The 9 Most Valuable MLB Teams

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That there might be money in baseball is not a surprise. After all, it has been America’s pastime since forever. Or, at least, since 1776. Maybe before that, maybe after. Point is, baseball has been a serious focal point in American culture for a while, and it has been commodified for the entire time. Baseball hats featuring — go figure — baseball team logos are ubiquitous, as are the t-shirts, jackets, tattoos, etc. That’s well before you get to the gate receipts or the television deals.

Major League Baseball is the only organization in major professional American sports that doesn’t have a salary cap. That means teams are free to hand out massive contracts to whomever they please. Following the money, as it were, it would follow that these teams must be worth a significant amount of capital. But where does it come from? Do these teams finish in the red or in the black?

We’ll take you through all of that, including a breakdown of where the money comes from, for the top nine MLB teams, as far as the cash goes. Shout out to the Tampa Bay Rays, the least valuable MLB team, worth a paltry $530 million. All amounts and figures presented were reported by Bloomberg, and all team salary information is from ESPN.

Update: Forbes has presented more information on the 2014 MLB valuations. Using the new Forbes values in conjunction with the Bloomberg research, teams have been adjusted accordingly.

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9. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Awkwardly named but still raking in the cash, the L.A. Angels of Anaheim land at No. 8 on this list by virtue of the team’s $1,090 million value (or just over $1 billion). That’s coming off four straight seasons of missed playoffs. A throwback/homage to the original L.A. Angels, who played until 1957, the L.A.A.o.A. have been drawing crowds to Angel Stadium of Anaheim since 1966.

Since they’re based in greater Los Angeles, the Angels make a killing in media rights; they’re pulling in a solid $100 million from that alone (good for fourth-best in MLB), and an additional $275 million in other team revenue. With $78 million in gate receipts (to go with 2013 attendance of 3 million fans) and $27 million in sponsorships, the Angels are doing all right despite having to pay out $28 million to the league for revenue sharing.

The Angels enter 2014 with a payroll of $127.8 million and a fervent hope to break their playoff drought. The franchise last won a World Series in 2002 after gaining a wild-card berth. They were able to capture an American League Division title in 2009, though, and they’ve got Mike Trout. Everyone loves Mike Trout.

Update: originally number eight on this list, the Angels found themselves switching places with the former number nine.

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8. Philadelphia Phillies

The oldest continually running ball club in American sports, the Phillies have been exciting fans since 1883 (because baseball is old), and their position as the ninth most valuable franchise in the sport reflects that. Plus, they’re actually a pretty good team, unlike some of the city’s other sports representatives, winning a World Series in 2008. That’s pretty cool.

The Phillies are worth $1,040 million ($1.04 billion). That is many, many millions. At the field, live and direct, they earn $142 million from the gate (e.g. tickets), $28 million from concessions, and $9 million a year from parking (that’s good for third in the entire league). Somewhere, there’s an army of Phillies fans sighing sadly into their wallets right now. Media rights ($73 million), team revenue ($315 million), and sponsorships ($26 million) make up the rest of the Phillies’ incoming cash-flow. The team lost an estimated $29 million to revenue sharing.

In 2013, the Phillies logged a 73-89 record. They did not make the playoffs. During the season, the Phillies fired manager Charlie Manuel and replaced him with interim manager Ryne Sandberg. For the 2014 season, the Phillies will have a payroll of $170.7 million.

Update: while the Phillies were originally number nine on this list, their new cable deal bumped them one spot above the Angels.

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7. Baltimore Orioles

Admit it: you’re a little surprised by this one. The Baltimore Orioles, worth more than the Angels? No disrespect to the city of Baltimore, but it’s hardly the same kind of mega-market like L.A. or a New York. But then you remember that the Orioles are the only game in town, and it starts to make a little bit more sense.

On the face of it, the numbers don’t add up; the team is worth $1,120 million (or $1.1 billion), but it’s not in the top 10 for any of the metrics. The Orioles “only” have an $80 million media deal. They’re just pulling in $52 million in gate receipts and are in the bottom third of the league when it comes to sponsorships ($18 million) and concessions ($14 million). The team’s kind of awful. From 1998 to 2012, the Os finished the first half of the season with a winning record exactly twice. What gives? They haven’t really been good since Cal Ripken Jr. retired.

The secret is with what Bloomberg calls the Regional Sports Network. The TV deal. The Orioles have the fourth-biggest RSN income in the entire league, measuring in at $492 million. That’s more than five times their 2014 payroll of $90.9 million. Not to mention that the team is a beneficiary of the league’s revenue sharing system, raking in $20 million last year. Sometimes being alone in the field can reward you handsomely.

Update: while the Orioles were worth $514 million as a franchise (not counting media rights or anything else) per Bloomberg, they are now worth $620 million according to Forbes. Even with that bump, they stay the same in the rankings, although they are now worth $1.2 billion.

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6. San Francisco Giants

The San Francisco Giants, on the other hand, make their money from raking in cash hand over fist. The winningest team in baseball history, the Giants decamped from New York in 1958, planting themselves in the Bay Area along the way to hosting the most eventual Hall of Famers in MLB history, as well as winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012. The franchise is valued at $1,230 million ($1.2 billion). Update: now $1.3 billion.

Back to the Giant’s cash rake: they’re top 10 in team revenue with $300 million, concessions ($26 million), sponsorships ($28 million), and media rights ($88 million). They’re top five in gate receipts ($126 million), parking ($9 million), and attendance, with 3.4 million people showing up at AT&T Park to cheer them on. Additionally, the team’s RSN, while no Orioles deal, is still worth a smooth $230 million. That’s the sixth largest in the league.

