There are many reasons why people love sports — they are fun, exciting, healthy, unpredictable, and they make us feel alive. But for sports executives, the most profitable sports leagues are primarily a profitable business.
Today, sports have become one of the most lucrative parts of the entertainment industry, earning billions of dollars from various sources. Sports leagues and sports teams profit from sponsorships, ticket revenues, transfers, stadium rentals, broadcasting deals, merchandise, and much more.
Sports teams are usually owned by billionaires who invest huge amounts of money into new players, new stadiums and arenas, and brand management. However, these are profitable investments that pay off quickly.
Below, you can find out what the 11 most valuable sports leagues in the world are, ranked by their average yearly revenues.
Most profitable sports leagues:
1. National Football League (NFL) — $13 Billion
(Source: Market Watch)
European football is by far the most popular sport in the world. However, American football is the most profitable. The National Football League (NFL) is valued at $13 billion, which is how much they generate every year.
That should not come as a surprise to anyone, considering that the NFL has 29 out of the 50 richest franchises, including the most valuable sports franchise in the world. According to Forbes, the Dallas Cowboys are the most valuable sports team in the whole league.
The majority of the NFL’s revenue is generated by its TV contracts. The league sells broadcasting rights for billions of dollars to the biggest media companies in the world, such as FOX, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and so on.
The largest part of the NFL’s audience comes from the USA and Canada, which is why the NFL has the most expensive contracts with North American media outlets.
The biggest American football league also earns billions from different brand endorsements and sponsorships from financial enterprises, sports brands, health companies, and so on. This significantly increases its sports franchises’ values.
2. Major League Baseball (MLB) — $10 Billion
(Source: LWO Sports)
Major League Baseball is another sports league that is not popular globally. Its fan base is mostly centered in the United States. However, that does not stop the MLB from taking the second position on our list of the most profitable sports leagues in the world.
The MLB earns around $10 billion annually, which means that each of the participating teams brings in a profit of more than $300 million. A large portion of the MLB’s profits come from lucrative deals with regional sports networks. Each year, the most popular baseball teams rake in millions of dollars from these contracts.
For example, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed a 25-year-deal with Spectrum Sportsnet LA in 2014, worth $8.35 billion. The team made a profit of $204 million in 2016 alone from this deal.
However, the MLB is not a match to the NFL when it comes to the number of most valuable sports franchises in the world. Just 6 out of 50 most valuable teams come from this sports league.
Attendance is another major source of funding for Major League Baseball. That explains why the price of an average MLB ticket has risen consistently every year since 2006.
3. National Basketball Association (NBA) — $7.4 Billion
(Source: NEX Change Now)
Contrary to the two highest-grossing sports above, the National Basketball Association enjoys worldwide popularity and fame. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the world in general, so it’s natural that the NBA is followed in North America and other parts of the world.
The NBA, just like the other leagues on this list, has valuable deals signed with national TV broadcasters. They’ll be in place until 2024/25 and bring in more than $2.6 billion every year.
Are you asking “How much revenue does the NBA generate?” here’s your answer. According to Forbes, for the first time in NBA history, every NBA franchise is worth at least $1 billion. As a matter of fact, the average value of an NBA team in 2019 was $1.87 billion.
The most valuable of them all is the New York Knicks, who are worth $3.6 billion. Close behind them are Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and Chicago Bulls.
When it comes to attendance and ticket revenues, there’s nothing NBA can complain about. Ticket sales are higher than ever and ticket prices are on a consistent rise as well.
4. Indian Premier League (Cricket) — $6.3 Billion
(Source: Medium INC)
Cricket is one of the least popular sports on our list of the most profitable sports leagues. But the Indian Premier League is the fastest-growing sports league in the world. That makes a lot of sense considering that India is home to 1.339 billion people and cricket is their favorite sport.
To put things into perspective, the top-10 most-watched TV broadcasts ever in India are major cricket matches. When there is an important match, everything stops in India.
Even though the Indian Premier League consists of just 8 teams that play during a 47-day period, the league has reached a value of $6.3 billion. However, none of these is on the list of the richest sports teams in the world.
A big part of IPL’s annual revenue comes from the broadcasting deal with Star India, worth $2.55 billion.
IPL’s match attendance is on the rise as well. For example, in 2015, the average number of spectators per match was 32,000, which is much more than MLB.
5. English Premier League — $5.3 Billion
The Premier League is the most-watched sports league in the world, at least when it comes to football. It is restricted only to teams only from England and Wales, but it is followed by people around the world.
The Premier League is one of the most valuable leagues because it is home to some of the most expensive football clubs in the world, such as Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and so on.
The Premier League makes around $5.3 billion a year in revenues, largely coming from TV broadcasting rights, as is the case with almost all other most valuable sports leagues on this list.
For example, the Premier League signed a 3-year TV contract in 2016, which was worth $13.6 billion. This money was distributed evenly to the 20 major clubs in the league.
6. National Hockey League (NHL) — $4.43 Billion
(Source: Ultimate Corporate League)
The National Hockey League is on the sixth position of our list of sports leagues ranked by revenue even though ice hockey is not in the top 10 most popular sports in the world. How is this possible, you might ask?
The reason is that ice hockey is one of the most popular sports in North America and the northern, richest countries in Europe. Therefore, there are a lot of fans out there who are willing and capable of pouring tons of money into the biggest ice hockey league in the world.
