The richest sports portfolios are underpinned by their teams and enhanced by their media, gambling, esports, auto racing, hospitality and mixed martial arts businesses.
The NFL playoffs kick off this Saturday, and the New England Patriots will be watching the action on television. The squad has reached the Super Bowl nine times since 2000, the rookie year for quarterback Tom Brady, and taken home the trophy in six of those visits. But Brady is leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the postseason this year while the Patriots delivered their first losing season in two decades.
The setback has not hurt the fortunes of Pats owner Robert Kraft, whose well-timed investments in non-NFL assets—as well as the enduring profits of football franchises—have delivered a winning year for the billionaire.
Forbes pegs the enterprise value (equity plus net debt) of the Kraft family’s sports holdings at $5.3 billion, up $800 million from last year. The jump is the largest among sports owners and lands the group at No. 7 on the 2020 list of the World’s Most Valuable Sports Empires, up from eighth last year.
The value of the Patriots increased by 7% in Forbes’ 2020 NFL team valuations, adding $300 million to the Kraft empire. The coronavirus dented revenue in 2020, as it did for every NFL team, but the league’s profit machine is expected to resume in 2021. Starting in 2023, the NFL will be armed with a new round of TV deals worth perhaps $15 billion a year, double the current average.
Timely investments in sports betting company DraftKings and gaming platform Skillz have a combined value of more than $400 million. DraftKings went public in April via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, and shares have tripled since then. The Kraft family also owns the New England Revolution (MLS), Kraft Analytics Group (sports data analytics) and Boston Uprising (esports franchise), as well as a small piece of UFC. Talent agency giant Endeavor paid $4 billion for the mixed-martial-arts promotion in 2016, and its current enterprise value is $9.4 billion.
The 20 most valuable sports empires have a combined enterprise value of more than $100 billion, led by Liberty Media at No. 1 with $13 billion. Controlled by billionaire John Malone, Liberty owns MLB’s Atlanta Braves, Formula One and small pieces of the Drone Racing League and Denver’s Ball Arena. Liberty is ranked for the first time after a change to the methodology from last year’s inaugural list to include passive owners, as well as those who also manage their teams. The change also ranks the Paul G. Allen Trust (Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers and a minority stake in the Seattle Sounders) for the first time, landing at No. 9 with $5 billion.
The 20 most valuable sports empires have a combined enterprise value of more than $100 billion, led by Liberty Media at No. 1 with $13 billion.
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which houses the wide-ranging sports assets of Stan Kroenke, follows Liberty at No. 2 with $8.7 billion. The Dallas Cowboys empire built by Jerry Jones is third at $7 billion.
The values of top-tier sports assets, particularly teams, have held up extremely well during the pandemic. The New York Mets ($2.4 billion) and the Utah Jazz ($1.66 billion) both sold for rich valuations over the last six months while the Minnesota Timberwolves are on the market and attracting interest. Investors believe that revenue for major team sports will continue to climb in the years ahead as fans come back to stadiums and the value of media rights increases.
A surging stock market and cheap financing also pushed up valuations and sparked interest from far beyond the billionaire class as a preponderance of sports SPACs are being marketed to less wealthy retail investors. Fenway Sports Group reportedly has discussed merging with RedBall Acquisition, a $575 million SPAC launched by private-equity firm RedBird Capital and Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane, who triggered baseball’s “Moneyball” revolution.
In addition to the Red Sox, who increased in value by 3% from a year ago, FSG owns Premier League soccer club Liverpool, half of Nascar’s Fenway Roush Racing, 80% of regional sports network NESN and sponsorship business Fenway Sports Management. FSG ranks as the fourth-largest sports empire at $6.6 billion, flat from a year ago. While the baseball team rose in value, Fenway Roush and NESN both fell.
The World’s Most Valuable Sports Empires 2021
1. Liberty Media
Properties: Formula One, Atlanta Braves, Drone Racing League*, Ball Arena*
2. Kroenke Sports & Entertainment
Properties: Los Angeles Rams, Arsenal, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, Altitude Sports & Entertainment, Los Angeles Gladiators, Los Angeles Guerrillas
3. Jerry Jones
Properties: Dallas Cowboys, Legends*, The Star, CompLexity Gaming
4. Fenway Sports Group
Properties: Boston Red Sox, Liverpool, NESN, Roush Fenway Racing, Fenway Sports Management
5. Yankee Global Enterprises
Properties: New York Yankees, Legends*, YES Network*, New York City FC*, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders
6. Madison Square Garden Sports
Properties: New York Knicks, New York Rangers
7. Kraft Family
Properties: New England Patriots, New England Revolution, UFC*, Kraft Analytics Group, DraftKings*, Skillz*, Boston Uprising
8. Glazer Family
Properties: Manchester United, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9. Paul G Allen Trust
Properties: Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Sounders*
10. City Football Group
Properties: Manchester City, New York City FC, Melbourne City FC
11. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment
Properties: Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto FC, Toronto Argonauts
12. Benson Family
Properties: New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Pelicans
13. York Family
Properties: San Francisco 49ers, Leeds United*, Elevate*
14. Johnson Family
Properties: New York Jets
15. Guggenheim Baseball Management
Properties: Los Angeles Dodgers, Spectrum SportsNet LA
16. Jeffrey Lurie
Properties: Philadelphia Eagles
17. Stephen Ross
Properties: Miami Dolphins, International Champions Cup, Drone Racing League*
18. AMB Group
Properties: Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United, PGA Superstore
19. Buss Family Trust
Properties: Los Angeles Lakers
20. Ricketts Family
Properties: Chicago Cubs, Marquee Sports Network
To compile our scorecard of the most valuable sports empires, we screened our database of the most valuable teams from the NFL, MLB, the NBA, the NHL and soccer for people or companies whose holdings in these teams were above $2 billion. We use enterprise values, which reflect the cost of acquiring a business including debt. This diverges from Forbes’ net worth estimates for individuals, which are net of debt. Only those with a majority interest in at least one team were eligible. Thus, you won’t find Michael Rubin or Fanatics on our list, despite his minority ownership in teams and the company’s dominance in sports apparel merchandise.