Nike leads list of most valuable sports brands

If you’re the sort of person who thinks surveys and polls can tell you something meaningful about what a brand is worth then do yourself a favor and exit this post right now.

The Forbes Fab 40 is for people interested in quantifying brand value using numbers and math. Using our proprietary data base and methodology, the Fab 40 values the top 10 names in sports in four distinct categories: athletes, businesses, events and teams.

Let’s cut to the chase.

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In Pictures: The world’s most valuable sports brands

Our business brand values are what we estimate the business would sell for in an arms-length transaction, less what the typical competitor of the same size and balance sheet would go for. In short, it’s the amount the brand’s name adds to the value of the business.

Take the Nike brand, which we estimate is worth $15 billion, up 40 percent from our last Fab 40. Nike has an industry-leading 38 percent share of the branded footwear market and Nike brand apparel sales increased 9 percent last year, to $5.4 billion. Within the past 18 months Nike has continued to expand its roster by splashing its swoosh logo on more products in more leagues, including new uniforms for the French Football Federation as well as the college football teams featured in the Bowl Championship Series. Perhaps the most “global” of any Fab 40 member, of Nike-branded sales of $18.1 billion last year, $7.6 billion were in North America, $3.8 billion came from Western Europe, $2.1 billion from Greater China and $2.7 billion from emerging markets.

Four television brands made the top 10 business brands, most notably the Walt Disney Company’s ESPN, which rose $1 billion in value since 2010, to $11.5 billion. Just how powerful has ESPN become since it was launched in 1979? Needham analyst Laura Martin wrote earlier this year that in 2010 ESPN reported over $4 billion of operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization), implying that ESPN alone generated more operating income than either CBS or Viacom in total.

The top five brands:

1. Nike - $15 billion
2. ESPN - $11 billion
3. Adidas - $5 billion
4. Sky Sports - $3 billion
5. Gatorade - $2.5 billion

The top five events:

1. Super Bowl - $425 million
2. Summer Olympic Games - $230 million
3. FIFA World Cup - $147 million
4. World Series - $140 million
5. UEFA Champions League - $132 million
See the full list of top sports brands

Updated Monday, Oct 3, 2011