MLB’s Most Valuable Teams

Forbes recently put out an article where they discussed the monetary value of Major League Baseball, which was estimated to be around $36 billion in total. The average monetary worth of each individual team is estimated to be around $1.2 billion.

To arrive at these figures, Forbes had to look at a massive amount of data. For instance, they looked at each team’s television ratings, stating that an “unmatched inventory of live, DVR-proof content” was largely responsible for current enterprise ratios. Attendance was another big factor, as the team receives a fair amount of income from ticket sales. They also looked at the revenue that teams received from ballpark concessions, team and player merchandise, and even outside events that take place in the team’s stadium. They then deducted any sources of debt, such as luxury payroll tax figures.

This is all interesting on its own, but how much of it has an impact on a team’s true value? To the fans, the most valuable team might be the one who pays its players the most. To some fans, it might be the team that performs the best on a consistent basis. Either way, if you asked most fans to list the most valuable teams in Major League Baseball, they probably aren’t going to tell you which team they think sells the most hot dogs. And they definitely wouldn’t factor in how many concerts or soccer games take place in the team’s stadium.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the teams that made the top ten in Forbes’ list. We’ll take a brief look at how valuable they are in terms of monetary assets, followed by a look at how valuable they should be to their fans right now based on their current roster and abilities. With the regular season just around the corner, you can bet dollars to donuts that most baseball fans are going to be more concerned with the latter definition of “value” than the one recorded by Forbes.

 

10. Philadelphia Phillies – $1.25 billion

Monetary Value – In terms of monetary value, the Philadelphia Phillies might be able to raise their spot on Forbes’ list by 2015 if they can find a way to reduce their net debts. Why? Because they just signed a television agreement for twenty-five years with Comcast SportsNet. Their contract won’t be effective until next year, but its estimated worth is over $5 billion, which comes to about $200 million per year. They’ll have some competition in this regard, as the Arizona Diamondbacks signed a similar contract (twenty years for $1.5 billion), as did the Texas Rangers (twenty years for $3 billion).

Philadelphia also makes about $265 million in stadium revenues and close to $90 million on attendance, although nearly $200 million of this is lost to player expenses. While these numbers appear respectable, it should be noted that the team has actually dropped four places on this list since last year.

Real Value – The real value of Philadelphia’s team can actually be assessed by their payroll. Last season, they were the third highest-paying team in the league, doling out around $178 million to their players. However, more than a third of this ($73 million, to be precise) went to Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. These three players are valuable, but how valuable is a team that keeps them on and focuses on disappointing draft prospects while dumping a qualified (although massively abrasive) shortstop like Jimmy Rollins?

The Phillies have made some questionable decisions recently regarding personnel, and it’s hurt their attendance pretty badly. Cliff Lee also might be out for the season due to injury, and the team’s defensive capabilities almost aren’t worth talking about. With fewer fans in the stands and a current lack of players that compare to pitcher Cole Hamels, not to mention the fact that Vegas currently has the Phillies in last place as World Series contenders, the team’s real value might not be anywhere near the top ten.

 

9. Washington Nationals – $1.28 billion

Monetary Value – Washington’s monetary value might actually raise quite a bit in the near future if they can keep attendance up, as the new Club 24 is almost guaranteed to raise stadium revenues with ticket prices that range between $78,000 and $95,000. Granted, these tickets buy four seats, and with only two dozen seats in the club, that means they can only make six sales at a mean price of $86,500. Still, this comes out to over half a million dollars in total, which isn’t a bad boost to their current gate receipts of $92 million.

They also rake in about $287 million in stadium revenues, with player expenses totaling $153 million. These are some decent numbers, especially considering that they come out to a total team value which is more than 80% higher than it was estimated to be last year. If they weren’t currently struggling with the Baltimore Orioles over television rights fees, their increase this year might have been even higher.

Real Value – To many fans right now, the team’s real value comes down to their recent signing of Max Scherzer. They’re paying their new pitcher a total of $210 million over the course of a seven-year contract, and Vegas odds seem to suggest that he’s worth every penny. He’s backed up by some decent talent as well, such as pitchers Doug Fister and starter Stephen Strasburg, not to mention rapidly improving hitter Bryce Harper. A number of fans are pegging the team for a run to the World Series this year (Vegas has them ranked at the top with six-to-one odds), which means they’re ultimately near the top of the list in terms of true team value.

