Forbes released its annual list ranking the top 50 most-valuable sports franchises around the world. The franchises included are those from the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, F1, soccer and NASCAR. And the latest rankings have the Cleveland Browns as No. 45 on the list, with a $1.85 billion valuation. And though the NFL is the most profitable sports league by far, that doesn’t guarantee all 32 member clubs a spot on Forbes’ list; the Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills all did not break that top-50 ceiling.
That $1.85 billion valuation is a 23 percent increase over 2015-2016’s number of $1.5 billion, which was itself a 34 percent increase over the previous year. And the number could very well change when Forbes does another update in September that better reflects the Browns’ value for 2017.
Though the Browns managed to crack the top-50, they are still ranked 27th out of 32 in the NFL. Much of this is related to ticket price, rather than sales. Forbes notes that the Browns sell out 90 percent of its tickets, but charge an average of $70 per ticket, a much lower price than the league average of $86.
This year, the Browns have opted to lower ticket prices even further for 40 percent of the seats in FirstEnergy Stadium, which could affect the overall value of the franchise for 2017. The Browns, though, ranked 14th last year in revenue ($347 million) so the ticket pricing changes may not have too much impact on that for the upcoming season.
Still, owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam have seen a return on the investment they made when purchasing the Browns in 2012, paying $987 million. Part of that is due to the Browns simply being an NFL franchise; $1.297 billion of their valuation is attributable to the league’s revenue-sharing agreement, while only $106 million of it is based on the Browns as a brand entity. For example, the NFL’s leader (and the leader in all sports) is the Dallas Cowboys, with a $4.2 billion valuation, $577 million of that owed to the Cowboys’ success as a standalone brand.
As one can see, wins and losses matter in many ways to an NFL team. It’s not just the coaches and players whose jobs lie in the balance with too many losing seasons; it also affects every cent that comes into the team. Brand perception also equals dollars and with the Browns having so many struggles over the years, that has cost them the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in added value. But the fact that the Browns are seeing double-digit year-by-year increases in their franchise value is a sign that on-field improvement will yield even greater returns on the Haslam’s investment in the years ahead.