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Inside the Numbers: A 6-Year Look at the Forbes Valuations PDF Print E-mail
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Articles & Opinion
Written by Maury Brown   
Sunday, 27 April 2008 23:00
A Biz of Baseball Exclusive

Each year, Forbes magazine releases its valuation of the 30 clubs within Major League Baseball. And, each year, fans, analysts, and certainly owners, debate the figures with an intensity that might rival a Lou Pinella missed call meltdown. Owners, with some rare exceptions, will say that the valuations are a bunch of hooey (that’s putting it kindly). Of, course, when the numbers work in their favor, you can get someone like George Steinbrenner on record, as he did last year when he said, "I am gratified at the Forbes valuation of the Yankees. We are continuing to build a worldwide brand for the people of New York and Yankee fans everywhere."

Others, such as Marlins president David Samson, would say otherwise. "Every year I continue to be surprised at the absolute inaccuracy that a so-called reputable magazine is willing to print," Samson said after this year's valuations were released. As we will present, if David Samson thinks that the figures for the Marlins are way off, that doesn’t mean that the Marlins aren’t pulling in a decent profit; it just means that the figures may not be completely in-sync with their accounting methods.

How Forbes renders their figures is what differs from MLB’s. Asked why those within MLB continue to say that the Forbes valuations are off, senior editor, and co-author of the valuations Kurt Badenhausen offers up their methodology for the financial estimates of a private industry that guards their money matters vigorously.

“We have been doing this at Forbes for 11 years,” Badenhausen said. “We talk to teams, investment bankers, consultants and other baseball people to help estimate all revenue and expense items as well as the current values of the franchises. There are a lot of ways to calculate these numbers with various holding companies, media properties and other businesses.”

As a specific example on the how MLB’s figures and Forbes’ figures may differ, Bandernhausen cites one baseball’s more lucrative revenue streams: MLB Advanced Media, which includes

“We have MLB’s revenues at $5.5 billion for 2007,” adds Bandernhausen. “MLB says they are more like $6.075 billion, but they are including $450 million or so of MLBAM revenue (whereas each team only got $2 million last year) and from events like the All-Star game. We include non-baseball stadium revenues from things like concerts and other events for those teams that control their stadiums. On the other hand, we deduct interest payments on debt that teams incurred from building new stadiums. Those two things roughly offset each other. We only look at revenues and expenses that the teams incur and baseball has clearly never been healthier from a financial standpoint.”

Another example involves the Seattle Mariners.

As part of the agreement for public funding of Safeco Field, the Mariners are required to release a financial statement to the State of Washington. The Washington State Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District (PFD) owns Safeco, and their annual report shows that the Mariners made $17.8 million in profits.

Forbes lists the Mariners as posting operating income for 2007 at $10.1 million. Why the $7.1 million discrepancy?

“Our Mariners number is actually closer than the $7.7 million when you factor in depreciation, amortization, signing bonuses, non-ballpark expenditures and capital expenditures which we do,” explains Badenhausen. “I believe the number was closer to $15 million. Our operating income is an EBITDA number (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization). The $5 million difference is based on different revenue and expense calculations and estimates.”

So, it’s clear that how valuation figures are calculated can be different. Thus, it’s not wholly untrue that MLB’s figures differ from Forbes, but then, it’s a matter of how the sides are calculating figures. As former MLB COO Paul Beeston said infamously, "I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss and I can get every national accounting firm to agree with me."

With the differences, I’m not about to quibble with the amounts, per se. The following is more of a look in trends in the valuations within MLB. Looking at the data historically can show us which clubs are valuating upward more thanInside the Forbes Valuations inflation – a sign that ownership is working to maximize the value of the franchise, a new stadium has come online, paying down debt, or other activities that will increase the value of their holdings, on top of the growth that MLB in general is witnessing.

In some instances, when coupled with total player payroll figures, they can show holes in the revenue-sharing system. Overall, the most obvious news is owners are making money, and lots of it. Using the overblown cliché, they are hitting the ball out of the park. There may be disparity between the amounts of revenue clubs are pulling in, but no owner could claim with a straight face that they aren’t making money these days. It’s just that some clubs are making more than others are. As Badenhausen rightly said, “After listening to baseball owners cry poverty for 25 years, the outcries have been relatively few the last couple of years because baseball is in what like Bud Selig likes to call a ‘Golden Age’.”