That said, it’s common for rumors about a team’s chances of national victory to get blown out of proportion as fans get excited and news outlets need something to write about. The Nats should have a good year, but they have a few bumps in the road to look out for. First baseman Adam LaRoche is gone from the team, and his replacement might be a little rickety. Ryan Zimmerman is certainly a decent enough player and should have few problems managing first base, but the injuries he’s suffered over the course of his career appear to have been mounting last year. He’s one of the team’s best hitters, so further injuries to the player could prove injurious to the team’s World Series prospects as well.

 

8. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – $1.3 billion

Monetary Value – The Angels have a pretty high payroll, and they’re paying about $182 million in player expenses right now. Luckily, this is offset by stadium revenues of more than $300 million and gate receipts of over $90 million. Nearly half of the team’s current value can be attributed to the sheer size of their market, with a metro population of over thirteen million people. Their brand itself is actually worth $6 million less than the Phillies’, and they receive about $31 million less in terms of revenue sharing. Stadium revenues are about the same for each team after calculating expenses.

There may be some questions right now regarding whether or not the Angels’ monetary value can be maintained over the next few years. Considering that attendance is a major factor in each team’s valuation, it might be somewhat damaging that the Angels are currently thinking about moving even further from Los Angeles. If they move to Tustin, the difference will be negligible. However, other plans have them erecting their new stadium in Riverside, which will mean that fans who live in the City of Angels will have to drive over twice as far to see a game. This will damage attendance, and might result in a need for a better television contract. Luckily for the Angels, it’ll take up to five years for these plans to see the light of day.

Real Value – The Angels are actually starting this season with quite a bit of real value built up already, but they can’t exactly rest on last year’s laurels after maintaining the strongest win-loss record in the league only to be eliminated from the American League Division Series after three devastating games against the Kansas City Royals. They might still enter this season with high hopes, however, as center fielder Mike Trout is one of the best MLB players around. Pitcher C.J. Wilson and first baseman Albert Pujols give the team a bit of street cred as well.

Of course, there might be one major hit to the team’s player value this season, and most fans already know what it’s going to be: the relapse of famed outfielder Josh Hamilton. After his inspiring recovery from drug addiction, Hamilton disappointed fans everywhere when he relapsed earlier this year. That said, glory doesn’t always match up to game statistics. He hasn’t been the strongest player on the team. His .000 batting average during last year’s division series certainly didn’t do the team any favors. While we wish him luck on his recovery and hope that he manages to stay on the wagon for good this time, his loss isn’t going to deprive the team of any real player value.

 

7. New York Mets – $1.35 billion

Monetary Value – The Mets’ placement on this list is due in no small part to their media ratings. Last year, their average local ratings for televised games were higher than that of all but two other teams in the majors. Viewership on regional sports network SNY New York came out to around 125,000 for every game in which the Mets played. While SNY does not charge carriers as much as some other networks, the team still raked in a fair bit of dough due to the fact that they own well over half of the network’s shares.

Not only are they expected to do even better in terms of television ratings this year, but they are also expected to bring in more in terms of gate receipts (which currently net them about $74 million). Their revenue per fan is only slightly less than 50% lower than some of the other teams mentioned above, but the fact that they are catering to a metro area population of twenty million people goes a long way in making up for the difference. They are also aided by the fact that they only spend $105 million on player expenses, with is less than any of the preceding teams. With revenues of $263 million, not to mention $356 million from MLB revenue sharing, these savings go a long way.

Real Value – The team’s monetary value is almost something of an anomaly when you consider their recent performance. For six years in a row, they have closed out the regular season with a losing record. In some ways, the continued high television ratings and admirable attendance records show that much of the team’s real value is in its fans. There are a number of fair-weather fans in the world of sports, but clearly those aren’t the people who root for the Mets.

Of course, giving credit to their fans is not meant as an implication that the team has no value in its players. In fact, pitcher Matt Harvey is one of the primary reasons that attendance records and television ratings are expected to increase this year. Tommy John surgery kept him out of the rotation last year, but he’s back as a starter this season. A number of other players that had struggled due to injury or poor performance last season appear to be rallying as well. And then there’s Rafael Montero, whose place on the team is somewhat uncertain. Either he or Dillon Gee is going to be fifth in the starting rotation. Since Dillon Gee looks like he might be getting the spot, Montero will likely be put on as a relief pitcher. Either way, Montero’s Spring Training performance has marked him as a notably valuable asset to the team.

 

6. St. Louis Cardinals – $1.4 billion

Monetary Value – It’s kind of amazing that the Cardinals wound up this high on the list, considering they’re catering to a metro population of less than three million people. They may be a small-market team, but somehow they managed to net $133 million in gate receipts. This completely covers the cost of their player expenses, which come to about the exact same amount. They make about $86 in revenue per fan, and their stadium revenues come out close to $294 million with an overall stadium valuation of $338 million.

