The World Cup completed on Sunday with a electrifying 4-2 victory for France over Croatia. Final global TV viewership is still being checked, but the 2010 and 2014 Finals both generated audiences of roughly one billion people. Those month-long tournaments each attracted a total TV audience of 3.2 billion.
The widespread popularity of soccer—football to everyone outside the U.S.—helps the sport’s best clubs sell merchandise and sponsorships to fans and companies in every curve of the globe. The result: three of the four most valuable sports franchises in the world are Manchester United ($4.123 billion), Real Madrid ($4.088 billion) and Barcelona ($4.064 billion). They lead a contingent of seven European soccer clubs among the 50 most valuable teams.
But despite their massive global followings, those clubs can’t reach an American football team when it comes to the franchise value standings. The Dallas Cowboys are the world’s most valuable sports team for the third straight year at $4.8 billion. America’s Team has the highest revenue ($840 million) and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization ($350 million) of any franchise.
Owner Jerry Jones can’t rely on international revenue streams to boost his team’s fortunes like the elite soccer clubs, but he built a gold-plated ATM in AT&T Stadium. The venue that opened in 2009 generates more than $100 million a year in premium seat revenue via luxury suites and club seating and $150 million from sponsors, including the team’s practice facility. Non-football events at the $1.2 billion stadium, along with tours of what is affectionately known as Jerry World, kick off tens of millions of dollars more.
There has never been a better time to own a sports franchise in a major pro league. Blockbuster TV contracts and owner-friendly collective bargaining agreements are causing record sale prices in every major U.S. sports league. The NFL’s Carolina Panthers ($2.2 billion), NBA’s Houston Rockets ($2.2 billion) and MLB’s Florida Marlins ($1.2 billion) were all sold during the past 10 months, setting records for their respective leagues in each case.
The cutoff to rank among the leading 50 sports teams is now $1.95 billion (Cleveland Browns), up $200 million from 2017. There are 106 sports franchises in total worth at least $1 billion, up from 87 last year.
The NFL lands 29 teams among the 50 most valuable sports franchises for the second straight year. Only the Cincinnati Bengals ($1.8 billion), Detroit Lions ($1.7 billion) and Buffalo Bills ($1.6 billion) failed to make the cut out of the league’s 32 teams.
The NFL has been hammered over the past two years on National Anthem protests, concussion ramifications and seemingly every move Roger Goodell makes. TV ratings are down roughly 16% during the past two years but are still the envy of every other sports TV property, with the most-watched primetime show, top broadcast on cable TV and Sunday afternoons where ratings are even higher. Thirty-seven of the 50 most-watched TV broadcasts were NFL games in 2017, according to Nielsen.
Broadcast networks pay through the nose to secure rights to NFL games in a world of eroding live TV viewership. NFL clubs split $8.2 billion, or $255 million per team, last season from shared revenue streams, with national TV deals producing the bulk of the money
The New York Yankees head six baseball teams in the top 50 with a value of $4 billion, fifth highest overall. The success of the Bronx Bombers’ youth movement has paid off on the field, as well as at the box office and on TV. Per-game attendance this year of 42,774 is the highest at Yankee Stadium since 2012. Ratings on the YES Network jumped 57% last year and were up 12% during the first two months of the 2018 season. George Steinbrenner led an investment group that paid $8.8 million for the Yankees in 1973.
New York is also home to the most valuable basketball team with the New York Knicks ($3.6 billion) ranked seventh overall and leading eight NBA teams in the top 50. The Knicks have one playoff series win over the last 18 years but are reaping the rewards of a $1 billion renovation to Madison Square Garden, which produced new revenue opportunities. Suite rental prices can run more than $1 million annually at MSG.
The biggest mover among the 50 richest teams is the Rockets, who shot up 14 spots to No. 40 at $2.2 billion, after Tilman Fertitta closed on his deal to buy the team in October. Fellow NBA teams, Brooklyn Nets ($2.3 billion) and Golden State Warriors ($3.1 billion), also jumped at least ten places, with the league’s international growth prospects the best of any U.S. sports league and big market franchises valued at record multiples of revenue.
The NFL’s New York Jets ($2.75 billion) had the biggest fall, down eight spots to No. 21. The value of the Jets was flat in Forbes’ 2017 look at the business of the NFL.
The world’s top sports teams are earning more than ever, with average profits of $103 million, up 13% over last year. Only five teams failed to earn at least $60 million, by our count.
The franchise values are based on Forbes valuations done over the past year for the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, Formula One, soccer and Nascar (no NHL, F1 or Nascar teams made the top 50). Forbes’ team values reflect enterprise values (equity plus debt) based on current venue deals unless a new venue is pending.
Rank, Team, Value, 1-Year change (Sport)
1. Dallas Cowboys, $4.8 billion, 14% (NFL)
2. Manchester United, $4.123 billion, 12% (Soccer)
3. Real Madrid, $4.09 billion, 14% (Soccer)
4. Barcelona, $4.064 billion, 12% (Soccer)
5. New York Yankees, $4 billion, 8% (MLB)
6. New England Patriots, $3.7 billion, 9% (NFL)
7. New York Knicks, $3.6 billion, 9% (NBA)
8. Los Angeles Lakers, $3.3 billion, 10% (NBA)
8. New York Giants, $3.3 billion, 6% (NFL)
10. Golden State Warriors, $3.1 billion, 19% (NBA)