While many of us simply measure a team’s success by the scoreboards and the standings, we can’t forget that these clubs are also businesses.
Professional sports is only becoming more and more lucrative for franchise owners, thanks primarily to the explosion of digital media over the past decade.
Here is a list of the top 10 richest sports teams in the world, according to Forbes, and a bit more information about each of them.
1. Dallas Cowboys ($4.2 billion)
Say what you want about Jerry Jones, but the guy is one hell of a businessman. The 2017 appraisal of the Cowboys valued the NFL franchise at more than $4 billion, nearly 30 times the $150 million price tag that Jones paid for the team in 1989.
Much of that growth has been recent. According to Statista, the Cowboys were worth $1.65 billion in 2009, the year that Jones built the $1.2 billion stadium that was known as “Jerry’s World” (it’s now officially called AT&T Stadium). The new stadium has practically paid for itself by now, since the Cowboys generated nearly 50% more stadium revenue in the NFL in 2017 than the second-closest team, the Patriots.
Merchandise sales also account for the Cowboys’ escalating franchise value. In 2016, Dallas players accounted for the top 3 jerseys sold in the entire NFL (and 4 out of the top 5). And thanks to Jones’ decision to opt out of a Reebok deal with the NFL in 2002, Jones gets to keep a lot of that merchandise revenue to himself.
It doesn’t seem to matter that the Cowboys haven’t won a Super Bowl since 1996, or that they’re 1-9 in the playoffs since, or that they’re an +1800 darkhorse to win Super Bowl 53. Life is good when you’re America’s Team.
2. New York Yankees ($3.7 billion)
When it comes to return on investment, the Steinbrenner family has made out even better than Jones did with the Cowboys. George Steinbrenner and company paid just $10 million to purchase the Yankees from CBS in 1973 (CBS actually took a $3.2 million loss on that transaction). Even when you factor for inflation, the value of the Bronx Bombers has grown by nearly 7,000% since then.
The Yankees easily have the largest revenue stream in Major League Baseball, thanks to the size of the New York City market, their 20% ownership of the YES Network and the premium seating money they generate at the new Yankee Stadium. They’re also the most recognizable brand in MLB, thanks to sustained excellence. From 1995-2010, the Yankees won the American League East 11 times, missed the playoffs just once, claimed 7 American League pennants and won 5 World Series championships.
After a bit of a playoff “drought” in which they missed the postseason 3 times in 4 years, the Yankees returned to the playoffs last year and came within one win of the World Series. Now that they’ve acquired 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to go with young phenom Aaron Judge, they’re the favorites to win it all in 2018, paying +525 at Bovada.
3. Manchester United ($3.69 billion)
A sixth-place finish in the Premier League in 2017 did nothing to hurt the value of Manchester United, who overtook Barcelona and Real Madrid atop the Deloitte Football Money League for the first time in 12 years.
Man United became the first soccer team from the United Kingdom to crack the 500-million-pound revenue plateau in 2016, when it generated 513 million pounds (more than $700 million U.S.) and grew those numbers to 581 million last season.
Most of United’s revenue is generated through sponsorship relationships that take advantage of its global brand as arguably the most popular soccer team in the world. That has to be frustrating for neighboring rival Manchester City (the 2 clubs are 4 miles apart), which will almost certainly win the Premier League this season and is a +300 favorite to claim the UEFA Champions League title. Man United, by comparison, is sixth on the Champions League odds at +1200.
4. Barcelona ($3.64 billion)
Barcelona may have lost out to Real Madrid in the La Liga standings in 2016-17 but it enjoyed the last laugh over its rival when it came to the year-end balance sheet. Barca overtook Real Madrid as the most valuable soccer team in Spain after its total revenue exceeded its projections by $14 million last season, representing an increase of $31 million from the previous year.
Look for Barcelona to only grow in value in the near future as well. A shirt sponsorship deal worth more than $60 million per year with Qatar Airways begins next season, an extension to a Nike deal will be worth at least $168 million more per year, and home stadium Camp Nou will be modernized and expanded by 2021. Reportedly, naming rights for the stadium ended up being worth even more than the club anticipated.
Barcelona pays +650 to win the UEFA Champions League this season.
5. Real Madrid ($3.58 billion)
The most successful team in La Liga history has also been extremely successful off the field, especially in the last 5 years. In 2013, Real’s value skyrocketed by 76% to over $3.3 billion, and it’s continued to grow ever since.
