The NFL and its players are butting heads at seemingly every turn regarding player discipline on and off the field. TV ratings declined 8% last season and dropped again during the NFL’s opening weekend. The league’s image is taking a hit from the long-term health problems of players, and some fans are getting turned off by the gladiatorial nature of the sport. Yet for all the bad press surrounding the NFL, the league remains a financial juggernaut.
The average NFL franchise is worth $2.5 billion, up 8% by FORBES’ count over last year. The Dallas Cowboys were the only NFL team worth $2 billion five years ago. Now all but five of the NFL’s 32 teams are worth at least $2 billion (the Buffalo Bills bring up the rear at $1.6 billion).
(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
NFL owners are minting money thanks to hefty TV contracts and a favorable labor deal with the players. Operating profits (earnings, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) were a record $101 million per team last season, with every team north of $40 million. The $3.2 billion in league-wide income is $500 million more than the combined earnings of teams in the NBA, NHL and MLB.
The Cowboys are the NFL’s most valuable team for the 11th straight year and the world’s most valuable sports franchise. America’s Team is worth $4.8 billion, up 14%, with profits of $350 million thanks to a booming merchandise business and the revenue opportunities at their new practice facility, The Star.
The Cowboys generate more than $150 million annually from sponsors. Owner Jerry Jones revolutionized the sponsorship template in the NFL two years after he purchased the team in 1993. He secured agreements with big brands Nike, Pepsi and American Express tied to his stadium, instead of the team, to get around the NFL’s control of sponsorships for clubs. Lawsuits flew before Jones settled with the NFL, and a new era was ushered in with teams actively selling sponsorships. The NFL’s 32 teams generated $1.4 billion in revenue last season from sponsorships, ad signage and stadium naming rights.
Jones renewed one of his landmark deals at the end of 2016 with a 10-year extension with PepsiCo. He is now actively selling sponsorships at The Star. The practice facility alone had $20 million in sponsor revenue last season — more than some teams generate overall from sponsors.
Jones has leveraged the Cowboys to launch new businesses. The Cowboys are the only NFL team to distribute their own merchandise. Silver Star has merchandise agreements with other entities like USC and generated more than $200 million in wholesale revenue last year. Jones owns one-third of Legends Hospitality, which manages ticket sales, concessions and sponsorships for clients like the San Francisco 49ers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Dallas Mavericks and Notre Dame. A minority stake was sold in the spring, valuing Legends at $700 million.
One of Jones’ latest ventures is Blue Star Sports. Jones and his partners launched the company last year to roll up a number of youth sports apps and sports tech businesses. The NFL’s private equity arm, 32 Equity, invested in Blue Star this year. It is understood to be the first time the NFL invested directly in a company owned by one of its owners (our valuation for the Cowboys does not include Legends or Blue Star). The league has made other strategic investments like its $90 million stake this year in Fanatics, which operates the NFL’s online store.
Jones was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame last month for his role rebuilding the Cowboys into the sport’s preeminent business and brand. Jones has been the NFL’s ultimate power broker behind landmark deals like the NFL TV packages and the Rams move from St. Louis to Los Angeles.
The Patriots rank as the NFL’s second most valuable team at $3.7 billion, up 9% after their stunning 34-28 comeback, overtime victory in Super Bowl 51. The Patriots merchandise revenue increased by over 50% and the legacy value of the team’s winning brand will be felt with long-terms sponsorships for years. The team has a paid ($100 deposit) season ticket waiting list of over 70,000.
Rounding out the top five are the New York Giants ($3.3 billion), Washington Redskins ($3.1 billion) and San Francisco 49ers ($3.05 billion).
Full List: NFL Team Values 2017
New and renovated stadiums are adding to team coffers. The Vikings opened $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium last year and venue revenue jumped more than $60 million, pushing the Vikings value up 9% to $2.4 billion (the Vikings had a 38% gain last year ahead of the opening).
The Falcons are worth $2.48 billion, up 19%, with the opening of their $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium last month. The Falcons have commitments for over $900 million in sponsorships at their new stadium, including naming rights.
See also: NFL’s Highest-Paid Players 2017
The Dolphins’ $500 million renovation of Hard Rock Stadium, which is owned by the team, is paying dividends with the team now worth $2.58 billion. The Dolphins inked an 18-year, $250 million naming rights agreement with Hard Rock, the third richest in the sport. The stadium investment by owner Stephen Ross secured future Super Bowls in South Florida, including in 2020.
NFL teams are also set for a windfall from the relocations of the Rams and Chargers to Los Angeles, plus the Raiders expected move to Las Vegas in 2019 or 2020. The 29 non-moving teams will divvy up $1.65 billion with the Chargers and Rams on the hook for a $650 million fee and the Raiders at $350 million. The moving teams will make the payments over 10 years starting in 2019.
NFL teams generated $7.5 billion from media deals last season, or 57% of the league’s $13.2 billion in total revenue. Most of those deals are locked up past 2020, but there are opportunities for incremental revenue.
Amazon.com paid $50 million for the right to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games this season. The price is a fivefold increase on what Twitter paid the previous year. CBS and NBC hold the broadcast rights to five Thursday Night games. A new deal is expected to be announced in the coming weeks at a significant bump to the $450 million CBS and NBC paid annually the past two seasons. Verizon’s $250 million per year pact for streaming rights to NFL games expires this year with an extension likely on the horizon at a big increase.
While ratings are off, the NFL is still the best way for advertisers to reach a large audience. Sunday Night Football has been the top-rated primetime program for the past six years. Monday Night Football regularly leads its time slot, while Sunday afternoons draw more than 20 million viewers. The Super Bowl is a ratings beast with 117.5 million tuning in this year, second-most all-time. Super Bowls represent 19 of the 20 most-watched programs ever, with the series finale of M*A*S*H in 1983 the outlier.
Full List: NFL Team Values 2017
Forbes team values are enterprise values (equity plus net debt) based on the multiples of revenue of historical transactions, as well as offers to buy and invest in teams currently on the table. The values are adjusted for teams moving into new stadiums.
Revenue and operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) are for the 2016 season, net of stadium debt service. Revenue from non-NFL events, like concerts and stadium tours, is included when such revenue is pocketed by the team owner or an entity the owner controls. We gathered our information primarily from the teams, public documents, sports bankers, credit rating agencies, network executives, and media rights experts like SNL Kagan.