At the end of the 2017/2018 season, the NHL generated around $4.43 billion in revenues. Not much has changed in the following season, but the numbers still rose slightly.
Interestingly, even though the NHL is this high on our list, none of its 31 teams has entered the top 50 list of the most valuable sports franchises in the world. Moreover, only four NHL clubs are valued at higher than $1 billion.
7. Australian Rules Football — $2.5 Billion
(Source: Global Sport Matters)
Australian Rules Football is far less popular than its American rival, the National Football League. However, AFL attracts some of the biggest crowds at its events, averaging around 36,700 spectators per match.
In 2018, the AFL ended the year with a revenue of $2.5 billion. The biggest teams, such as Collingwood Football Club and Hawthorne Football Club profited the most from it. The least valuable sports teams in the league include Melbourne and Gold Coast Suns.
The league has a signed TV deal that’s valid until 2022 and worth roughly $2.5 billion. That’s a 67% increase compared to the previous deal, which tells us that Australian Rules Football is on a good path to rise in the ranks in the following years.
Melbourne is the capital of the AFL, with 9 out of 18 teams residing there. The biggest AFL stadium in Australia is the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a 100,000 capacity, which is often used to the fullest. That makes the AFL the most attended sports league in Australia.
8. La Liga (Spanish Football League) — $2.2 Billion
(Source: NEX Change Now)
La Liga is the biggest Spanish football league and the 8th on our list of the most profitable sports leagues. La Liga does not enjoy the popularity of the English Premier League, but it is still home to some of the most expensive and most popular sports franchises in the world.
When we think of La Liga, the first clubs that come to our mind are FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla FC, Valencia CF, and many others.
As a matter of fact, according to Euronews, Real Madrid has surpassed Manchester United and topped the list of the most valuable football teams in the world in 2019. Their estimates show that it has a value of $3.22 billion, which is more than some leagues on this list.
Two big factors that influence La Liga’s profits include commercial revenues and revenues from transfers. However, there are also ticket sales and broadcasting revenues, which are key for every league.
Moreover, as we all know, big Spanish clubs such as Real Madrid and Barcelona are incredibly attractive for sponsors thanks to some of the best football players playing there, such as Lionel Messi.
9. Serie A (Italian Football League) — $1.9 Billion
(Source: Money INC)
The Italian Serie A football league used to be much more popular and profitable than today, home to some of the most valuable football teams. However, it is still one of the most favorite sports leagues in the world, especially when it comes to true football fans.
Serie A is doing much better now than in previous years. This might be thanks to some of the most popular footballers in the world transferring to Italy, such as Cristiano Ronaldo. He moved to Juventus from Real Madrid in 2018.
Some time ago, Napoli was the most expensive sports team in Serie A. However, with the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus is now holding that position.
According to Statista, the largest percent of Serie A income comes from broadcasting rights. Commercial and sponsorship incomes are second, which makes sense considering the success of Serie A teams in major competitions.
10. Ligue 1 (France/Monaco Football League) — $1.5 Billion
(Source: Ultimate Corporate League)
After checking out Italy, it’s time to take a trip to France and talk about Ligue 1. It is also one of the world’s most valuable sports leagues. The league consists of 20 teams, which, granted, are not as popular as those coming from La Liga or the Premier League, for example.
However, there are still some quite popular clubs in Ligue 1, such as Paris Saint-Germain, AS Monaco FC, Lille OSC, and others.
At the moment, PSG is the most expensive sports team in Ligue 1, with a total market value of just over $1 billion, according to Transfermarkt.
Ligue 1 is still not dominating the world’s football revenues, but that will change for the better in the 2020/2021 season when a new TV broadcasting deal is going to come into action. This deal will stay in place until the 2023/2024 season, which ensures some financial certainty for France’s biggest league.
11. Nippon Professional Baseball (Japanese Baseball league) — $1.1 Billion
(Source: NEX Change Now)
Nippon Professional Baseball might be an unlikely contender, but the biggest Japanese baseball league has made it on our list of the world’s most valuable sports leagues with annual revenues of $1.1 billion.
Baseball is big in Japan and the Nippon Professional Baseball league will mark its 70th season in 2020. It consists of just 12 professional teams that play upwards of 143 games in a season. Therefore, a big chunk of NPB’s revenues comes from tickets, since tens of thousands of spectators come to watch every major game.
The richest NPB team is Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, which pays its players an average salary of $1.77 million. The second is Yomiuri Giants with a $1.42 million average, and Hanshin Tigers are in the third position with $980,000.
The biggest Japanese baseball league also earns sports revenue from endorsements and sponsorships. The biggest one is SoftBank which sponsors the league champions.
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned that sports are big business. Hopefully, after taking a look at our list of the most profitable sports leagues and reading the article, you now understand what we were implying.
Thanks to the number of fans the biggest sports leagues in the world have, they are able to sell tens of thousands of tickets, sign lucrative broadcasting deals, as well as billion-dollar worth endorsement deals.
What do you think about this list and the leagues on it? Do you think the order will change in the future or that we will see some other players enter the playground? Let us know in the comments!
1. Market Watch
2. LWO Sports
3. NEX Change Now
4. Money INC
6. Ultimate Corporate League
7. Global Sport Matters
8. NEX Change Now
9. Money INC
10. Ultimate Corporate League
11. NEX Change Now