- Darren Rovell, ESPN.com Sports Business reporter
- 0 Shares
Major League Baseball teams can bask in the glow of the biggest year-over-year change in valuation ever calculated by Forbes magazine as they enter a new season, but it's not the popularity of the game or their ballparks the owners have to thank for the surge.
According to figures released by the publication Wednesday, the league's off-the-field investments have helped boost the average worth of the 30 teams by 23 percent to $744 million.
In its report, Forbes, which has been tracking the league's finances since 1998, revealed that the money that all teams made from the $450 million sale of the Montreal Expos in 2006 was invested in hedge funds that are now worth more than $1 billion.
"The value of a team used to be about a team itself," Forbes executive editor Michael Ozanian said in a phone interview with ESPN.com. "Then it shifted to the stadium value and then to the television deals, and now it's more about what's not on the field at all."
Each team also owns an equal share in MLB Advanced Media, which, among other things, has generated massive revenue from its game-day video and audio app MLB At Bat, the highest grossing sports app in the Apple store on the iPhone and iPad for four consecutive years.
MLB Advanced Media generates more than $600 million in revenue, and Forbes conservatively values the subsidiary at $6 billion.
Combine those investments with the $12.4 billion in national television revenue the clubs will receive thanks to new deals with Fox, Turner and ESPN that run through the 2021 season, and it's easy to see why it's a great time to be a Major League Baseball owner.
The New York Yankees are the most valuable team for the 16th straight year. Forbes tabs the team's value at $2.3 billion, surpassing the Dallas Cowboys' $2.1 billion for the title of most valuable franchise in North America. The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the No. 2 MLB spot at $1.5 billion.
Ozanian said that the $2.1 billion price that Guggenheim Partners paid for the Dodgers looks to be too steep since he believes at least $1 billion of the team's new television deal, which has been announced but not yet submitted to Major League Baseball, will go toward revenue sharing.
The Boston Red Sox are the third most valuable team at $1.3 billion, while the Chicago Cubs come in at $1 billion, the final team worth at least 10 figures. Ozanian says the rise in value of the Cubs, the team portion having been bought by Tom Ricketts in 2009 for $700 million, has to do with the fact the team was purchased significantly below its asset value as a result of the financial meltdown. A new local television deal, which is not yet negotiated but begins in the 2015 season, is also baked into the price.
Despite the much-publicized shedding of its top players, the Miami Marlins are worth $520 million this year, up 16 percent from last year. The team was worth $360 million in 2011, before it was awarded its new stadium.
"The Marlins should be up even more -- 25 percent this year," Ozanian said. "But not a lot of people are going to show up now that they did what they did. They shouldn't be worth less than the Milwaukee Brewers [$562 million]."
Forbes' findings come a week after sources told ESPNNewYork.com's Adam Rubin that owners are moving toward eliminating the pension plans of all personnel not wearing big league uniforms.
A majority of owners favor the abolition of the pension plan, a source said. A vote, which was intended to be kept secret, is scheduled to take place at owners meetings May 8-9 in New York.
7hRandy Jennings, Special to ESPN.com