Select Read More to see a detailed breakdown of the Forbes figures

Before we delve into the historical trends over the last six years, here are some details based around the annual research by Michael Ozanian and Kurt Badenhausen from this year’s valuations (see

  • Total gross revenues for the 30 clubs has increased by 7.7 percent from last year to $5.5 billion (as opposed to the $6.075 billion reported by MLB)
  • The average team is now worth $472 million, 9.5 percent higher than last year and 143 percent more than when Forbes first calculated team values in 1998.
  • The increase in gross revenues has outpaced expenditures in player payroll. This year, 56 percent of revenues were spent on player payroll compared to 66 percent just five years ago.
  • Paid attendance continues to be a driving factor for the incredible increases for MLB. Within that, interleague continues to be exceptionally popular. Last year, interleague averaged 34,900 fans per game, 15 percent more than intraleague contests.
  • The Mets, currently ranked second with a value of $824 million, will also get a new stadium that should push their value close to $1 billion before long. Citigroup, beleaguered by the housing market meltdown, is still planning to pay the Amazins $400 million over 20 years for the stadium's naming rights.

Most Profitable Not Always the Most Valuable

As the thread worn cliché goes, you have to spend money to make money. But, in looking at the this year’s figures, you’ll find that in many cases, it’s not spending money that is allowing some teams that are cellar dwellers in the standings winning the profit game.

Using Forbes’ operating income figures, one measure of profitability, sees several unlikely clubs making more than their higher valued counterparts.

The most notable of these clubs are the Washington Nationals, and the Florida Marlins.

In terms of the Nationals, they are pulling profits based on a very good lease agreement, and new stadium, while in the midst of a rebuilding process with the roster. For the Marlins, it is a matter of setting the player payroll to levels that may redefine the word "stingy". The Marlins Opening Day payroll is at $20 million, a third less than what they spent on player payroll last year. To place it in perspective, that's $5 million less than what the club will receive in revenue-sharing, which is projected to be $25 million.

Below is the top 10 clubs by operating income for this year's Forbes valuations.

Forbes most profitable


Who's Making the Least, or "Losing" Money

A clear indication that MLB's financial state is extremely robust, five years ago the Forbes valuations showed 16 clubs with operating income in the red. This year sees 3 clubs, the Blue Jays ($1.8 million), Red Sox ($19.1 million), and Yankees ($47.3 million) posting "losses". In the case of the Yankees posting a considerable operating loss, it is due to their exceptionally high player payroll (a record $218.3 million), and dolling out the vast majority of all funds paid into revenue-sharing ($100 million).

Note, however, that "losses" are in quotes as all three of these clubs have significant stakes in Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) that contribute to their bottom lines, but skirt the edges of what is technically counted as club revenues. As reported by Ozanian and Badenhausen, "For the owners of the Yankees and Red Sox, the huge dividends they get from their unconsolidated cable networks more than make up for the teams' losses. Meanwhile Rogers Communications, which owns the Blue Jays, their stadium and the cable channel that televises its games, derives huge benefits from owning the Blue Jays not reflected on its team's [Profit & Lose] statement."

Below are the clubs showing the least amount of operating income, or in the case of the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Yankees, operating loss


Forbes least profitable

The Yankees Continue To Build an Empire

In the wake of the Red Sox winning two World Series championships in the last four years, some have said that the Red Sox, not the Yankees, are the new “Evil Empire.” While there is little discounting that the Red Sox are healthy in every respect financially, when compared to the Yankees, the Sox are still a distant second.

How far are they behind the Yankees? Consider the following: According to the Forbes valuations when accounting for inflation, the value of the Yankees in 2002 ($857,303,982.31) is greater than what the Red Sox are reported to be worth now ($816 million).

According to Ozanian and Badenhausen, “The Yankee brand (the portion of the team's value attributable to its name) alone is worth $241 million, almost as much as the entire Florida Marlins franchise.”

The value of the Yankees should hit $1.5 billion with the opening of new Yankee Stadium (see information on new Yankee Stadium here) in 2009.

