Somewhere along the line, the natural human propensity for participating in athletic competition led to the creation of various games and structured leagues where athletes could ply their trade in front of fans who filled fields to watch. At some point, people realized that they could profit off of the fans that clamored in to watch their local athletes compete. Once the athletes realized they were being exploited, they began taking salaries – very small salaries, initially, but salaries nonetheless. Thus was born the multi-billion dollar industry of professional sports.
Virtually all human societies have some form of sports culture. In the western world, we take our sports very seriously. Millions of fans funnel billions of dollars into organizations whose job it is to assemble and promote a team that competes in a national or international league of some sorts. As a consequence sports teams have become multinational brands in their own rights. The sports business is so massive that there’s almost nowhere on earth where you can completely escape it; Manchester United jerseys show up in London, New York City, and the Central African Republic.
Naturally, whoever stands behind these brands is in a position to make a lot of money. Even teams that perform dismally on the field can make their owners some serious cash. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup in almost 50 years, but that hasn’t stopped them from becoming the most profitable team in the NHL – and that’s all because of brand value. If you have an ungodly amount of money to thrown around, then buying up a sports team can be a great acquisition. It doesn’t take a genius to see the potential for profits, especially if the owner can help turn around the team’s performance on the field. As the brand value of sports teams have soared, so has their price tag. These are the 10 most expensive sports team acquisitions in history – and to be frank, they’re a little out of our price range.
10 #10 New York Jets - $635 Million
New York City is probably one of the best places to be a sports fan, simply because more often than not you have the choice of two – that’s right two – major teams to support. In the NFL, one of those is the New York Jets. In 2000, Woody Johnson purchased the New York Jets for $635 million, well above what most analysts predicted the team would go for on the market. Woody Johnson came from a wealthy family whose patriarch founded Johnson & Johnson, a multinational company that made everyone in the clan ludicrously wealthy. He remains the owner of the Jets to this day.
9 #8 (Tied) Houston Texans - $700 Million
#8 and #9 on our list are actually tied, but we’ll begin with the Houston Texans. The appropriately named Texans are situated in Houston, Texas and are owned by Bob McNair. Houston entrepreneur Bob McNair had been trying to bring an NHL franchise into his hometown with no success. When the Houston Oilers – Houston’s original NFL team – packed up and moved to Nashville and became the Tennessee Titans, McNair saw an opportunity where others saw a disappointing end to NFL football in Houston. He successfully petitioned the NFL and (for $700 million) became the owner of the new Houston Texans in 2002, the league’s newest expansion team and the 32nd team to join the NFL
8 #8 (Tied) Chicago Cubs - $700 Million
The price tag of the Chicago Cubs is tied with the Texans at $700 million but unlike the Texans, they were the furthest thing from an expansion team. The Cubs have a history that goes back to the club’s founding in 1870, making it a prestigious organization to own. The Tribune Company, who had owned the Cubs from 1981 to 2008, where in dire financial straits. They were looking to offload the club to a new owner, as they could no longer afford to hold the team. Enter the Ricketts family. The Ricketts patriarch, Joseph Ricketts, made his fortune as the owner and founder of TD Ameritrade, one of the largest online brokerage firms in the world. The whole family examined the opportunity that the Chicago Cubs presented, and decided to go all in as a joint venture in 2009.
7 #7 St. Louis Rams - $750 Million
In 2009 previous owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez put up the St. Louis Rams for sale. The announcement caught the eye of businessman Stanley Kroenke, who already owned the Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets. Kroenke’s initial bid was rejected because NFL rules stipulate that he couldn’t buy a franchise that would be in direct competition with a market area that he also owned sports teams in – the competing team in this case being the Denver Broncos. Kroenke slyly sidestepped that rule by passing ownership of the Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets to his son, which allowed the NFL to accept his $750 million bid in 2010.
6 #6 Jacksonville Jaguars - $770 Million
Illinois businessman Shahid Khan made history when he became the first member of an ethnic minority to own an NFL franchise. Originally from Pakistan, he moved to the United States at 16 years old and later began a career as an entrepreneur specializing in automobile parts. His company, Flex-N-Gate, became one of the main suppliers to several major automobile manufacturers, amassing a large fortune that has his net worth pegged at somewhere around $3.8 billion. He spent $770 million acquiring the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012.
5 #5 Washington Redskins - $800 Million
In 1999, the Washington Redskins were in dire need of new ownership. Longtime owner Jack Kent Cooke died 2 years prior, and temporary control of the team passed to his son John Kent Cooke. After 2 years he was unable to gather enough funds to permanently buy the team, and so the Redskins went up for sale. Daniel Snyder stepped in with an $800 million purchase, which at the time made the Washington Redskins the most expensive team in sporting history. Today the Washington Redskins have a massive fan base that's made them one of the highest valued teams in the NFL.
4 #4 Miami Dolphins - $1.1 Billion
In 2008, real estate mogul Stephen Ross purchased 50% of the Miami Dolphins, one of the most storied franchises in NFL history. He completed the purchase of the remaining 95% the following year, bringing the total value of the acquisition up to $1.1 billion. Since acquiring the Dolphins, Ross has been keen on gaining funding to renovate Sun Life Stadium, and has played hardball with the Florida legislature to do so. Although his request for taxpayer money was turned down, he’s floated the idea of moving the team to another location in Florida that would support his expansion plans, such as Palm Beach. Wherever the future of the Dolphins may be, Stephen Ross will be at the helm for a long time.
3 #3 Manchester United - $1.47 Billion
2 #2 Los Angeles Clippers - $2 Billion
By now you’re no doubt familiar with the tale of ex-LA Clippers' owner Donald Sterling, who was caught on tape making racist comments – which is particularly damning when you own an NBA team. In the aftermath, Sterling was forced by the NBA to sell the team, as the league wanted nothing to do with him. Meanwhile, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was looking for something to do after stepping down from Microsoft. Ballmer, a huge basketball fan, saw the opportunity of a lifetime. He very recently began finalizing the deal to purchase the LA clippers for $2 billion, making it the most expensive NBA team acquisition to date.
1 #1 Los Angeles Dodgers - $2.15 Billion
In 2012, Guggenheim Partners – a global and advisory financial services company – teamed up with ex-LA Laker Magic Johnson to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion, making it the most expensive sports team acquisition in history. The purchase was a special one considering Magic Johnson crafted his legend and built his fortune as an athlete in the city of angels. As you may have noticed, Los Angeles teams have been hitting the market for some pretty hefty price tags. This may be reflective of an overall valuation increase across the sports team market or just the fact that Los Angeles is one of the most highly populated metropolitan zones in the world. Whatever the reason, if you’re looking to buy a Los Angeles sports team anytime in the next few years, start saving.