Man U, Cowboys lead most valuable sports teams

The NFL has grown explosively over the past 25 years as TV revenue jumped 700 percent. The league’s 32 teams now divide $3.8 billion annually under the current round of broadcast deals, which expire after the 2013 season. With ratings at record levels, the next TV contracts are bound to be even more lucrative. Teams that were selling for $70 million in the mid-1980s are now worth $1 billion on average.

NFL owners claim they are not getting a big enough share of the league’s $9 billion in revenue, but a look at the world’s 50 most valuable sports teams shows how valuable NFL teams already are. The list is littered with NFL franchises – all 32 teams make the cut, led by the Dallas Cowboys, worth $1.81 billion. Yet the top franchise plays a different kind of football. English Premier League power Manchester United is the world’s most valuable sports team, worth $1.86 billion.

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Full list: The world’s most valuable sports teams

The Glazer family, which also owns the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 18 at $1.03 billion), bought United in 2005 for $1.5 billion, but quickly drew the wrath of fans after the purchase saddled the team with a massive debt load. Fans feared the team would not have the resources to pay top players. In November the Glazers paid off $330 million of the debt which now stands at $756 million, or 41 percent of the team’s value (the average debt-to-value ratio of the top 50 franchises is 26 percent). Even better for fans of the Red Devils, the team captured its record 19th English Premier League title this year and made the finals of the UEFA Champions League before falling to Barcelona (No. 26 on our list, worth $975 million).

The finances of Manchester United continue to look up. This season marked the first year of its new shirt sponsorship with Aon, worth $32 million annually over four years. It represents a 50 percent bump from its prior deal with AIG. The team is reportedly in line to get a similar increase for its merchandise deal with Nike, which already pays United nearly $40 million per year. The current 13-year contract is set to expire in 2015, but a new deal is expected to be done by next year that could be worth as much as $70 million a year. Reports surfaced last month that United is considering selling shares on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange at a price that would value the club at $2.7 billion.

The Cowboys are the sports world’s second most valuable team with a worth of $1.81 billion. Jerry Jones‘ $1.25 billion stadium, which opened in 2010, features more than just a 152-foot-wide HD TV screen. Cowboys Stadium has 320 luxury suites and 15,000 club seats that generate more than $100 million annually in premium seat revenue for Jones. America’s Team has also signed a host of lucrative sponsorship deals with the likes of AT&T, Bank of America, Ford Motor and PepsiCo.

The Manchester United team makes its way up Deansgate in Manchester during the Manchester United Premier League Winners Parade.
(Getty Images)

Soccer has the second-largest number of teams on the list at eight. Next up is Major League Baseball, which landed six teams on the list, led by the New York Yankees, ranked No. 3 with a valuation of $1.7 billion. The Yankees, like the Cowboys, have used a new stadium to dramatically boost revenues. The team took in $325 million from regular season tickets and suites in 2010, nearly twice as much as in the old Yankee Stadium. The Yankees and Cowboys teamed up to launch Legends Hospitality in 2008 to manage their own stadiums as well as other clients around the country.

Basketball and Formula 1 both placed two teams on the list. The New York Knicks rank 47th with a valuation of $655 million. The team’s home, Madison Square Garden, is undergoing an $800 million renovation expected to be completed in 2013. The new Garden will have wider courses with views of the city, improved sightlines and more comfortable seating, as well as new luxury suites, hospitality areas and a revamped scoreboard. MSG made a splash in September when it inked JPMorgan Chase to a 10-year, $300 million sponsorship agreement.

F1′s Ferrari ranks 13th with a worth of $1.07 billion, while McLaren is No. 36 at $815 million. Ferrari has not won the F1 championship since 2008, but continues to have the most financial muscle in the sport. Ferrari announced in June that Marlboro parent company Philip Morris International will continue to sponsor the team through 2015. Philip Morris is reportedly paying $160 million – on par with its previous agreement. Marlboro has been title sponsor of the Ferrari F1 team since 1997.

The top 10:

1. Manchester United, $1.86 billion
2. Dallas Cowboys, $1.81 billion
3. New York Yankees, $1.7 billion
4. Washington Redskins, $1.55 billion
5. Real Madrid, $1.45 billion
6. New England Patriots, $1.37 billion
7. Arsenal, $1.19 billion
8. New York Giants, $1.18 billion
9. Houston Texans, $1.17 billion
10. New York Jets, $1.14 billion
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Full list: The world’s most valuable sports teams


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Updated Sunday, Jul 17, 2011