Below shows how the Yankees value is compared to the Red Sox over the last six years (not adjusted for inflation)

Yankees Red Sox Valuations

Value of team based on values, such as current stadium deal (unless new stadium is pending) without deduction for debt (other than stadium debt).

An Angelic Rise in Value

In southern California, there are clear signs that in-part, private ownership has yielded better increases in value than under corporate ownership. Case in point, the incredible rise in value for the Angels.

Since Arte Moreno, the billboard advertiser magnate, purchased the club from the Walt Disney Co. in 2003 for $180 million, there has been a steady increase in the value of the club (see graph below, adjusted for inflation). While most all clubs have seen values increase above inflation, the Angels have climbed in value 48 percent during Moreno’s ownership tenure, when adjusting for inflation from approx $258.1 million to $500 million.

What has been amazing is that the Angels meteoric rise in value has come without a new stadium, or stadium related revenues such as new luxury suites. The Angels also have not seen lavish revenues from full or partial ownership of an RSN, such as the Red Sox or Yankees enjoy.

What Moreno has done is take lessons learned from his advertising background, and applied it to the Angels, most notably through the controversial renaming of the franchise to include the words “Los Angeles”, and gave Scouting and Player Development the flexibility to field competitive teams and sign key free agents.

"When Arte purchased the Angels, he did so with a short-term strategy and a long-term vision," said Angels spokesman, Tim Mead. "Located in the second biggest media market in the country, he emphasized we were a big-market club and would conduct ourselves accordingly."

Mead points out that Moreno's change in direction happened almost immediately.  With changes in branding of the color red, Angels Baseball, and the letter "A" that became focal points for the business side of the organization.   

"Our success is based on the fan experience at Angel Stadium, affordability of tickets, concessions and merchandising, as well as the expectations of our on-field product." 

The graph below outlines how the Angels have continued to climb in value by showing their ranking compared to the other 30 clubs since 2002.  

Angels Valuations

Below are the approx. values by way of Forbes, both non and inflation adjusted

Inflation Adj.

Are the Rockies Headed Back in the Right Direction?

There’s little denying that the surprise performance of last year’s season was the Colorado Rockies. Defying the odds, the team that hadn’t had a winning season since 2000, and was last seen in the playoffs in 1995, went all the way to the World Series last year before meeting up with the Red Sox and ending their Cinderella run.

The club was in need of the performance as the club has cycled down in value since being so successful after expanding into the league. At the end of March, the club renewed their naming rights deal with Coors Brewing for 10-years, and added in-stadium naming rights to two sections within the ballpark. The premium seats and lounge area behind home plate is now known as the Coors Clubhouse. The picnic area behind centerfield is called Coors Field Picnic Area. The financial terms were not released, but it is bound to continue pulling the Rockies out of their recent valuation slide.

How badly were the winning and naming rights deals needed? Looking at the 6-year set of Forbes data sees the Rockies as the club that has increased in value the least. In fact, the Yankees have increased in value 24 times as much as the team from Colorado.

While the raw figures show an increase in valuation from 2002 to 2008 for the Rockies, when adjusting for inflation, the Rockies are actually worth less today than in 2002 dollars (see image and graph below)

Forbes Rockies

Inflation Adj.

Bottom Feeders

South Florida has the dubious distinction of being home to not one, but two of the least valuable franchises over the course of the past six years. Both the Marlins and Rays have been in the bottom five in value every year, and to make matters worse, they have ranked at 29th or 30th more than any other clubs. The Marlins have been 29th or 30th three times (30th in 2007 and 2008, and 29th in 2003) while the Rays hold the “very bottom” rankings five times (30th in 2005 and 2006, and 29th in 2007 and 2008).

 The now Tampa Bay Rays (the word "Devil" has been removed, and a complete team rebranding has taken place with both uniforms and logos), have also set eyes on redeveloping Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg. To offset costs, the land (85 acres) where Tropicana Field is located would be redeveloped as a major retail, entertainment, and housing development. (See renderings of the proposed open-air Rays facility and other details, like you see in the image to the right)

In the case of the Marlins, their value has remained low, in part, due to playing in Dolphin Stadium, a substandard facility, and one in which they do not control the revenue streams as former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga owns the facility. That may change as the Marlins are close to landing funding for a retractable roof stadium on the site of the former Orange Bowl (see renderings of one proposed design). Nevertheless, one of the primary reasons that the Marlins continue slice margins by setting the aforementioned player payroll so exceedingly low. To place this in perspective, the largest increase in value occurred the year after the Marlins won the World Series in 2003. The value increased 26 percent the year after in 2004 but has since declined in each consecutive year.

