Sporting associations have historically had huge cultural and social impacts on American life, and continue to do so, despite the economic fallout from the coronavirus. Indeed, the Big Four, as they have become known, are shown throughout households, screens and stadiums across America and indeed the world. This is reflected in not only their incredible popularity but also the money that they have running through them. Nowadays, sports are dominated by wealth, and it is money that tends to get teams to the very top. The Big Four, which is made up of the MLB (Major League Baseball), NFL (National Football League), NHL (National Hockey League) and NBA (National Basketball Association) make up the 4 of the top 5 wealthiest leagues in the world, never mind America. Indeed, only the English Premier League rivals these leagues in monetary wealth throughout the world, displaying the importance of American sports in the world. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at the wealthiest sporting leagues in the U.S.
The NFL (National Football League) in America is the most lucrative sports league in the world. American football is seemingly mostly played within the United States and Canada, but finds its way to a global audience through massive TV deals, the Super Bowl and the sports betting market surrounding it, with millions of fans heading to the bookies for betting online with sites like the USBL (the US Betting League). Mustering a revenue of $13 billion yearly, recently, this league is by far and large the wealthiest in the world and actually has 29 out of 50 of the richest sports franchises in the world, according to Forbes. As TV viewings decline generally in the US, the viewing figures for American football remain hugely high. This means TV deals are massive in the sport and add cumulative wealth to this already profitable sport with huge networks paying lots of money for the rights to the league. Not only this, but also the endorsements, adverts, sponsorships and fantasy football that are all involved in the game add to the wealth of this gigantic sport.
The National Basketball Association is a newer league in the world but has risen to serious stardom in a relatively short period. Starting in post-war 1946 America the NBA is now the 3rd highest grossing sport in the world. Unlike the NFL, basketball is hugely popular around the world and as such, the NBA generates a lot of profit and interest from people outside of the U.S. This popularity adds to the wealth of the league in general. Additionally, the huge TV deals both on a national and local level help teams to generate lots of extra revenue. Forbes noted that in 2019 for the first time all NBA franchises in the league were worth more than $1 billion – with the most valuable team, the New York Knicks worth around $3.6 billion! Unlike other leagues on this list, the NBA has increasingly seen ticket sales for the stadium live games go up. The attendances have sky-rocketed and continue to break records for the amount of people turning up. Culturally, it has become increasingly common to see huge celebrity stars court side supporting their favorite team, perhaps adding to the desire for people wanting to go.
The only league to be founded in Canada but played both sides of the border, the National Hockey League (NHL) is another huge hitter. Its dual popularity in both Canada and the USA means the TV rights can be evenly split between the two countries and increase revenue for the league. While none of the individual teams in the league feature on the Forbes top 50 sporting franchises, the league is highly lucrative, due to the TV deals it has acquired over the years, its traditional roots and the places where it is popular – North America and Northern Europe, where there is a large amount of disposable income for fans willing to pump it into the sport. Despite it ranking in the top 5 wealthiest leagues in the world the sport itself doesn’t even make the cut for the top 10 most popular sports in the world!
The last of the Big Four we need to address is the MLB. Major League Baseball is the second wealthiest sport in the world and is highly American-centric, showing just how much North American likes its sport. Worth around $10 billion, the sport rakes in dollars through mostly local TV deals. For example, Spectrum SportsNet LA and the Los Angeles Dodgers struck a TV deal in 2014 worth over $8 billion. The 25-year deal has seen the team earn over $200 million in one year alone. This is incredibly large sums of money to make from just TV rights and is a key factor in the wealth of the sport. In addition to this, the price for attending games has gone up since 2006. This has led to a huge boost in profits, but recently has led to some revenue lost through decline in attendance. Perhaps something that the sport needs to address?
Overall, the sporting leagues in North America and particularly the U.S. are hugely popular in the vast country but also around the world and the TV rights, advertising and sponsorships throughout the leagues alongside their huge fan bases has resulted in serious wealth accumulation within these sporting leagues.