Not only are their gate receipts extraordinary for a team playing in such a small market, but they’ve managed to maintain their attendance records for ten consecutive years. For the past two seasons, these records have been the second highest in the league. They also manage average ratings of 7.76 on the FS Midwest television network, which helped them to maintain better local television ratings than any other team last year. It helps that St. Louis has turned Busch Stadium into a veritable hub of entertainment with Ballpark Village, known for a variety of bars and restaurants. It never hurts a team with such high attendance records to give their fans something to spend money on.

Real Value – The Cardinals’ monetary value can most definitely be attributed to their value as a team. Over the past nineteen seasons, they’ve managed sixteen winning records. Fourteen of those were posted in the past fifteen years alone. They’ve also won two World Series titles (in 2006 and 2011), having made it to the World Series on four separate occasions. Of the past fifteen seasons in which they did not make it to the World Series, they still made it to the postseason seven times.

Aside from their current mass appeal as a franchise, the Cardinals have some major player value right now that seems to be improving rapidly in preparation for opening day. Starting pitcher Adam Wainwright has been working on his fastballs, and right fielder Jason Heyward hit the first homerun of his St. Louis career in a recent training game against the Miami Marlins. Neither player led the team to a win (Miami won 5-3), but they’re still showing signs of improvement that could benefit the team greatly during the coming season. Pete Kozma has been working on his game as well, and GM John Mozeliak recently commented on the team’s trade of pitcher Shelby Miller by saying that they’re expecting big things from budding prospect Carlos Martinez. The team is already solid, but the valuable improvements of these players stand to fiercely bolster their run for the World Series this year.

 

5. Chicago Cubs – $1.8 billion

Monetary Value – Chicago’s gate receipts are actually two million dollars greater than their player expenses, with the former coming out to about $113 million while the latter comes out to about $111 million. They have incredibly high stadium revenues, about $302 million, and about $413 million of their total valuation comes from revenue sharing while a whopping $790 million can be attributed to their market size. They serve a metro area population of about 9.5 million people, with approximately $53 in revenue per fan.

These numbers sound great, but the team’s owners, the Ricketts family, are responsible for a great deal of the Cubs’ monetary value. Seeking renovations to Wrigley Field, the family sold minority interest in the team worth a total of $150 million to half a dozen separate investors. This included equity in the team’s stadium as well as other real estate, not to mention equity in the local sports network, CSN Chicago. When all was said and done, the deal was actually worth well over $2 billion, with $1.8 billion of estimated value in the team and stadium alone.

Real Value – While the Cubs’ monetary value is high, much of their real value as a team can be attributed to their current manager. Chicago offered Joe Maddon a five-year contract worth $25 million, and Maddon has been reinforcing traditional values from day one with the team. Not only did he lecture his team against “pimping” their home runs, but he has also been trying to get them back to the fundamentals of the sport. In terms of defense, he says he likes routine. He isn’t opposed to big plays, but he doesn’t believe his players should strive for them. They should nail down the basics and provide a solid game, rather than trying to show off.

While Maddon is pushing the value of fundamental defense, his players are proving themselves to be valuable as well. The team was already fairly solid, with All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, strong-armed right fielder Jorge Soler, and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. But they also recently reacquired pitcher Jason Hammel, signing on outfielder Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero as well. There’s also a lot of chatter over left-handed pitcher Jon Lester, who’s been struggling with a dead arm recently but is still predicted to do well once he’s over anticipated Opening Day pitching restrictions. These additions will serve to make a strong team even stronger, giving them a very positive chance of making it to the postseason this year. Some might even argue that their talent will be especially valuable to Major League Baseball itself when coupled with Maddon’s strong stance against showboating and egotism in general.

 

4. San Francisco Giants – $2 billion

Monetary Value – San Francisco’s place on this list is made possible by the fact that their value has literally doubled since last year. They have an incredibly sizable $387 million in revenue, which comes from a number of different sources. Much of it is from their sponsors, which include big companies such as Lexus, Yahoo, and Coca-Cola. They also have fantastic attendance records, ranking at least fourth in attendance since 2011 and selling out all of their home games since 2010. The CSN Bay Area channel also grants the Giants a pretty big chunk of their monetary value, as the team’s ratings are generally pretty high and they own nearly a third of the channel.

