdit

On February 22, 2019, the police chief of Jupiter, Florida, announced that Kraft would face two misdemeanor charges for "soliciting another to commit prostitution", stemming from a human trafficking sweep in Jupiter.[82][83] Investigators suspected the managers at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, where Kraft was allegedly video recorded in sexual activity, were sex trafficking women, forcing the women to perform sex acts on clients.[84][85] Deputies had begun to monitor the day spas, and were able to place hidden cameras inside the facility. They claim Kraft was caught on camera "receiving the alleged acts" (believed to be oral sex),[86] according to the lead investigator.[87][88] A spokesperson for Kraft issued a statement to "categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity."[89][90] On February 25, Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, announced that Kraft was among 25 people facing first-degree misdemeanor charges for soliciting prostitution at the Jupiter day spa.[91] The next day, Kraft's attorney electronically entered a not guilty plea in Palm Beach County.[92][93] Kraft has assembled a legal "dream team" to provide his defense, namely Alex Spiro, William Burck, and Jeffrey Goldberger.[94]

On March 19, men arrested in the sting operation, including Kraft, were offered a plea deal that would require 100 hours of community service, attending classes concerning the dangers of prostitution, and paying a $5,000 fine for each charge count.[95][96] While accepting the plea deal would lead to cases being expunged, it would require defendants to admit "that they would have been found guilty had the case gone to trial."[84] In a statement released on March 22, Kraft stated, "I am truly sorry."[97] His attorney William Burck has stated, "There was no human trafficking and law enforcement knows it," while also asserting evidence in the case, from hidden cameras inside the spa and traffic stops, was obtained illegally.[97] On March 26, Kraft's lawyers submitted a court filing, in which Kraft "waives arraignment, pleads not guilty to all charges and requests a jury trial."[98] On April 2, papers filed by Kraft's attorneys revealed that the hidden video cameras at the day spa had been installed when investigators entered the facility under the guise of a bomb threat in January.[99] Kraft's legal team seeks to have the video recordings suppressed as evidence.[99] His lawyers also sought to bar the videos from being released to the public; although on April 17, Florida prosecutors said they "cannot delay the release of records" and that they intended to release pixelated videos.[100] Later that day, Florida Circuit Court Judge Joseph Marx ordered that the videos not be released prior to a hearing,[101] and on April 23, Judge Leonard Hanser temporarily sealed the videos until a jury is selected or the case against Kraft is otherwise resolved.[102] On May 13, Judge Hanser further ruled that prosecutors cannot use the videos in their case against Kraft, as detectives "did not do enough to minimize the invasion of privacy of other customers."[103] On October 1, prosecutors submitted a formal appeal of that ruling to suppress video evidence.[104]

Awards and honorsEdit

Kraft has received numerous honorary degrees from several colleges and universities and was awarded the NCAA's highest honor when he received the Theodore Roosevelt Award,[105] "presented annually to a distinguished citizen of national reputation and outstanding accomplishments."

ReferencesEdit

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