The net worth of sports teams: US domination and what Europe needs to do to compete

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When speaking about sports teams, which come to mind first? It depends where you’re from, but an average sports fan will always give you a few team names like the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Yankees, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and so on. The most popular teams are also some of the most valuable in terms of net worth. Every year, Forbes establishes a ranking of the 50 most valuable sports teams in the world. This ranking is based on a calculation where team values reflect enterprise values (equity plus debt).

Analyzing the ranking

Forbes

Let’s analyze the top 25 ranked teams. There’s a lot of stars and stripes, right? As a matter of fact, only five of them are non-US. Even though Europeans are not part of the majority, they still get a nice share of the cake with some of the highest-ranking positions, thanks to Real Madrid and Barcelona in third and fourth place, respectively. Looking even closer, we notice that only four sports are represented in this ranking: American football, baseball, soccer and basketball. No teams from the NHL, Nascar, MLS or Formula One made it to the top 50, which is quite surprising considering their perceived value on an international scale. The top-ranked franchise outside of the four primary sports was the New York Rangers ice-hockey team at 72nd, worth USD 1.55 billion.

Exponential vision leads to exponential growth

Looking back, in 2012 Manchester United was seated at the top of the ranking, but they were also the world’s only pro sports team worth more than USD 2 billion at that time. Nowadays, there are at least 50 of them, including almost every NFL team. 

Another interesting fact is that there is no direct correlation between ranking and number of championships won in recent years. Other more important factors come into play, like marketing and business acumen. Which in part explains how the Dallas Cowboys, a team that hasn’t won a single NFL championship since 1996, made it on the list. Their charismatic owner for the last 30 years, Jerry Jones has always been a visionary in the NFL and in the sport’s world in general. 

“Everyone knows that marketing, especially in this day and time, is just another way to promote the circus, so to speak.” Jerry Jones
Here are some of the memorable steps he took to bring the Dallas Cowboys into another dimension, especially in terms of branding: 
  •  He revolutionized stadium sponsorships
    • The NFL Trust was created to establish license agreements and increase the value of the NFL teams: all NFL teams are worth more together than if each of them attempted to negotiate licensing deals on their own, especially against big corporate groups. Jerry Jones rerouted the system in 1995 when he entered into multi-million-dollar sponsorship agreements with American Express, Pepsi and Nike – all NFL Sponsors at the time – through Texas Stadium Corporation, the Dallas Cowboys’ home stadium also owned by Jones. 
  • He broke away from the NFL’s shared merchandise revenue system:
    •  In 2002, rather than leave their marketing management to the NFL's new apparel partner, Reebok International, the Dallas Cowboys marketed and distributed their own merchandise, becoming the first and only NFL franchise to do so. Jerry Jones always said he was an advocate for clubs managing their own brands and logos, making him one of the first to have this philosophy in the league. 
  • He launched a stadium-management firm, Legends Hospitality: 
    • In 2008, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner announced a joint business venture called Legends Hospitality Management LLC (aka Legends), which would operate the concessions and merchandising sales at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and at the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York, along with the stadiums of the Yankees' minor league affiliates. This company helps teams build and operate stadiums, in addition to selling naming rights and license seats. Legends has a wealth of knowledge about running franchises and sporting venues, and has since been working with multiple teams. For example, the Los Angeles Rams contracted Legends when the team moved from Saint-Louis to the city of Angels. 
  • He opened a USD 1.5 billion practice facility in 2017:   
    • The AT&T Stadium, a 91-acre campus in Frisco, Texas worth USD 1.5 billion, hosts the headquarters and practice facility for the Dallas Cowboys. “The Star”, as they call it, is more than a home for the Dallas Cowboys, it’s a state-of-the-art facility exemplifying Jerry Jones’s work ethos. Among other things, attention to detail, clockwork organization and pioneering vision contribute to its status as an industry leader. On every wall, in every corner, you’ll see large metallic quotes such as “It is a privilege, not a right, to play, coach and work for the Dallas Cowboys”. These reminders reinforce the culture he has set for his team, as well as his staff, and speak to his leadership style. 
Many US league teams have followed Jones’s footsteps and are now flying high in the ranking of most valuable teams. 

Brandon Wade / AP

Two teams, different angles

So how do some of these teams get to this ranking? For the Dallas Cowboys, ranked No. 1 this year, even if they haven’t won a Championship in over 20 years, it helps that they are one of the teams with the most Superbowl wins in the history of the NFL. The New York Knicks, a popular NBA team in the nineties, hold the fifth spot even with their track record of only two championship victories, compared to the 17 won by the Boston Celtics. The Knicks main advantage is location. New York is a gigantic city with a huge potential viewership, loads of corporate seats and an international appeal. Knicks owner James Dolan, who also owns Madison Square Garden properties, intelligently invites fans to “Come see the best players in the world, in one of the biggest and most well-known arenas, in New York City”. There’s no need to be a Knicks fan to take advantage of that offer. Their No. 5 ranking confirms as much. 

MSG Properties

Making the case for Europe and their way forward

When looking at the ranking, it would be fair to say that the US has overshadowed Europe by far for the moment. Evidently European soccer clubs struggle to reach the same net worth as the top US leagues. But it might not stay this way forever. 
Our advice, following Jerry Jones’s visionary view of sport business, is this:
  • Plan on global targeting
    • Since soccer is the most played sport in the world, there is a huge space for new markets, especially in Asia. Fans there are craving for content and brand appearance, but it is difficult for them to follow a soccer team without real reasons. Superstar players, summer tours and targeting the right social media (Tik Tok, anyone?) will help get the word out for these teams. Hence it makes sense for teams such as Juventus to contract 33-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s all about brand expansion. 
  • Empower the women’s game
    • Soccer might be the best opportunity of all time for women in sport, as some of our previous articles have covered. With the tremendous success of the World Cup, the clubs have to step up and give women’s soccer the treatment it deserves. There is huge potential for merchandise sales, with the opportunity to tap into new demographics and diversify the clothing lines.
  • “Think outside the sport”
    • Sports teams need to be more linked to the “outside world”, so to speak. How come Yankees caps are seen everywhere? The Yankees have purposely worked to cultivate their brand internationally, working closely with American headwear company New Era. They also did marketing deals with big-name global sports teams such as the Yomiuri Giants in Tokyo. Sports teams are getting better and better at collaborating with the artistic world, partnering with designers and stylists
  • Get into the e-sport revolution
    • The first official e-sports league operated by a US professional sports league was the NBA. The NBA 2K League, a joint venture between the NBA and Take-Two Interactive, is a professional sports league featuring the best NBA 2K players in the world. This was a major step to get into this whole new world of e-sport, while keeping control of the brand of franchises, because each e-team is affiliated to the “real” team itself. More and more European teams are getting into e-sport, but the US are still way ahead. 
    • In November 2018, Epic Games announced a partnership with the National Football League. Since then, players can purchase a skin themed after their favorite NFL team on Fortnite, one of the most played video games in recent years. While the sports world considered this a weird move, it was a brilliant play by the NFL to reach a global audience and the future generations.
Epic Games


The outrageous war for the highest valued team continues and will get more unpredictable every year. Will we see a European soccer team get to the top again in a few years? Time will tell. 

  
A The Consultancy Group article, written by Alessandro Di Benedetto 

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