Can you guess the most valuable sports teams in the world? If you're an American football fan, you've probably got a leg up on others who don't follow the sports. That's because the National Football League dominates the list when it comes to overall brand value.
But sports as a whole have seen an increase in value — and one of the fastest growing sports of all is seeing impressive growth along with important diversification. According to Forbes, the world's 50 most valuable sports franchises were worth a combined $222.7 billion in 2022. That's an impressive 30 percent increase over the previous year.
Let's dive in a little, shall we?
Major Takeaways From The Top 50
The biggest takeaway from the top 50 list is that the NFL is still top dog when it comes to teams generating significant cash value. In fact, all but two of the league's 32 teams appear on the top 50 list. That is, frankly, staggering. The Dallas Cowboys top the list of most valuable sports teams (and the NFL by extension) at $8 billion. And it's not even close. The next most valuable team is the New England Patriots at $6.4 billion. The only two NFL teams to not make the cut are the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals.
After the NFL, the leagues with the most teams in the top 50 are the NBA (seven), MLB (five), and English Premiere League (four). There are no NHL teams, MLS teams, or cricket teams in the top 50. It's also not much of a surprise that the biggest economic markets tend to have the most teams at the top — New York City and Los Angeles in particular.
However, there's a pretty major discrepancy between the NFL's two Los Angeles teams. While the Rams come in on the list at No. 3 and $6.2 billion, the Chargers are all the way down at No. 32 with a value of $3.88 billion. The same can be said for LA's two NBA teams, the Lakers (No. 10 at $5.5 billion) and the Clippers (No. 46 at $3.3 billion). We can surmise why in a second.
The most valuable baseball team is the Yankees (No. 4 at $6 billion) and the most valuable soccer team is Real Madrid (No. 13 at $5.1 billion).
What Makes The Most Valuable Sports Teams The Most Money?
Sports brands, like all entertainment brands and content creators, have multiple paths to revenue. But when it comes to why the NFL in particular is so incredibly wealthy, well, look no further than your nearest black mirror. Broadcast rights drive a huge chunk of the NFL's revenue. The league recently signed a 10-year, $100 billion agreement for media rights, which is nearly double the amount of its last agreement. Sports media rights in general are one of the only bright spots in traditional broadcast television.
Beyond television rights, a lot of it comes down to how strong a team's brand is. While ticket sales a certainly an important driver of revenue, they're also somewhat capped. Most teams can't really sell more tickets, they can only sell them for more money. And in a lot of markets, that's either going to alienate the fanbase or simply not work.
So it becomes more about what you sell to people once they're in the stadium (or wish they were). Food, drinks, experiences, and the big one — merchandise. The most valuable sports teams are able to sell their logo as a fashion statement, not simply a sign of fandom. The stronger the brand, the more items sell, the more other sponsors want to pay to be on jerseys and other gear. You get it.
That's why, once you get to a certain point, a team's overall performance isn't as big of a factor as how strong their media presence is. The two top NHL teams, the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs (valued at $2.2 and $2 billion respectively) have one combined Stanley Cup between them since 1968. But they've both got globally recognizable brands (and plenty of celebrities sports their logos).
What About 'Non-Traditional Sports' And Leagues?
While typical sports brands dominate the lists right now, categories like eSports and wrestling are also growing at a rapid pace. Sure, there's the WWE and UFC merger, which will create a media property worth more than $21 billion and facilitate continued cross-collaboration between respective athletes. But there are also leagues like All Elite Wrestling (AEW), Impact, and Major League Wrestling, all of which are seeing impressive growth and revivals.
And of course, we've got to talk about eSports and gaming. As a category, eSports is expected to be worth more than $6.7 billion in 2030, up from $1.7 billion in 2023. But unlike wrestling, eSports as a category also has teams with individual values.
The top 10 teams in eSports were worth a combined $3.5 billion in 2022, up 46 percent from 2020. TSM is still the No. 1 eSports team, worth an estimated $540 million, but teams like 100 Thieves have shown impressive growth (over 140 percent in two years), largely off the back of expanding the team's brand and merchandizing.
While eSports teams still have a long way to go in terms of cracking Forbes' top 50 most valuable sports teams list, there's no doubt that the ballooning popularity of the category will give some of these teams a serious shot at it. While the NFL is the undisputed leader in American sports, the rapid growth of less traditional sports suggests more eyes are looking for more types of sports entertainment.