Dallas Cowboys Top List of Most Valuable U.S. Sports Franchises: Data Viz

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the NHL’s most valuable franchise at $2 billion, according to Sportico’s report, released last Thursday. It’s a price that few individuals in the world could pay.

That said, the least valuable NFL franchise, the Cincinnati Bengals, is still worth 20% more than the Maple Leafs, which is only the 59th most valuable team in a North American sports league. In fact, all 32 NFL franchises are among the top 50 in both value and revenue.

Every NFL team benefits from the league’s lucrative media rights and sponsorship deals. Each franchise was guaranteed to rake in $309 million last year whether or not a single fan set foot in its arena. That cut of national shared revenue will rise to $400 million by 2023.

With the exception of the Dallas Cowboys, the most valuable sports team in the world, the values of NFL franchises are relatively bunched together. The second most valuable football team, the New England Patriots, is worth 2.2 times the Bengals’ value. Compare that to MLB, whose second most valuable team, the Boston Red Sox, is worth more than quadruple the last-place Miami Marlins’ value.

With local TV deals and far more home games than the eight hosted by each NFL team, franchises in other leagues see their values vary much more due to stadium economics and market size, leading to several outliers at the top. Indeed, only four of the top 10 most valuable U.S. sports teams play football.

Meanwhile, nine of the overall top 10 play in California, New York City or Boston. It turns out only three things matter if you’re a sports franchise trying to crack that list: Location, location—and being the Dallas Cowboys.

MLB and the NBA each have three teams apiece in the top 10. The NBA holds a slight edge in mean franchise value ($2.4 billion to $2.2 billion), despite the fact that the average MLB team earned $343 million in 2019, whereas the average NBA team made just $304 million in its last season not disrupted by COVID-19.

The average value-to-revenue multiple in the NBA is 7.8, the highest of the “Big Four” sports leagues. That number is dwarfed, however, by the 12.2 multiple for the MLS, whose valuations are soaring with the prospect of a new TV deal and the U.S.-hosted World Cup on the horizon. Each MLS team earns less than every single NHL team, and yet Los Angeles FC and Atlanta United would rank in the top half among NHL franchises.

Teams don’t need to win to be valuable⁠—the New York Knicks are the prime example—but a decorated history helps. The top 10 most valuable NHL teams have won 74 Stanley Cups compared to just three claimed by the bottom 10. A similar ratio holds true for the NBA (52 to three) and the NFL (27 to five). The one exception: baseball, in which the elites have won 73 World Series titles, but the 10 least valuable teams have combined for a surprising 25.

That’s still fewer than the 27 won by the New York Yankees, though, who could easily vault over the Cowboys as the most valuable sports team in the world in Sportico’s next MLB franchise valuations report.

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