Can Manchester United get back to the top of Forbes’ top 50 most valuable sports teams?

Manchester United Stadium

Manchester United are at their lowest ever position on Forbes’ list of the top 50 sports teams in terms of value.

They’re now at six, while the Dallas Cowboys remain at number one for the fourth year running. Man Utd are also trailing behind fellow football clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona, who sit at third and fourth respectively.

“The values of teams in major sports leagues are booming thanks to sky-high TV deals, both local and national,” said Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor for Forbes Media. “And with revenue growing faster than player salaries, franchises are more profitable than they have ever been.”

Man Utd has previously topped the list three times. It was ranked most valuable sports team in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the first three years of the list’s existence. The club was knocked off the top spot by Real Madrid in 2013, however, and the Spanish club went on to top the list for another two years before the Dallas Cowboys claimed the number one position in 2016 and have remained there ever since.

Even given the Dallas Cowboys’ dominance of the Forbes list for the last four years, however, Man Utd’s position in sixth is disappointing for the club. It was number three in 2017 and number two last year. But the club’s value as listed by Forbes dropped by eight per cent over the last year, going from $4.1 billion to $3.8 billion (though it’s worth noting that the club is still valued at $2 billion more than in 2010, when it was top of the list). The last time the club dropped was from 2013 to 2014, when it went from $3.2 billion to $2.8 billion and took another two years to get back up to $3.3 billion in 2016.

The Cowboys, meanwhile, are valued at $5 billion, up four per cent from last year. That’s not as much as nearest rivals the New York Yankees with a 15 per cent climb to $4.6 billion, but it still leaves a comfortable gap of $400 million. The Cowboys had an operating income of $365 million compared to the Red Devils’ income of $238 million. This is all despite the Cowboys ending the season shut out of the NFC Championship game thanks to a loss in the playoffs to the Los Angeles Rams, marking the 23rd straight year they have been kept out.

Still, Forbes noted that nine of the 50 highest rated TV sports broadcasts in 2018 were Cowboys games (and regular season matches at that) boosting ratings for NBC, Fox and CBS, with the Patriots the only other football team to top four games in the top 50. That all added up to earnings for club owner Jerry Jones that were double those of any other team.

Part of the Cowboys’ financial success in spite of their not-always stellar performance on the pitch is down to the soap opera surrounding the team outside of games generating constant buzz and interest. Part of it, however, is simply down to Jones’ entrepreneurial savvy. Over the 30 years since he bought the franchise he has changed the face of stadium sponsorships, broken from the NFL’s shared merchandise revenue system, opened a $1.5 billion practice facility and started a stadium management operation with the New York Yankees.

So what can Man Utd do? Well, the Reds are already benefitting from increased sponsorship and broadcasting revenue that the top football teams are seeing across the board, as well as from digital boost such as increased volume of live betting online. They will also no doubt benefit next year from making it a stage further in the lucrative Champion’s League this season just gone.

The Cowboys have demonstrated that thinking a little outside the box can help. While it’s not exactly a groundbreaking move at this point, Man Utd could earn an estimated $35 million more a year by selling the naming rights to Old Trafford.

Otherwise, it’s the oldest story in sports: perform better. The Red Devils finished sixth in the Premier League and topped out in the quarter finals and third round of the FA Cup and EFL Cup respectively. It’s been a turbulent year at the club with management shake-ups and with Ole Gunnar Solskjær now properly ensconced as manager the club might have a stronger season.