Photo Credit: Jason Bridge \ USA TODAY Sports Images
Throwing money at a sports franchise will automatically make it successful, right? False. There are franchises in North American sports that are worth upwards of a billion dollars and these franchises are not always successful. Just look at the NHL. The top three most valuable teams have won their most recent Stanley Cup in 1994, when Mark Messier hoisted that beautiful mug over his head. In fact, the five most valuable teams of every North American sport have a combined seven championships in the last five years. That is thanks to two Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cups and one miracle Championship by the Red Sox last season.
How is success measured? Well, if a team is worth around a billion dollars, some playoff appearances would be great, and a championship would be outstanding. Not all teams are worth a billion dollars, however. There are teams that are not even worth half of that and then there are teams that are at the bottom of the pay scales when compared to the likes of the Yankees and the Cowboys. That does not mean that these teams cannot compete, does it? They still have the same amount of players as the other teams do and the players are what decided the success of a team. No matter what the team is worth, the roster and the management will always be what guides teams to that next level. The playoffs in any sport are an aspiration that all teams desire, regardless of worth. The next level where, as the saying goes, anything can happen. Where money has no part of it because you already proved that you can hang with the best of them, the richest of them and the most talented. So, to measure success, make the playoffs and take it from there.
That leads us to our top 5 inexpensive, but successful North American franchises. While this list is somewhat subjective, few can doubt what these franchises have been able to achieve, even though they can't spend as much as some of their competitors.
5 Oakland Athletics, Worth $468 Million
Moneyball. Yes, the movie that got Jonah Hill an academy award nomination. Yes, the same Jonah Hill from Superbad. It was not just a great movie that was based on a true story. It is THE story of having success with a small market team. Not the best one, however, since they find themselves at number five on the list. The Oakland Athletics rank in at number 28 on the Forbes' list of the richest baseball teams. At a net worth of $468 million, they are well below the $2.3 billion that the New York Yankees are worth. That did not discourage Billy Beane and his trusted sidekick. After being terrible for a long time, the A's finally had some limited success recently. In 2012, they won their division and it was the first time since 2006. They then they did it again the following season in 2013, and it was the first time in over ten years that they had repeated the feat.
The success of the regular season did not help them in the playoffs however. In both years they lost to a very strong Detroit Tigers team who had a world class pitching staff. The team has loads of momentum now and coming off three successive winning seasons, the team who isn't worth that much in the sports world is gaining fans all over North America. With that vintage green and classic logo, the merchandise is starting to fly off the shelves and who's to know how much they will be worth if the success continues.
4 Cincinnati Bengals, Worth $924 Million
The Cincinnati Bengals are a staple franchise in the NFL, and are worth only $924 million as compared to the Cowboys at $2.3 billion. That puts them in 27th place in the league. What the Bengals do have over the Cowboys however, is a stadium that is not also an amusement park, a smaller fan base who actually care about the team rather than the idea of the team, and an owner, Mike Brown, who leaves the football operations to the football people he hired. They also have a quarterback who does not choke games away when trying to make the playoffs. The Bengals have in fact made the playoffs for the last three seasons, including a divison title last season in a very tough AFC north. When having to line up against the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens and recent Champs Steelers, the seasons can be long for the Bengals, but they have found ways to persevere. Not just that, they've succeeded. Building through the draft has worked for them and with three winning seasons in a row, the success of this less expensive team may just continue.
3 St. Louis Blues, Worth $185 Million
Is that a McDonald's over there? A really big McDonalds with only one arch? Nah, it;s just the city of St. Louis and the Gateway Arch, where the next team on the list is from. The Cardinals are always around the playoff picture, the Rams have had success in the past and are slowly regaining momentum and then there are the Blues. Expansion brought them to NHL in 1967 and yes, when it comes to playoffs they are likely most known for being the team that Bobby Orr scored that famous Stanley Cup winning goal against where he flew through the air. Times are different now, no one has scored a Stanley Cup winning goal on them in a long time, mainly because they have not made it there again. That may change soon however. The Blues come in ranked 28th in the NHL in value. At only a measly $185 million they are not even in the same stratosphere as the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are worth 1.15$ billion. Ironically the last time the Leafs ever won a cup was the year that the Blues joined the NHL, so success is definitely not linked to worth.
The Blues are on the upswing though. The hockey minds in charge have loaded the team with young talent and they have made the playoffs for the last two seasons, while even winning their division in 2012. They won a playoff series that year, but lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. In fact, both years they could not handle the relentless assault of the big bodied Kings and bowed out to them two years running. The Blues have learned, and have gotten bigger, Maybe they will face off against the Kings again in the 2014 playoffs, and finally come out on top.
2 Atlanta Hawks, Worth $425 Million
It's a bird, it's a plane, wait, which type of bird? No one ever stopped to ask that question because the answer to the whole thing was Superman. Well, for the purpose of these least valuable franchises, the bird is definitely a hawk. The NBA franchise out of Atlanta is worth $425 million which sits them just above the New Orleans Pelicans ($420 million) and 26 away from the first place New York Knicks (worth $1.4 billion). This small market team has definitely made some noise in the Eastern Conference of the NBA however. The Eastern Conference may be the weaker of the two, but the Heat and Pacers can't be too fun to deal with all season long.
The Hawks have made the best of it, with three winning seasons in a row and three straight playoff appearances. In 2011, they beat the Magic in round one of the NBA playoffs and then lost to the Bulls who ended up giving the Heat a real run for their money. The next two years, the Hawks made the playoffs again and bowed out both times in the first round. In 2012, they lost to the Celtics who had only a bunch of superstars on their team and in the last NBA season they eventually lost to the Pacers who, then went on to give the reigning champs almost more than they can handle in the Eastern Conference Final. The future is bright in Atlanta, and with no value no less. Money does not mean success in Atlanta.
1 Tampa Bay Rays, Worth $451 million
The Tampa Bay Rays, not Devil Rays mind you, is the team that tops the list. The future Montreal Expos perhaps, as the rumor mill around baseball would have you believe. The Rays come in at dead last in the MLB, worth only $451 million. Regardless, the Rays know how to play baseball, which is all that really matters right? Going back to the year 2010, the Rays have made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. They won their division in 2010 and grabbed a wildcard spot in 2011 and 2013. They got the nod into first spot because making the playoffs in baseball are a tough feat to accomplish, for one. Secondly they play in arguably the best division in the game. The Yankees and the Red Sox are always difficult to beat and the Rays have to contend with that year after year.
Their playoff success has not been anything to write home about, but the teams they lost to are. Last season they won a playoff series with the Cleveland Indians and lost to the eventual champion Red Sox. They also lost to the Texas Rangers, who then went on to come one win away from a World Series against the Cardinals. Needless to say, the Rays have not been playing slouches in the MLB playoffs. Those factors, and the fact that they are dead last in value, make them a very attractive number one team on a list dedicated to teams who can still have success despite the odds and the dollar figures.