Jim Irsay is one of the more outgoing owners in the NFL. After a dozen years as the Indianapolis Colts’ vice president and general manager, he took over ownership of the team in 1997. While Irsay certainly has a strong interest in football, he’s made a name for himself in other ways, too.
The Jim Irsay Band has performed free concerts in cities across the United States. His band has welcomed several star musicians, including John Mellencamp, Buddy Guy, Ann Wilson, and more.
Irsay has also invested in memorabilia, primarily in music and sports. He’s spent decades building up the Jim Irsay Collection, and it’s proven quite valuable. In fact, he once turned down an offer of $1.15 billion for the entire collection.
“I turned it down because, to me, No. 1, it’s priceless,” Irsay told ESPN. “And No. 2, I never started the collection for that reason, to look at it and say, ‘Oh, this is going to be a great investment.‘”
This collection is more of a passion project than anything else, but we can’t help but wonder…what are some of the most valuable items Irsay has obtained?
Muhammad Ali’s 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” Championship Belt — $6.18 million
One of the more recent items in Irsay’s collection, the owner nabbed this piece of boxing history in 2022. Ali defeated George Foreman in Zaire (present-day Congo) and established himself as the greatest boxer in the world. Irsay needed to display Ali-esque perseverance to obtain it — he went through a five-hour bidding war before finally winning.
Kurt Cobain’s Guitar From The “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Music Video — $4.6 million
Nirvana was a revolutionary band, introducing much of the world to grunge and ushering in a new era of rock music. Though Dave Grohl has put together an impressive career with the Foo Fighters (and featuring in bands like Queens of the Stone Age), Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain still remains a legend, even nearly 30 years after his death. Of course, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” a song inspired by deodorant, became an anthem, sold millions of copies, and is routinely included on lists of the best songs ever. The music video is equally the stuff of lore, with Cobain encouraging extras to destroy the set after a long, tedious day of filming. Cobain’s Fender Mustang he uses in the video — which retails for about $800 to $1,400 when not played by Kurt Cobain — is now one of the priciest items in Irsay’s collection. Irsay was drawn to Cobain’s struggles with depression, empathizing with the fallen star.
David Gilmour’s “Black Strat” — $3.975 million
Depending on the model, a standard Fender Stratocaster costs between $500 and $2,500 to buy. Of course, when you’re the guitarist of one of the world’s biggest bands, your Stratocaster can skyrocket in value. Irsay, as we’ll see, has an extensive collection of guitars and was able to get this classic axe from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour for just under $4 million.
The Original Manuscript Of On the Road — $2.43 million
Whether you’re a fan of the Beatnik movement or not, you’ve likely heard of Jack Kerouac’s famous book. The original manuscript of On the Road spans 120 feet, a scroll of tracing paper sheets cut and taped together. Could you imagine reading the book in that format?
The Original Alcoholics Anonymous Book — $2.4 million
Irsay has struggled with drugs and alcohol over the years, so the original Alcoholics Anonymous book likely holds extra sentimental value for him. This purchase not only comes from the original print run nearly a century ago, but it also features handwritten notes from author Bill Wilson, who cofounded AA.
Ringo Starr’s Bass Drum From The Ed Sullivan Show – $2 million
The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show happened nearly 60 years ago — 1964, to be exact — but it’s still one of the most iconic moments in pop culture history. This performance was the introduction of the Brits to the American public, and the screaming fans were so loud you could hardly hear the music. The bass drum of drummer Ringo Starr, which prominently featured “The Beatles” on the head, was a major star of the show. And since it’s a cultural milestone, Irsay had to have it in his collection. He’s also spent $2.2 million on Starr’s first Ludwig drum kit and put down more than $700,000 for a piano John Lennon owned at one point.
Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes Saddle — $2 million
This saddle is the latest addition to Irsay’s collection on this list. Secretariat is the most dominant horse in racing history. He won the 1973 Belmont Stakes with a 31-length victory, securing the Triple Crown. Earlier this year, Irsay purchased the saddle that jockey Ron Turcotte rode on that day in 1973 for an even $2 million.
Bob Dylan’s 1965 Newport Guitar — $965,000
Bob Dylan is arguably the most important songwriter in American folk history. At the start of his career, he primarily only played acoustic guitar without a backing band. But on July 25, 1965, he performed his first electric concert during the Newport Folk Festival. Some members of the audience were unhappy with this decision and voiced their displeasure by booing. Today, however, the guitar is held in high esteem. Irsay purchased it in December 2013, and on July 25, 2015 — 50 years after the original Newport concert — singer-songwriter Jason Isbell played Dylan’s guitar during a tribute set at the Newport Folk Festival.
Elton John’s Touring Piano — $915,000
Elton John’s piano is nearly as recognizable as his glasses. Irsay had to outduel Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-owner Ed Glazer for this piece of memorabilia; the Bucs owner sent an email congratulating Irsay on his successful bid (and likely cursing him under his breath).
It’s clear Irsay has spent a ton of money amassing all this memorabilia over the years. Even if he doesn’t plan to sell any of the items, the collection has only added to his wealth. His net worth sits at about $4 billion. We expect that number to continue to increase, both as the value of football franchises rises and as Irsay obtains more memorabilia.
Who knows? If you ever find yourself bidding on an item online, you could be dueling with Irsay himself. Just don’t expect him to go easy on you.