Manchester United lost the Premier League title on the last day of the season in heartbreaking fashion, when rival Manchester City scored a last-minute goal to defeat Queens Park Rangers and clinch its first title ever in May. Man City’s win prevented Manchester United from winning a second straight Premier League title–and record 20th overall–disappointing the team’s 659 million fans around the world.
The Red Devils still lay claim to another title, though: The world’s most valuable sports team. Forbes estimates Manchester United is now worth $2.23 billion, 19% more than No. 2 Real Madrid, which is worth $1.88 billion.
Manchester United fans will once again get a chance to own a piece of the iconic club as the Glazer family filed plans this month for an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange. The Glazers took the club private in 2005 in a leveraged buyout worth $1.47 billion. (The team traded on the London Stock Exchange before then.)
Don’t expect to be picking the next manager if you buy shares. The Glazers intend to keep control of the club through a dual-class share structure, where the Glazers’ shares will be worth 10 votes apiece, while the public gets one vote for each share. Dual-class shares are unusual, but a number of high-profile companies, including Facebook, LinkedIn and The New York Times, use them to retain control at the top while they sell ownership stakes to the public. With the offering, the team can reduce its hefty debt load, which stood at $663 million as of March.
Manchester United has a host of lucrative sponsorships in place. Insurer Aon pays $31 million a year to put its name on the team’s jerseys in a deal that runs through 2014. Last year, DHL Express inked a four-year deal with the club worth a reported $62 million to sponsor Manchester United’s practice jerseys. It is the first case of a practice jersey sponsorship deal for soccer in the U.K. Nike manages the team’s merchandise sales and the agreement is worth a minimum of $39 million annually for Manchester United based on overall sales in a deal through 2015.
Soccer clubs hold the top two spots among the world’s most valuable franchises, but it is American football teams that dominate the rest of the top 50. All 32 NFL teams made the cut, led by the Dallas Cowboys, worth $1.85 billion, tied with the New York Yankees for third overall. The Cowboys are the kings of the NFL thanks to their $1.2 billion stadium, which generates more than $100 million annually from premium seating and nearly $60 million from sponsors like AT&T, Bank of America, Ford Motor and PepsiCo.
The future looks even brighter for NFL teams thanks to a new labor agreement, as well as a new round of TV contracts. The league and its players endured a four-month lockout last year, but no regular season games were lost. The new collective bargaining agreement ensures labor peace for 10 years and gives owners a bigger piece of the pie, as players settled for a salary cap based on 48% of total revenues versus roughly 54% in previous years.
The NFL inked extensions to its TV deals with CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC last year. The nine-year deals (ESPN is for eight years) start with the 2014 season and are worth $5 billion a year collectively, a 62% bump on the prior contracts. The average NFL team is worth $1.04 billion.
Major League Baseball landed seven teams on the list (same as soccer), led by the Yankees. As Forbes pointed out in a cover story earlier this year, baseball is flush with TV money thanks to a boom among regional sports networks hungry for content. The Yankees’ YES Network, which is 34% owned by the team, is the most profitable RSN in the U.S. generating more than $200 million in operating income last year. The team is also a cash cow with $330 million in ticket revenue in 2011, including luxury suites. The Red Sox had the next highest gate at $190 million.
Basketball and Formula 1 both placed two teams among the 50 most valuable franchises. The Los Angeles Lakers jumped 13 spots and are now ranked No. 35 with a value of $900 million, up 40% from last year. As with baseball, revenue growth is tied to TV. The Lakers struck a deal with Time Warner Cable beginning with the 2012-13 season valued at an average of $200 million a year, compared to $35 million under their old agreement. Time Warner will show games on two regional sports channels, one in English and one in Spanish. The Lakers have by far the biggest audience on TV, averaging 258,000 households on Fox Sports West last year.
F1 powerhouse, Ferrari, ranks No. 15 with a value of $1.1 billion, up 3% from last year. Ferrari extended its $52 million-a-year sponsorship deal this year with Spanish bank Santander. This follows Ferrari's blockbuster extension last year with sponsor Marlboro worth as much as $500 million over three years. McLaren’s value fell 2% this year to $800 million as main backer Vodafone is reviewing its sports sponsorship commitments. McLaren would be hard pressed to replace Vodafone at comparable levels. McLaren also faces the free agency of Lewis Hamilton, who is one of the most marketable drivers in the sport. Hamilton’s contract expires at the end of 2012.