Dallas Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones will be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton next month as a “contributor to the game.” Jones won three Super Bowls during his first seven years in the league. He helped push the NFL’s TV package revenue to $7 billion per year and was a key figure in the latest collective bargaining agreement with the players and the Rams’ relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles.
But Jones’ crowning achievement has been transforming America’s Team from a franchise losing $1 million a month to a financial juggernaut with $300 million in annual operating profit. Jones bought the Cowboys in 1989 for $150 million, including $10 million to cover deferred salaries, and built the club into the most valuable team in sports, worth $4.2 billion. It is the second straight year the Cowboys lord over all other teams.
The Cowboys posted an NFL-record $700 million in revenue during the 2015 season, $177 million more than any other team. Jones’ latest venture is a $1.5 billion team headquarters and practice facility in Frisco, Texas, that opened in 2016. The Star will eventually be a 91-acre retail and entertainment complex with a 16-story Omni hotel, convention area and medical center. The team sold out 800 memberships to the Cowboys Club at The Star. The $4,500 initiation fee plus $350 a month gives members a chance to watch the Cowboys practice.
The Cowboys lead 29 NFL teams among the world’s 50 most valuable (only the Bengals, Lions and Bills missed the cut). Credit the massive profitability across the league — every team turned a profit of at least $26 million for the 2015 season. NFL owners are also in line for a windfall from the relocations of the Rams, Chargers and Raiders. The other 29 teams will each receive more than $50 million in relocation fees, with none of that money shared with the players.
The New York Yankees are undergoing a youth movement on the field led by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, but the team’s finances are still tops in baseball. The Yankees are the world’s second most valuable team, worth $3.7 billion, up 9% from 2016, when the Bronx Bombers ranked fourth. The Yankees have the highest sponsorship revenue ($120 million) and premium seating revenue ($130 million) in the sport.
A trio of soccer clubs round out the top five, with Manchester United leapfrogging Spanish titans Barcelona ($3.64 billion) and Real Madrid ($3.58 billion). United is worth $3.69 billion, up 11% over last year.
Premier League clubs have the biggest domestic and international TV deals among soccer leagues; United separates itself from the pack with its sponsorship and advertising haul, which hit $405 million for the 2015-16 season. General Motors pays an average of $80 million annually to promote its Chevy brand on the shirts of the Red Devils. Adidas outbid Nike for kit manufacturer/sponsor rights in a deal that’s worth nearly $1 billion over 10 years, starting from the ‘15-‘16 season.
In addition to the 29 teams from the NFL among the top 50 (versus 27 last year), there are eight MLB (up from seven) and seven each from the NBA and European soccer (both had eight entries in 2016). The top 50 is comprised of 51 teams thanks to a tie at the bottom: The New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are both worth $1.75 billion. The cutoff is up 18% from $1.48 billion last year. Overall, there are 87 sports franchises worldwide now worth at least $1 billion.
The Rams were the biggest gainer, moving from outside the top 50 to No. 12 with a worth of $2.9 billion. The value of the franchise doubled by our count with the team’s relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles last year. Owner Stanley Kroenke is footing the bill for a $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, Calif., to house the Rams and newly relocated Chargers. The stadium is projected to open for the 2020 NFL season.
Two teams (Houston Rockets and Liverpool FC) fell out of the top 50, while British soccer club Arsenal had the biggest decline, falling 20 spots to No. 43. Arsenal’s value fell 4% to $1.93 billion largely due to the decline in the British pound following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. In a strange twist of fate, Arsenal’s biggest shareholder is Kroenke, whose fortune rose with the Rams’ move.
Almost everyone in the top 50 is making bank, with 43 teams earning at least $50 million on an operating basis (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and 19 franchises north of $100 million in the most recent seasons we examined. Only two were in the red: the Los Angeles Dodgers lost $20.5 million and the Los Angeles Clippers are estimated to have lost $11.8 million. Both L.A. franchises sported massive payrolls triggering luxury tax payments in their respective sports.
The franchise values are based on Forbes valuations done over the past year for NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, F1, 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.