Like Barcelona and Manchester United, a large part of Real Madrid’s revenues comes from sponsorships, which raised more than $200 million for the Spanish side in 2015-16. A victory in the 2017 UEFA Champions League only helped raise their profile.
With superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale leading the way, Real is a +750 darkhorse to repeat as Champions League winners in 2017-18.
6. New England Patriots ($3.4 billion)
Robert Kraft rolled the dice on the Patriots in 1994, when he paid what was then an NFL-record $175 million to buy the New England franchise. The Patriots had made the playoffs just 6 times in their first 34 years of existence, and they played in outdated Foxboro Stadium – which, incidentally, was owned by Kraft.
Kraft’s gamble paid off big-time. The team made the playoffs in his first year of ownership and 3 more times in the next 4 years, including an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI. A few years later, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady arrived to kick off a historic run of 5 Super Bowl titles and 14 playoff appearances over the last 16 years. They’re favored to add even more to their legacy this season, going into the AFC Championship Game against Jacksonville as 9-point favorites and -110 chalk to win Super Bowl 52.
Kraft deserves credit for the growth of the franchise as well. Gillette Stadium, which Kraft built in 2002, has been sold out every game since it opened.
7. New York Knicks ($3.3 billion)
The size of the New York market has been a gold mine for the Knickerbockers, who haven’t made the NBA playoffs since 2013 and have finished below .500 in 13 of the past 16 seasons. It won’t get any better this year, either, illustrated by New York’s +20000 odds to win the Eastern Conference in 2017-18.
Despite the ineptitude on the court, the Knicks’ franchise value grew 10% last season, 20% in 2016 and nearly 50% in 2015. All teams enjoyed huge benefits when the NBA signed its huge national television deals with ESPN, ABC and TNT 2 years ago, but the Knicks also started a lucrative local cable contract in 2016 (the MSG network deal was worth $100 million in its first year) and generate the most premium-seating revenue in the entire NBA.
8. New York Giants ($3.1 billion)
Things weren’t always this rosy for the New York football Giants. Founded by bookmaker Tim Mara in 1925, the team lost $50,000 in its inaugural campaign, and ownership of the G-Men was transferred to Mara’s sons after the Stock Market Crash in 1929 to protect the team from creditors.
Since then, however, the massive New York market (let’s face it, there’s no coincidence that 3 New York City teams make up the 5 richest franchises in North America) has always given the Giants tremendous fan support. Splitting a home stadium with the New York Jets enabled the Giants to save a lot of money, and building that stadium in New Jersey led to millions of dollars in tax savings.
New York’s brand has been enhanced by a pair of Super Bowl wins over the Patriots in the last 10 years. However, the Giants bottomed out in 2017 with a disastrous 3-13 campaign, and they’re a +6000 longshot to win Super Bowl 53 on the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook look-ahead lines.
9. San Francisco 49ers ($3 billion)
It’s been a few down years for the proud 49ers franchise, with some fans even selling their private seat licenses at half the cost that they paid for them. But the Niners continue to be among the most valuable clubs in the NFL, a claim that was only strengthened by the recent construction of Levi’s Stadium in nearby Santa Clara.
In its first 3 years of existence, the new stadium hosted more non-NFL events than any other stadium, including Wrestlemania, an NHL outdoor game, the Pac-12 championship game and a few notable concerts. Throw in the extra money that seat licenses and corporate suites in a new stadium generate, and the 49ers’ financial future continues to look very bright.
It could get even brighter if San Francisco can build on the on-field success it enjoyed after acquiring quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the Patriots. With Garoppolo under center, the 49ers won their final 5 games of the campaign and are a promising +2000 at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook to hoist the Super Bowl trophy in 2019.
10. Los Angeles Lakers ($3 billion)
There is no greater royalty in the NBA than the Lakers, the second-winningest franchise in Association history with 16 titles. Even in 2015-16, when LA floundered to its worst record in franchise history, fans still came in droves to the Staples Center to support the purple and gold.
The Lakers have a huge local media rights deal with Time Warner, which helped them post a net income of $115 million in 2015-16 – nearly $25 million more than any other team in the league. If the Lake Show can manage to add LeBron James next year and ascend back into contention for the NBA title, look for the Lakers to be ranked higher on this list in 2019.