Now that the Super Bowl has come and gone, leaving fans (except in Seattle) dissatisfied that a great season culminated with one of the worst, most lopsided championship games, it is time to look at the numbers—no, not player or team stats, but financial figures. Although the league’s strict salary cap prevents soccer-like disparity between teams, there is disparity between respective teams’ financial value.
There are many reasons why one team is worth more than another. For instance, some teams are privately owned, whereas other teams are partially owned by the public. Due to their location and fan-base, some teams can command higher ticket prices, whereas others cannot. The disparity between San Francisco and Oakland perhaps best illustrates this latter point. San Francisco is one of the league’s most valuable franchises, whereas, just across the bridge, Oakland is one of the league’s least valuable, which leads one to conjecture that Oakland’s relative poverty might contribute to the large financial gap separating the two franchises. For Jacksonville, it has been a struggle to fill seats, and for Buffalo, gimmicky moves like playing one game per year in Toronto are desperate attempts to generate revenue.
This list looks at the NFL’s ten least valuable franchises in 2013. However, this list should not perturb any fans of the following teams; financial woe has not beset every team on this list, and it is a testament to the league and the measures it has put in place to ensure competitiveness across the board that some of these teams are successful on the football field. Unfortunately for some teams, their financial woes in 2013 do not augur well for their future.
10 New Orleans Saints - Franchise Value: $1.004 billion
When the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in 2009, the result instantly went down as one of the most heartwarming successes in NFL history, if not the history of professional sports in America. Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the city, taking lives, destroying business, and razing homes. Today, the franchise continues to be a success, and it is estimated that close to $400 million in increased revenue will be generated through 2025 by virtue of the team’s new lease agreement on their stadium.
9 Arizona Cardinals - Franchise Value: $961 million
The Arizona Cardinals have a huge fan-base in Phoenix, one of the nation’s densest cities in terms of population. The franchise’s state-of-the-art stadium is its crowning jewel, and undoubtedly bolsters support. In fact, Business Week ranked the franchise’s stadium, the University of Phoenix Stadium, as one of the ten most impressive sport facilities in the world. This past season, the team likewise strengthened support, improving its on-field performance and finishing with a 10-6 record.
8 San Diego Chargers - Franchise Value: $949 million
The team’s recent success should improve attendance, which fell for five consecutive years before this season. Without a team in L.A., though, San Diego continues to be the only fish in the Southern Californian pond. The franchise will continue to be successful, but if L.A. gets a team, the Chargers' value might start to plummet. Still, San Diego is a big city, and the team has enough talent to be competitive in the coming years.
7 Atlanta Falcons - Franchise Value: $933 million
Although the team played poorly and below expectations in 2013, the franchise agreed with state officials for new $1 billion stadium a year ago. Atlanta is one of the fastest growing cities in the US, and this will only benefit the team’s value in years to come. However, the team needs to win, if the franchise has plans to increase ticket prices. With a wealth of talent returning in 2014, the team looks to recapture its place at the top of the NFC’s food-chain.
6 Cincinnati Bengals - Franchise Value: $924 million
Cincinnati being one of the league’s least valuable teams is no surprise; Ohio is a small market flanked by giant markets, and Cincinnati is not a big city. In the past several years, the franchise has cut ticket prices to increase attendance, and the plan has worked. The team has also begun to win again, as it has no dearth of young talent. Indeed, with the formidable duo of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, the team can win games just by outscoring their opponents.
5 Detroit Lions - Franchise Value: $900 million
Although the team has never been successful, having never advanced to the Super Bowl, and the city of Detroit continues to suffer from its tragic economic collapse, the franchise is firmly rooted. With exciting young players, the team looks to be on the brink of success. Next year will be important for the team, as it looks to ascend the NFL ranks. With Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, anything seems possible for this team. Their success could also bring unquantifiable relief to a poverty-stricken city.
4 St. Louis Rams - Franchise Value: $875 million
For some fans, it is tough to associate financial distress with the Rams, since their jerseys scream, "money". But the team’s swag aside, harsh economic times continue to characterize St. Louis, a city that was once a bastion of affluence and opportunity. It will be interesting to see what happens to the franchise in the coming years, since it can opt out of its stadium lease in 2015. If public money goes into stadium renovations—given the city’s current state, that seems unlikely—the franchise might opt to stay, but a move back to L.A. is not as farfetched as it might have once seemed.
3 Buffalo Bills - Franchise Value: $870 million
Unfortunately for Buffalo Bills fans, who remain some of the most ardent supporters of any team, the franchise is tenuously staying afloat. Poverty continues to pervade Buffalo and the city does not show any signs of an economic upswing—not to mention the city is small to begin with. A yearly game in Toronto illuminates the tragic state of the franchise, and the ubiquity of discussions about where the franchise will move to compounds the situation for fans. However, a new lease agreement has the city and county paying almost $100 million in renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium. Unlike with the Seattle Supersonics, it seems that Buffalo fans refuse to let their team go.
2 Jacksonville Jaguars - Franchise Value: $840 million
When Jacksonville emerged onto the NFL scene, it seemed like a model franchise. Fans supported their new team, and best of all, the team won. Those early seasons are gone, and the franchise now struggles to fill seats. Jacksonville is also in an unforgiving market. Indeed, the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been firmly ensconced in Florida for years. If the team starts to win, though, fans might come back; wins always bolster support, if not generate it.
1 Oakland Raiders - Franchise Value: $825 million
Formerly the Los Angeles Raiders, the Oakland Raiders have been a bad football team for the last decade. The franchise has signed high-profile free agents like Randy Moss and Warren Sapp to no avail, and it squandered a first-overall pick in 2007 by taking JaMarcus Russell. As Oakland ranks as the least valuable franchise in the NFL, and the team continues its poor on-field performance, a move back to hallowed Los Angeles might be the right move.
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