NFL ownership is an exclusive club that only the rarest of the rarest billionaires can hope to become a member of. With billion dollar television contracts and enough tax and anti-trust exemptions to make even your most ardent capitalist blush, membership in this club entails not only prestige, but one of the safer investments that money can buy.
However, because of the rapid growth that the sport has enjoyed over the past 10-15 years, owners have been forced to leverage themselves even further to ensure that enough capital is available to meet new and growing demands; stadium upgrades, player salaries and long-term injury compensation, to name a few. As such, most teams are forced to operate with some level of debt to ensure that day-to-day operations are met, with their debt-to-value percentage affecting their ability to utilize credit.
Below are the 10 teams with the worst debt-to-value percentage in the NFL.
10 Baltimore Ravens – 22% Debt-to-Value
With recent Super Bowl success, and the money that comes with it, the Ravens opened up their wallet to make Joe Flacco one of the highest-paid players in the game. Ranked 9th in the league in terms of valuation and with their current stadium still very much up to par (only minor upgrades are expected to the stadium over the next few seasons), the Ravens' operating income should allow them to spare no penny while they look to do battle with the Bengals and Steelers over the next several seasons.
9 Jacksonville Jaguars – 24% Debt-to-Value
Shahid Kahn, who purchased the team in 2012 (as well as English Premier League team Fulham) has looked to right the very wrong ship that is the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since they joined the NFL as an expansion team, the club has failed to land a franchise quarterback while serving as seasonal whipping boys for the Colts and (more recently) the Houston Texans. Their early failures combined with an apathetic fan base that’s never really taken to them (Jaguars games are frequently blacked out in the region) have led Khan to try and build broad support internationally; while the NFL plays one or two games in London each year, the Jaguars will be slated to “host” one of these two games annually and will enjoy an exclusive exemption from the NFL to market their team overseas. These international games could become a trend (or as some fans perceive it, a threat) for teams that are struggling to sell their events domestically.
8 Oakland Raiders – 24% Debt-to-Value
The Oakland Raiders used to be one of the premier franchises of the NFL but have certainly seen better days. The only saving graces for the now perpetually disappointing Raiders is how little this team spends to keep their debt-to-value reasonable. The team has not had a winning season since 2002 and has gone through more coaches in that time than any other in the league. Complicating matters is the fact that they’re forced to share the Oakland Coliseum venue with the Oakland A’s baseball team, leaving the venue less than desirable for football games. They’re also forced to share game-day revenues with the city which are already paltry due to a league-low attendance. Barring a new stadium deal in Oakland, the Raiders may find themselves in another city sooner rather than later.
7 Washington Redskins – 26% Debt-to-Value
Despite ambiguous feelings about him from fans and media, Dan Snyder has always been one to spend money where needed (or at least, where he felt it was needed). Unfortunately for the fans, he’s also of the opinion that they should be spending lavishly as well, as Redskins tickets are amongst the highest in the league for a team that hasn’t had much success since Joe Gibbs coached in the 80s and early 90s. Snyder paid $750 million when he first purchased the team and has been able to leverage a rabid fan base (third in the NFL in attendance) into their $1.7 billion evaluation today.
6 Atlanta Falcons – 29% Debt-to-Value
The Falcons have done an excellent job of whitewashing themselves from the Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino eras with new coach Mike Smith and star quarterback Matt Ryan. What has hindered the Falcons’ valuation the most has been that their current venue, the Georgia Dome, is operated by the state itself which splits current stadium revenues with the team. The Falcons have since secured funding for a new $1 billion stadium in which it will control all operations and revenues coming through it. As such, expect the team’s operating income to rise substantially over the next few years as their debt-to-value plummets.
5 Detroit Lions – 31% Debt-to-Value
Owned by the Ford family, the Lions share a similar forgotten fate as the Vikings, as both are overshadowed by the much more prestigious, successful and valuable Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North Division. Despite a low-valuation ($900 million, 28th in the league), the Lions have put themselves in a very precarious spot where they boast one of the highest payrolls in the league with little postseason success to show for it. Fortunately for the Ford family, fans have bought into this top-down investment and attendance is the highest it’s been in years while ticket prices have been raised dramatically.
4 Minnesota Vikings – 33% Debt-to-Value
Whether it's stadium collapse, ownership indictment or season-ending injuries, the Vikings haven’t had much to cheer for since the 1960s heydays of the Purple People Eaters. Fortunately for Minnesota, who were amongst the league worst in stadium revenue (parking, concessions, etc), the team was able to finally secure funding for a brand new stadium with help from the city of Minneapolis. At a current valuation of $1.0 billion, a new stadium (and the additional revenues it’s expect to generate) should help move the Vikings up from 21st to a top-15 valued club with the potential to draw a Super Bowl to town sooner rather than later.
3 Miami Dolphins – 36% Debt-to-Value
The Dolphins have epitomized mediocrity over the last decade with only a handful of playoff appearances (and usually short ones) and attendance struggles that peaked last season with the lowest attended NFL venue. The Dolphins have needed a facility upgrade for years as their current venue, Sun Life Stadium, was originally crafted with the idea of being able to operate as both a football and baseball venue. As a result, field-level seating is much further back than at an average football stadium, creating a less intimate game-day experience for fans. While the Dolphins ownership has desperately tried to raise money from the Miami-Dade county, those pursuits have been fruitless thus far, putting the team's future in the city very much in question
2 New York Giants – 42% Debt-to-Value
The Giants are a great example of how a team can be as successful as they are and still rely on a steady stream of credit to help them with any upgrades on and off the field. Their recent success has helped them dwarf their in-city rivals in terms of attendance (falling just behind the Dallas Cowboys) while charging slightly less for tickets than the Jets. They are currently valued at approximately $1.5 billion with projected future revenues strong enough to ensure that continued borrowing will not be an issue.
1 New York Jets – 54% Debt-to-Value
While Rex Ryan certainly provides a lot of entertainment on the sidelines and in post-game press conferences, the team's lack of success on the field alongside rising ticket prices (the most expensive in the league) have led to many empty seats on game days, falling to 26th in attendance last year. The Jets also share their home field, MetLife Stadium, with the much more successful New York Giants who’ve won two Super Bowls in the past seven years. Following the lead of other teams, the Jets have installed “personal seat licenses” that season ticketholders are forced to pay each season on top of their standard ticket fees. While this team is still a couple more years away from seriously competing (and with their rival Patriots expected to be division leaders until Tom Brady retires), the Jets will have to hope to squeak into the playoffs via the Wild Card in order to help fill their postseason coffers.
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