See graph showing percent of change from the year prior for both the Marlins and Rays:

% of Increase
From Year
% of Increase
From Year

Other Points of Interest

  • Unsurprisingly, the Yankees have been the most valuable of all the franchises during the course of the six years examined.
  • The Mets and Red Sox have jockeyed back and forth in the #2 ranking, with the Red Sox holding the distinction in consecutive years (2004-2006) and the Mets holding the honors in 2002-2003 and 2007-2008.
  • The largest increases in value from 2007 to 2008: Rockies (17%); Nationals, Angels and White Sox (16%); Brewers (15%); Indians, Tigers, and Twins (14%); and Rangers and Red Sox (13%)
  • Largest increase in value for a given year: 114 percent when the then MLB owned Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals were relocated to D.C. in 2005.
  • Largest figures for operating income over the six-year period: Washington Nationals ($43.7 million in 2008), Florida Marlins ($43.3 million, 2007 and $35.6 million in 2008), Cleveland Indians ($34.6 million in 2006) and Baltimore Orioles ($34 million in 2006)
  • Years by clubs reporting a loss by way of operating income (NOTE: Forbes’ 2003 figures shows more than half the league running at a loss): 2008 (3) – Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, 2007 (1) – Yankees, 2006 (5) – Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Marlins, Angels. 2005 (10) – Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, Mariners, Cardinals, Angels, Rockies, D-Backs, Twins, 2004 (14) – Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Braves, Cardinals, Rangers, Phillies, D-Backs, Angels, Pirates, Marlins, Twins, Expos, 2003 (16) – Red Sox, Dodgers, Rangers, Indians, Astros, Cardinals, D-Backs, Phillies, Tigers, Angels, Pirates, Brewers, Blue Jays, Royals, Marlins, Expos, 2002 (10) – Red Sox, Dodgers, Indians, Rangers, D-Backs, Cardinals, White Sox, Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Expos
  • Largest reported figures for operating at a loss: Yankees (-$50 million in 2006, -$47.3 million in 2008, and $-37.1 million in 2005), Angels (-$30 million in 2005) and Dodgers ($-29.6 million in 2002)

League Averages, By Year

The following shows the average value, 1-year change, debt/value ratio, revenues, and operating income for the league by year of the study. 

League Avgs.: 2002 - 2008
1-Yr Value Change (%)
Op Income ($mil)


The obvious finding in looking at the Forbes figures is that all the clubs are in a healthy state these days. Valuations continue to climb, and fewer and fewer clubs are operating under what Forbes sees as operating loss.

What the figures also show is that often times, the clubs that have cried poverty in the past, or said that they would be unable to compete in the free agency market without considerable assistance by way of revenue-sharing, are, in fact, pulling in healthy profits.

And while one can shrug off that issue by saying all the clubs are making more money, there are signs that the most valuable are growing at a rate faster than their mid-to-low level counterparts. In other words, there is an increasing disparity in valuation.

That would make sense; larger market clubs such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, and White Sox should be in a position to increase their values by way of RSNs, more lucrative sponsorship deals, and increased brand recognition. The good news is that during Selig's tenure, the institution of revenue-sharing, and to a larger extent, the introduction of the Wild Card has allowed more parity in terms of the standings than ever before.

Finally, as mentioned at the outset, Forbes and MLB may come to different figures each year. However, it is clear that until MLB decides to open their books to the public, the Forbes valuations paint a clear picture in terms of trends in the industry. In 2008, when it comes to MLB, business is good.


  • All data referenced, Forbes 
  • NOTE: Use the following link to see all data used for the historical references (2002-2008)
  • Revenues and operating income are for a given season and include revenue sharing.
  • "Value" - Value of team for a given year based on current stadium deal (unless new stadium is pending), without deduction for debt (other than stadium debt).
  • "% of Change" - Current team value compared with most recent transaction.
  • "Debt/Value" - Includes stadium debt.
  • "Operating Income" - earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation.
  • "N/A" - not applicable.

Maury Brown

Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer.

Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.



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