While the Giants’ revenues may be massive, they have plans to increase them even further. They already make about $154 in revenue per fan with a total of $165 million in gate receipts (although this doesn’t even cover their $176 million in player expenses). Now, they intend to give their fans even more reasons to spend money. By the year 2020, they hope to have opened an urban community called Mission Rock. This area will cater to individuals and businesses of all sorts, with stores, restaurants, entertainment, and even office spaces and urban housing. This ambitious project would be an unusually massive expansion for a baseball team, but they are accustomed to thinking outside the box—two years ago, AT&T Park began catering to the public’s love of networking and social media when they opened the aptly named Social Media Café.

Real Value – The San Francisco Giants are an indisputably valuable team right now. Out of the past five seasons, they have won the World Series title on three different occasions. They had a pretty bad year in 2013, posting a losing record at the end of the season, but this was pretty much forgotten when they took home the title the following year. In fact, the current value they have as a franchise is almost directly responsible for their monetary success. It has gained them sponsors, and has played a major role in their attendance records and television ratings. Considering their attendance amount to 3.37 million fans last year (which, again, was the year after they posted a losing record), it seems likely that they might do even better the year after winning the World Series.

The team also has value in its players. A team doesn’t rack up $176 million in player expenses without some serious talent behind them. Anyone who watched their postseason last year knows that one of the team’s primary sources of talent right now is pitcher Madison Bumgarner. During the playoffs, he managed to pull of an ERA of 1.03 while pitching 52 2/3 innings. It’s amazing that he even has an arm left, but he appears to have confidence as he is hoping for another run to the postseason this year. He was a little off his game when Spring Training started, but any pitcher with a performance like last year’s is going to add value to a team. He may not win SI’s Sportsman of the Year award again this year, but fans are going to be watching him from the edge of their seat to see if he comes anywhere close to last year’s performance.

 

3. Boston Red Sox – $2.1 billion

Monetary Value – The Red Sox did decently in terms of television ratings last year, but not as well as they have done in the past. This hurt their valuation a bit, considering they own four-fifths of the NESN regional sports network. They lost about a third of their viewership last year when compared to 2015, but they appear to be making up for it this year by adding about 160 seats to their stadium. This means they can sell more tickets as long as they’re able to maintain solid attendance records.

While the team may have suffered some setbacks in terms of television ratings, they wouldn’t be ranked third on Forbes’ list if they hadn’t been posting some pretty solid numbers in terms of monetary gain. They pay out $182 million in player expenses with one of the highest payrolls in the league, but they make all but $10 million back in gate receipts. About $969 million of their estimated monetary value can be attributed to the market in which they’re operating, with $394 million in shared revenue and a brand accountable for $346 million of their current worth. They also net $370 million in local revenues with a metro area population of 4.7 million, which comes out to a sizable estimate of $79 in revenue per fan.

Real Value – Boston finished dead last in the American League East Division last year, so their team’s value might be questionable to some. Some of their players appear to be faltering, with pitcher Koji Uehara letting a number of runs go by last year and suffering an injury just earlier this month. Pitchers Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz disappointed fans last year as well, which was particularly surprising given their ace performances the year prior. The team may have a loyal fan base, but many fans’ hopes have been somewhat deflated.

That said, the Red Sox are doing everything in their power to add value to their team by ensuring quality player performances this year. They just signed shortstop Hanley Ramirez for a four-year contract valued at $88 million, and they also took on third baseman Pablo Sandoval for a five-year contract valued at $95 million. These additions should add some star power to the left side of Boston’s infield this year.

Their other players are raring to go as well, with second baseman Dustin Pedroia having stated after his recent surgery that he intends to break his homerun record this year. Intentions may not technically add much in the way of value, but the team clearly has their eyes set on repeating their World Series win from two years ago. The Sox also have Brock Holt, who proved last year that he can play pretty much anything other than pitcher or catcher, and Rick Porcello, who managed to rack up three shutout games last year. With this roster, a strong performance early in the season is going to bolster the team’s confidence, as well as that of their fans.

 

2. Los Angeles Dodgers – $2.4 billion

Monetary Value – The acquisition of the team by Guggenheim Baseball Management is believed by some to be the primary reason for their high placement on this list, but their apparent financial success is still something of a paradox given the fact that the team has been hemorrhaging cash lately. They’ve got $400 million worth of debts right now, which certainly isn’t helped by their massively high payroll (the team is losing $268 million in player expenses, more than any other team). Their operating income is currently in the red zone, and only about a third of the team’s local fan base is able to watch televised games because of SportsNet LA’s high subscriber fees.