The Giants have a great rivalry with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who we’ll see later on in this list. After winning the World Series in 2012, the Giants struggled in 2013, a slow mid-season that was somewhat rectified by their strong finish.  While the Giants missed the playoffs, they’re still just two years removed from going all the way, and the memory of victory is fresh in the minds of their fans.

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5. Chicago Cubs

The longstanding sufferers from the city on a big lake that’s not the ocean, ladies and gentlemen, your Chicago Cubs. Yeah, the Cubs make bank. No, they still haven’t won since 1908. Yes, we should probably take the Goat Curse as fact at this point. No, this isn’t a misprint or a mistake — the Cubs are worth $1,320 million ($1.3 billion). Update: now $1.5 billion.

Singlehandedly proving Vince Lombardi wrong, the Cubs stand firmly on the side of “winning isn’t everything,” as do their fans, bringing in $320 million worth of team revenue for the Lovable Losers. That’s a whole lot of Cubs paraphernalia. Perhaps because there’s nothing like eating (and drinking) the pain away, the Cubs rank third overall in concession sales, pulling in $30 million from all the fans who show up — and boy, do they show up. Try fourth in the league for gate receipts ($128 million), because everyone likes a train wreck.

That’s probably not fair to the Cubs and their fans. Or their players, who are collectively being paid $107.6 million to try and end the longest-running drought in American sports. Which they won’t do. Again. At least your team is worth more than the White Sox.

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4. New York Mets

The Mets. Still a real baseball team. Still a really valuable baseball team, despite the fact that they’ve only made the playoffs once since getting shamed all the way back to Queens in the Battle of the Boroughs that was the 2000 World Series by the New York Yankees. The Cubs are “Aw, shucks” losers — their drought is long enough that everyone who was old enough to see them win a World Series has passed on, so the pain is kind of a residual funk, a historical footnote. The last time the Mets had a winning season was in 2008. Their not-so-goodness is fresh. Ugly. Less ugly is their position on this list, and the fact that, somehow, the Mets are worth $2,050 million (or $2 billion, with a B). Update: the Forbes and Bloomberg valuations are nearly identical. No change for the Mets.

Yeah. Two thousand, fifty million dollars. For the Mets. Here’s another bit of surprising trivia: the team has a bigger RSN than the Yankees. Yep. The Mets’ RSN is more than half their total value, coming in at $1,165 million. After that, their big earnings come from media rights ($120 million, second highest in the league) and their $55 million sponsorship deal (also second highest). If you guessed that the Mets didn’t have a lot of people coming to their games, you were right, as they finished in the bottom third of the league, with only 2.1 million fans making the trip.

To add insult to injury, the Mets had to pay $27 million dollars in revenue sharing. Their 2014 team salary, however, is a relatively tiny $73.9 million. Half of their television revenue can cover their team for a year. Yowzer.

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3. Boston Red Sox

If there’s any silver lining to being a Mets fan, it’s that they were the team that beat the Red Sox in 1986. Ever since the Sox unleashed Boston’s “Title Town” kick in 2004, the city’s sports fan base has become kind of insufferable. The Sox won. The Bruins won. The Celtics won. The Patriots won. The only real loser was the letter “r.” It certainly wasn’t John Henry or Thomas Werner, who saw their franchise valued by Bloomberg at $2,060 million (or just over $2 billion). Update: now $2.4 billion.

The Red Sox are second in the league when it comes to team revenue ($405 million), gate receipts ($174 million), concessions ($36 million), and third in the league for sponsorships ($40 million). They are unofficially first in sales of pink baseball hats, which have become common around New England for bandwagon fans ever since the Sox won the World Series in 2004. They trail the Mets and the No. 1 team when it comes to RSN ($673 million), although fans should note that means that the Red Sox TV deal is worth, by itself, more than the bottom 10 franchises in the league are worth in total.

Carrying a team payroll of $140.6 million into 2014, the Sox will try to capitalize on their out-of-nowhere 2013 World Series victory and continue to make distance from the chicken-and-beer clubhouse collapse of 2012. Feast or famine has been the case with the Sox in recent years, and 2014 looks to be no different.

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2. Los Angeles Dodgers

You know, Magic Johnson’s baseball team. Or, actually, the team with the highest attendance in 2013: 3.7 million people showed up to watch the Dodgers play last season, with the total team valued at $2,100 million (or $2.1 billion). Update: now $2.3 billion. Interestingly, the Dodgers, originally (and famously) from Brooklyn, barely broke the top 10 in gate receipts despite the attendance, logging only $81 million for the gate. They did end up fourth in the league for concession sales, though.

The Dodgers only topped the charts in two areas. Their parking revenue — because they’re an L.A. baseball team — was through the roof, coming in first with $10 million dollars. The other area? What Bloomberg calls “related businesses,” or the value of team-owned enterprises. The Dodgers pulled in $153 million from their related businesses last year, first in the MLB.

While the team took in $325 million in team revenue (jerseys, hats, etc.)  and $40 million in sponsorships, they’re on the hook for the largest team salary in the MLB. In 2014, the Dodgers will be paying $220.3 million to their players. The last time the Dodgers won a World Series was in 1988.

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1. New York Yankees

Because of course. The New York Yankees are worth $3,280 million (or $3.2 billion). Update: now $3.5 billion. For those of you keeping score at home, that means that the Yankees are more valuable than the Tampa Bay Rays, the Cleveland Indians, the Colorado Rockies, the Kansas City Royals, and the Oakland Athletics. Combined.

They are first in the league when it comes to team revenue ($570 million), gate receipts ($265 million), concessions ($53 million), sponsorships ($84 million), and media rights ($165 million), which shouldn’t really come as any surprise to anyone. They are, after all, the most famous professional sports franchise in the country. There’s a reason why people get the iconic logo tattooed all over themselves. Maybe not a good reason, but a reason nonetheless.