The richest sports portfolios are underpinned by their teams and enhanced by their media, gambling, esports, auto racing, hospitality and mixed martial arts businesses.
When the NFL playoffs kick off this Saturday, 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.
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.
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