How the NFL makes teams rich
For football fans, November can be an intense month. With the National Football League’s 32 teams hitting the mid-point of their season, the scrutiny of each team’s performance grows harsher. It’s a time when fans can make their own judgment about whether the big money their teams spent on football talent is paying off. And as they puzzle over that, they might also wonder just how much all that spending affects their team’s bottom line.
Rest assured, football fans. Whether or not you are impressed with your team’s performance on the field, there’s a good chance that its balance sheet is in great shape.
Football revenue has climbed dramatically during the past few decades, thanks in large part to the NFL’s system of sharing league dollars among all its clubs, and the New Orleans Saints have enjoyed the rewards right along with everyone else.
According to the latest report by Forbes.com, which annually analyzes the value of every NFL team, the Saints last year raked in $395 million, which is about $116 per resident of the metropolitan area. The team’s annual revenue has climbed 85 percent during the past decade, enabling owner Tom Benson Jr. to shell out increasingly high sums to pay players. Last year, the on-field talent, led by star quarterback Drew Brees, cost Benson $205 million.
But even after paying players, coaches, administrative staff and covering the host of other costs necessary to put the team on the field at least 16 times a year, the Saints enjoyed an operating profit – which is revenue minus expenses but excluding taxes and debt service – of $97 million.
These figures reflect the heady financial environment in which the NFL and its clubs exist. Big Money is the name of this game, and of all the numbers that the team owners obsess over, the most important one may be team value. Estimates of what a team is worth give owners an idea of the price they might be able to get should they decide to put their team up for sale, and Tom Benson is no doubt thrilled to see that Forbes this year valued his team at $2 billion. Benson, who bought the team in 1985 from then-owner John Mecom, paid $72 million for the franchise.
Top 10 NFL teams
Because the Saints and most other NFL teams are privately owned by either a single individual or small group of investors, information about their financial well-being is generally hard to come by. But thanks to the unique ownership structure of one NFL club, fans have a pretty good idea of how much money, at a minimum, is flowing in to all the teams.
Since 1923, the venerable Green Bay Packers franchise has been owned by shareholders who paid varying amounts to own a tiny piece of their favorite team. Currently, more than 360,000 people, who paid sums ranging from $5 to $250 per share, own the team.
Its public ownership structure subjects the team to Securities and Exchange Commission regulation, including rules that require key financial information to be made available to the public. As a result, the Packers release many details in quarterly and annual financial statements.
It is through the Packers’ regular financial reports that payments from the NFL’s shared revenue pool to the league’s clubs have become known. That pool is fed, primarily, by television networks that pay huge sums to the league for the right to air more than 500 pro football games each season. The NFL’s most recent long-term deals with CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN, DirecTV and the NFL Networks totaled more than $7 billion.
Additional sponsorships and promotional deals with companies such as Microsoft, which provides the electronic tablets used on the sidelines by coaches and players, push the shared revenue pool still farther into the stratosphere.
Once a year, the NFL carves this national pool into 32 equal chunks and sends checks to its franchises. The latest checks totaled nearly $244 million each, based on a report from the Packers.
As if the national revenue doesn’t provide enough of a windfall, most NFL teams this year are also benefiting from payments made by the owners of three teams that chose to relocate. The moves by the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles, and the impending move by the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, will send an additional $27 million to each of the non-relocating teams.
All these payments sent the Packers’ profit – the actual bottom line – to $73 million in the current year.
With an estimated value of $2.55 billion, the Packers ranked at No. 13 on the Forbes.com list of NFL teams. While the Saints ranked farther down the list, at No. 27, owner Tom Benson nevertheless must be pleased. The Saints’ value jumped by 14 percent in just the past year.
Kathy Finn’s biography of New Orleans Saints owner, “Tom Benson: A Billionaire’s Journey,” is available in most area bookstores and from major online book sellers.