Baseball as a sport has never been making so much money. Three years ago, the average MLB franchise ($491 million) was worth half of the average NFL franchise ($1 billion). Today the gap is considerably narrower, with the NFL ($1.2 billion) being only 56.7% more valuable than the MLB ($774 million) on a team by team basis. With no salary cap and less restrictive television contracts, Major League Baseball franchises have been increasing in value at an incredible rate. Sure, there is a luxury tax in place to charge teams that overspend, but this does little to stop the richest clubs from digging deeper into their pockets.
Take a look at some of the high-value teams in the sport and you’ll see where much of their revenue goes. The New York Yankees have a total value of $2.3 billion, for instance. They can afford to pay $228 million to their players because they have the ability to make $471 million in revenue each year. They’ll still finish the year with a profit when all expenses are considered. The league’s other high-value teams include the Los Angeles Dodgers at $1.6 billion, the Boston Red Sox at $1.3 billion and the Chicago Cubs at an even $1 billion. They all spend at least $100 million on their players every year.
But what about the low-value teams? Can they compete in a game where the almighty dollar seems to rule all? Are they trapped in small markets where players aren’t willing to play or do they simply not have the money to attract the hottest players in the game?
This listing of the ten least valuable teams in Major League Baseball includes a few teams that have actually been competitive in recent years. However, the majority of these clubs have struggled as a result of their financial instability. In a league filled with behemoths, these teams represent the underdogs; the ones who have to make the best out of what they have at their disposal without being able to buy their way to success.
10. Toronto Blue Jays – Team Value: $568 Million
Although they play in a large market of about six million people and have been Canada’s only MLB team since 2005, the Toronto Blue Jays have really struggled, not making the playoffs since winning the World Series for the second year in a row in 1993. The team went up $155 million in value from 2012 to 2013 and tried to make a big push adding $160 million in payroll charges. However, the Jays’ 74-88 record and failure to make the playoffs for a 20th straight season made 2013 a massive bust with a $117.5 million payroll that only hurt things even more.
9. Milwaukee Brewers – Team Value: $562 Million
Although the Milwaukee Brewers had an attendance total of 31,200 fans per game, placing them right in the middle of the pack, the 74-88 team struggled in 2013. The Brewers suffered from such factors as a one-third decline in television ratings, a lack of performance on an $83 million payroll and most notably star outfielder Ryan Braun‘s suspension for PED use. The team resorted to giving out free or discounted tickets to try and make amends to disgruntled fans. The 1.6 million population of Milwaukee’s market area and its proximity to Chicago don’t help much either. Owner Mark Attanasio tried to reproducer the Brewers’ 2011 success by adding $100 million to their payroll in 2012, but the team fell short and has missed the playoffs for the past two seasons.
8. Cleveland Indians – Current Value: $559 Million
The city of Cleveland is a real hard-luck place for sports – the Browns have struggled since returning to the NFL, the Cavaliers are failing in their post-LeBron era and the Indians haven’t won a World Series in more than sixty years. While the Indians did get a wild card spot with a 92-70 record in 2013 with a $77.7 million payroll, the team had the third-worst attendance total in the league at around 19,700 fans per game. The club still went up in value by around $150 million thanks to the team’s sale of their Sports Time Ohio network to News Corp for around $250 million.
7. Cincinnati Reds – Team Value: $546 Million
The Cincinnati Reds are the other team in Ohio and sport a similarly low value to their cousins in Cleveland. The team’s popularity has grown as the Reds made the playoffs in each of the last two years and had a 90-72 record in 2013, drawing about 31,000 fans per game on average. The Reds also have the second-highest local television ratings among all MLB teams and had a payroll of $107.5 million this year. Despite their mild success, the team still finds itself near the bottom of the league when it comes to total value at $546 million.
6. Colorado Rockies – Team Value: $537 Million
The Colorado Rockies drew nearly 35,000 fans per game in 2013 but the team’s fortunes on the field haven’t helped their worth. The Rockies were 74-88 in 2013 and 64-98 a year before that and have failed to make the playoffs for the past four seasons. Despite a drop in attendance over 2012, the team has a lucrative television deal with Roots Sports that expires in 2014. The team is expected to double its revenues from television rights in 2015 when they will be negotiating a new contract.
5. Miami Marlins – Team Value: $520 Million
The Miami Marlins have struggled considerably both on the field and in the stands. Controversy and criticism over funding for the team’s new stadium, concern about Jeffrey Loria‘s control over the club and a 69-93 2012 season where the team had a $102 million payroll have contributed to the Marlins’ $520 million value being as low as it is. The Marlins had an average of 19,600 fans come to each game this year, the second-lowest total in the league. The team cut its payroll to $36 million in 2013 and had a predictably terrible 62-100 record finishing dead last in the NL East.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates – Team Value: $479 Million
The Pittsburgh Pirates broke a 21-year playoff drought this year, earning a 94-68 record with an $80 million payroll. Although the team’s $479 million value is 43% higher than it was last year, the general value of the Pirates in relation to its brand is not that strong. The Pirates brand name is worth about $40 million, significantly less than the $136 million that the cross-state Philadelphia Phillies have, for example. The Pirates’ value is still expected to grow as they have seen an average 28,000 fans per game at PNC Park in 2013.
3. Oakland Athletics – Team Value: $468 Million
With a modest $60 million payroll, the Oakland Athletics have made the most of their money with a 96-66 record in 2013 and similarly impressive numbers the year before that. Struggles in procuring a new stadium or at least a better deal to stay at Oakland Coliseum are what have hurt the team financially. In addition, the Athletics have the third-lowest local television ratings in the league. Their local competition, the San Francisco Giants with their $786 million value, have not made things easier for the A’s either.
2. Kansas City Royals – Team Value: $457 Million
The biggest concern for the Kansas City Royals is that the team has not reached the playoffs since winning the 1985 World Series. The Royals’ 86-76 record from this past year was one of the team’s best in recent years, but still not enough to get them to the postseason. The team has increased spending on team salary to $81.5 million this year but their 21,600 average attendance per game has not done much to help the Royals make more than their $169 million in revenue for 2013.
1. Tampa Bay Rays – Team Value: $451 Million
The Tampa Bay Rays had a payroll of just $57.9 million in 2013 and have won ninety games or more in five of the team’s last six seasons, including a 92-71 record this past year. Despite their decent performance on the field, the Rays are still suffering from a lack of revenue. The team only averages 18,600 fans per game, their $167 million revenue is the lowest in all of baseball and efforts to move out of Tropicana Field to a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area have hit a brick wall. The Rays’ poor $31 million brand value hurts as well.
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