Published: April 2, 2023 | By: Forbes
The eroding economics of regional sports networks made little difference: Major League Baseball teams are still hot assets. Before Arte Moreno pulled the plug on selling his Los Angeles Angels in January, he would have gotten at least $2.7 billion, or $280 million more than the MLB record $2.42 billion that Steve Cohen paid for the New York Mets in 2020, according to people familiar with the sale process.
The average MLB team value is up 12% this year, to $2.32 billion. During the 2022 season, revenue (net of stadium debt service) increased 7.8%, to an all-time high of $10.3 billion. The top-line gain was driven by a 64% increase in ticket revenue (including postseason and spring training), to $2.4 billion (the 2021 season started with nearly all ballparks under capacity restrictions) and a 35% increase in premium seating (suites and club seating) revenue, to $$1.16 billion. But operating income (in the sense of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) came in at an average of $17.6 million per team, down 20% from the previous season as player costs (salaries, bonuses and benefits) rose 13%, to $5.2 billion, and an increase in SG&A expenses.
Among the league’s 30 teams, geography and regional sports network economics played pivotal roles in our valuations, especially with the recent bankruptcy filing of Diamond Sports Group, which has the local media rights to 14 of MLB’s 30 teams. The Angels benefit from being in Southern California — where, like in New York, Chicago and Boston, buyers are willing to play a premium price —and are televised on Diamond Sports Group’s Bally Sports West, a profitable RSN that’s unlikely to cut its $112 million rights fee to the team when it emerges from bankruptcy.
The New York Yankees, baseball’s most valuable team, are worth $7.1 billion, 18% more than a year ago. The Bronx Bombers, who collected $143 million in cable money in 2022, are televised on the YES Network, the most-profitable and most-watched RSN in the country. YES throws off about $400 million in operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and averaged 231,000 households for Yankee games in 2022. (Full disclosure: I’m co-host of the Forbes SportsMoney show, which airs on YES.) The Yankees have been MLB’s top-valued team every year since the list was first published in December 1998.
Alas, not all teams are as fortunate as the Angels or Yankees to play in big markets and have deals with profitable RSNs. The Lerner family has been trying to sell the Washington Nationals for over a year. Despite the Nationals’ revenue ($356 million in 2022) falling in the top half of MLB, the team has not been able to attract a serious offer above $2 billion. One reason: the Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, co-owners of MASN, the RSN that televises their games, have been entangled in an ugly legal dispute for many years regarding how much money the Nationals should get in rights fees.
All told, baseball’s 30 teams took in $2.3 billion in local television revenue in 2022, or 22% of their $10.44 billion in total revenue (before debt service). By contrast, during their most recently completed seasons, NHL teams got $838 million, or 14% of their revenue from local television, while the NBA took in $1.31 billion, or 13% of their overall revenue from local television rights. (In the NFL, except for the $107 million that teams got for selling their home preseason games last season, all media revenue is split evenly among the 32 teams.)
Media experts say the teams most at risk of having their local television fees cut are the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, Colorado Rockies, Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres because the deals the RSNs have with the teams are no longer economical for the sports networks. We kept the values of all these teams, save the Rockies and Padres, the same as they were a year ago. We nudged up the Rockies 6%, to $1.475 billion, and the Padres 11%, to $1.75 billion, because their stadium revenue (tickets, suites, advertising) should compensate for any decline in local TV revenue.
Methodology: Forbes’ team values are enterprise values (equity plus net debt) based on historical transactions and the future economics of the sport and each team. Revenue and operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) are for the 2022 season and are net of revenue sharing, competitive balance taxes and stadium revenue used for debt service. Our figures also include revenue and expenses from non-MLB events at the stadium that go to team owners, include spring training games and the revenue and expenses for team-owned minor league teams. Ownership stakes in regional sports networks, as well as related profits or losses, are excluded from our valuations and operating results, as are investments in real estate and other businesses. (For our all-inclusive sports ownership valuations, see our annual Sports Empires ranking.) Sources include sports bankers, team and league executives, public documents like leases and filings related to public bonds, and media rights experts.
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