The most valuable sports franchises
It was just 2012 when Manchester United became the first sports franchise to be worth $2 billion. Now there are more than 50 teams worldwide with such a value, according to Forbes’ valuations. Securing favorable broadcasting deals and reaching a global audience has helped many of the franchises in the top 10, but unique marketing techniques have also played a role. Winning, of course, goes a long way toward building popularity and value, but not every team on this list — we’re looking at you, Knicks — has actually been good at sports lately. Playing in a big market helps. These rankings are based on Forbes’ 2019 valuations.
Dallas Cowboys, $5 billion
The Cowboys cemented their reputation as “America’s Team” with their frequent national TV appearances in the 1970s, when they appeared in five Super Bowls and won two. Jerry Jones took things up a notch when he bought the team in 1989, hired Jimmy Johnson, and built a team that won three Super Bowls in four seasons in the ’90s. Though the Cowboys haven’t been back to the big game since, Jones opened the world’s first billion dollar stadium in 2009 and has continued to grow the team’s value year on year.
New York Yankees, $4.6 billion
The sports franchise with perhaps the richest history of winning, having captured 27 World Series titles, the Yankees play in New York and have a global following. Four championships in five years from 1996-2000 helped the Yankees cement their status in the modern era after an 18-year drought. They opened the new Yankee Stadium in 2009 and won the World Series that year. Though they haven’t won since, they make millions of dollars off their own regional sports network and are perennial contenders.
Real Madrid, $4.24 billion
Another case of a big market combining with winning and multimedia projects to build a global following, Real Madrid won four Champions League titles in five years last decade along with two domestic La Liga triumphs. The club has parlayed that success into movies, including a documentary feature about the team, a quarterly fan magazine, and its own digital TV channel with a wide subscription base, Real Madrid TV. Cristiano Ronaldo has headed to Juventus and last season was disappointing, but Los Blancos remain in contention for the La Liga and Champions League crowns this year.
Barcelona, $4.02 billion
Real Madrid’s bitter rival on the pitch is also its rival for the title of most valuable soccer team. Barca has always been “more than a club,” evolving into a symbol of Catalan identity. The team’s monetary value has skyrocketed during the remarkable career of Lionel Messi. The Blaugrana have won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions League crowns since Messi’s debut. His mind-blowing performances have helped Barcelona stay atop the rankings of most valuable sports franchises for more than a decade.
New York Knicks, $4 billion
Perhaps they’re the exception that proves the rule, but the Knicks have steadily increased their value and held a spot among the leading sports franchises off the court. They haven’t had a winning record since 2013 and won’t have one this season without a long winning streak. Fans are in open revolt against governor James Dolan, but they still tune in to Dolan’s MSG Networks and keep coming to Madison Square Garden for games.
Manchester United, $3.81 billion
The team has struggled on the field since Sir Alex Ferguson retired from management after 13 Premier League and two Champions League titles, and crosstown rivals Manchester City have taken over as the city’s best team, but Man U still enjoys status as a global brand and takes in the most revenue of any English club. A key deal with Nike and dedicated channel MUTV ensure the Red Devils stay in the public eye.
New England Patriots, $3.8 billion
A quarter-century ago, the Patriots were facing the prospect of moving to St. Louis. Then Robert Kraft bought the team for $175 million and kept it in the Boston area. During Kraft’s tenure, the Pats have reached the Super Bowl 10 times, winning a record-tying six. Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have cemented legacies as the best ever at their positions and the team has been a driving force behind record NFL revenues, with Kraft playing a crucial role in negotiating the end of a lockout and saving the 2011 season.
Los Angeles Lakers, $3.7 billion
The Lakers were NBA royalty before they left Minneapolis for the glitz and glamor of LA. They won five championships from 1949-54 then moved west in 1960. They won again in 1972 before helping reinvigorate the league with five championships in the Showtime era of the ’80s and another five from 2000-10. Those successful Lakers teams have been built around such stars as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. Led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, they’re among the title favorites this year.
Golden State Warriors, $3.5 billion
Though beset by injuries and near the bottom of the standings this season, the Warriors built a dynasty that coincided with the emergence of the Bay Area as the epicenter of the tech and venture capital boom. The Warriors have made five straight trips to the NBA Finals, winning three times, and moved back to San Francisco from Oakland this season to play in the new Chase Center. Though this is a down year and Kevin Durant has left, the Warriors expect to have Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson back healthy next season, plus they’re likely to have a high draft pick. Regardless of how it goes, Warriors governorship — led by venture capitalist Joe Lacob — has seen big returns on its $450 million purchase of the sports franchise in 2010.
Again, it helps to be in a large market. The Giants managed to topple the Patriots dynasty in a pair of Super Bowls, including ending New England’s quest for a perfect season in 2007-08. They also opened the $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium with the Jets in 2010. The Dodgers have played in the same stadium since 1962, but since Guggenheim Baseball Management bought the team for $2.15 billion in 2012, the Dodgers haven’t had a losing season. Though they haven’t won a World Series, they’ve made the playoffs seven years in a row.