Things have gotten so bad that Guggenheim Baseball is looking to increase funding by charging fans more for stadium parking and selling off some of their minority interests. They’re even looking at buying the Brooklyn Nets. Nonetheless, the team’s monetary value has been bolstered by the highest media revenues in the league ($120 million, following their admittedly messy $8.35 billion contract for twenty-five years with Time Warner Cable). They also had attendance records of 3.78 million last year, more than any other team in the sport. Their market valuation amounts to nearly $1.2 billion, with $403 million in local revenues and $123 million in gate receipts. These numbers have certainly helped to make up for the money they lose from payroll and other expenses.

Real Value – As we mentioned earlier, you can bet that any team with such a massively high payroll is willing to attribute a great deal of their team’s real values to their players. They recently acquired shortstop Jimmy Rollins from the Philadelphia Phillies, and he’s looking to be their leadoff hitter now that shortstop Hanley Ramirez is in Boston. They’ve also got some firepower in starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw, and outfielder Yasiel Puig is one of the most solid players in the state of California.

The Dodgers might also owe just about as much of their real franchise value to their relatively new President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman. He worked with the Tampa Bay Rays for about a full decade, so he knew what he was doing when he traded two of the team’s pitchers for Triple-A pitcher Adam Liberatore and relief pitcher Joel Peralta. Liberatore achieved a 1.66 ERA in the minors, while Peralta didn’t perform quite as well for the Rays but was still known for his leadership and overall team spirit. With a host of quality players, a burgeoning rookie looking to prove himself in the MLB, and a veritable cheerleader in their clubhouse, it’s no surprise that Vegas ranks the Dodgers just under the Washington Nationals as top contenders for this year’s World Series.

 

1. New York Yankees – $3.2 billion

Monetary Value – Not only are the Pinstripers the most valuable team in the MLB, but they’re neck-and-neck with the Dallas Cowboys as one of the most valuable teams in American sports altogether. In fact, Forbes has been publishing their list since 1998, and the Yanks come out on top every single time. This past year was especially profitable, with $508 million in local revenues (a record for the franchise) and $100 million in media rights. Despite falling short of the postseason for the second year in a row—especially astounding as it was only their third time missing out on the playoffs since 1994—the team kept their attendance records high. In fact, with an average of more than 42,000 fans per game, they were the third-highest in the league.

It doesn’t hurt that the Yankees get more out of cable rights fees than any other team in the MLB, owning a fifth of the most popular regional sports network in America, the YES Network. They also get quite a bit out of radio fees, a media outlet some fans might forget about (although not in Boston, the only city with a team to make more than the Yankees in this regard). The team’s brand is extremely profitable, accounting for $661 million of their total estimated monetary value.

In addition, their record-high stadium revenues last year can be attributed to the number of fans coming through the gates to watch Derek Jeter in his last season. Not only did this result in major merchandise sales, but the team made $269 million in gate receipts—enough to offset their $241 million loss to player expenses. Needless to say, the largest portion of their value can be attributed to the sheer size of their market. They cater to a metro area population of twenty million, with a market valuation of $1.56 billion.

Real Value – Derek Jeter has been talking about hanging up his pinstripes for years, but it looks like it’s finally happened. This is going to eviscerate the team’s apparent value in the eyes of some fans, although the team isn’t hurting for a big-name player. Alex Rodriguez is back from a year of suspension following the Biogenesis scandal, and it seems next to impossible for him to so much as blink without the nation hearing about it in the press. Even manager Joe Girardi is on the fence regarding whether or not A-Rod is going to be leading the Bronx Bombers to their first postseason in three years. He may not have been there for last year’s bust, but he was there for the one before that and he spent most of the year clashing with GM Brian Cashman.

While things are still shaky, Cashman is coming around and starting to trust A-Rod as a designated hitter. And he’s not the only valuable player on the team by far. He may have originally switched to third baseman in deference to Jeter, but he isn’t switching back to shortstop after Jeter’s retirement. Instead, the role is being filled by Didi Gregorius. First baseman Mark Teixeira, who has seen both Jeter and Rodriguez play shortstop (he played ball for the Texas Rangers with A-Rod back in 2003), hails Gregorius as the best shortstop he’s even seen. Sure enough, Gregorius throws hard and fast, and he might become a surprising star player for the team this year.

The Yankees may not top the list in terms of real value when it comes to their franchise as a whole, but they’ve still got some players to watch out for this year. Between the return of A-Rod and the rise of Gregorius, it’s going to be a good year for the MLB. Even without Jeter.