Tony Dobrowolski: Global sports is a lucrative enterprise



I know it’s the middle of the baseball season, and the Red Sox have spent most of this season free-falling through the AL East after soaring through it in the other direction last year.

But I haven’t been paying much attention. It’s not because the Olde Town Team isn’t as good as it was last year. The World Cup got in the way.

If you watched any of those games, it’s obvious that the international version of football is wildly popular everywhere but here where soccer -- doesn’t sound as romantic as futbol, does it? -- is destined to remain a novelty sport, at least in my opinion. Look at the crowds in Brazil. Look at the passion. Think of the money involved.

Don’t get me wrong. People like soccer here, too. But the interest tends to be fleeting, propelled by our country’s participation in the World Cup, or cherished by a select few, like ice hockey, which has pockets of rabid fans all over the country. It’s more of an acquired taste than a trend.

We bring this up to note that while soccer isn’t as big over here as it is everywhere else, it’s still an extremely lucrative business.

Forbes recently released its annual list of the 50 most valuable global sports franchises. Guess what? The top three are European professional soccer clubs.

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United hold down the top three spots, respectively, with all three teams worth more than $2.81 billion. Real Madrid, the highest rated, is valued at $3.4 billion, followed by Barcelona at $3.2 billion.

That’s not all. Two other European clubs, Bayern Munich (seventh) and Arsenal (16th) made the top 20. And three others, Chelsea, Manchester City and AC Milan, are also on the list, albeit at 48th, 49th and 50th, respectively.

Almost a fifth of the entire list consists of European soccer teams. That’s pretty impressive considering that the National Hockey League, one of North America’s four major sports leagues, managed to place only one team on the list. The Toronto Maple Leafs broke the top 50 at No. 26 (the Leafs are valued at $1.156 billion). If nothing else, this list shows the importance of brand value. The Leafs play in Canada’s biggest city, but have missed the playoffs for nine of the last 10 years.

The Los Angeles Kings, who have won the Stanley Cup two of the last three years, failed to make the list, as did two of the NHL’s most iconic franchises, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens. The Kings aren’t the only champion of a North American professional sports league to be left out of the top 50. So were the National Basketball Association champion San Antonio Spurs, and the Miami Heat who finished second to the Spurs this year after winning the previous two NBA titles.

Of the two other defending North American sports league titleists, the World Series champion Red Sox are ranked 11th, at $1.5 billion, while the Seattle Seahawks, the defending Super Bowl champs, are ranked 28th at $1.081 billion.

The most valuable sports league, according to the Forbes’ list, is the National Football League, where all 30 teams managed to make the list, ranging from the Dallas Cowboys, ranked fifth, to the Buffalo Bills (47th).

The New England Patriots, ranked eighth, are the second highest-rated NFL team, while the New York Giants (10th) are the fourth, one place behind the Washington Redskins.

The most valuable Major League Baseball franchise is the New York Yankees in fourth place. The Yankees and the Cowboys are the only American professional sports franchises that are worth more than $2 billion. The Mets? They failed to make the top 50, both the current New York and former Pittsfield versions.

The most valuable NBA team is the New York Knicks in 13th place, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers in 15th. The Boston Celtics have won more NBA championships than any other team, but are worth only $875 million, which placed them in a tie for 45th with the St. Louis Rams.

One professional auto racing team, Ferrari, made the list, tied for 21st with the Chicago Cubs. But no team from Major League Soccer is on it, which once again proves that soccer is more valuable internationally than it will ever be here.

Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of The Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at


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