MLS Franchise Values: Champions LAFC top $1B
Forbes’ listing of sports’ franchise values are some of the most anticipated in the world of business, and ahead of the 2023 MLS season, the vaunted business journal has released its rankings of the league’s clubs. We’ve written extensively here about the league’s growth, from an innovative broadcast deal with Apple, to the league’s work with Liga MX on this summer’s ambitious Leagues Cup. This growth, as well as the league’s continued expansion, has resulted in record highs in the franchises’ valuations, topped by LAFC being valued at $1 Billion. With that in mind, we take a look at some of the key trends from the report, which can be read in full here.
The previous edition of Forbes’ report was published ahead of the 2019, and in the years since, the league has added FC Cincinnati, Inter Miami, Nashville SC, Austin FC, Charlotte FC, and St. Louis City, who are set to begin play this season. In addition, the addition of these six teams, who represent a 25% growth in just four years, for both these new arrivals and established teams, a trend has moved sharply toward the construction of soccer-specific grounds, often built in the core of cities. The visibility and energy associated with this model, which is a sharp divergence from the NFL’s model of suburban stadiums centered on car travel, has engendered increased sponsorship, driven by a groundswell of passionate fandom.
Across the board, the average value of a franchise has risen 85%, to nearly $600M, despite only two teams having an operating income over $4M. LAFC is one of these, and is unquestionably the league’s centrepiece, both on and off the pitch, selling out every match since 2018. Off the back of winning the 2022 MLS Cup, the franchise has been valued at $1B, an increase of more than $500M since the previous survey. Their sponsorship has of course been key, as has the team’s sparkling BMO Field, but so has a key understanding of the massive and complex media market that is Los Angeles.
Given the values of the clubs across the board, it’s no wonder then that the fee for the league’s next expansion franchise could touch $500 million, with San Diego and Las Vegas among the most likely sites. This would represent a significant jump from the most recent expansion, with FC Charlotte having paid $341M to join the league, and is also far more than the $110M paid by LAFC to join the league.
Said the club’s managing owner, Bennett Rosenthal,“It’s less of a financial hurdle to control an MLS team than [in] some other sports, so you do see more people who can do it,” says Rosenthal, who is worth an estimated $1.3 billion. “But I think people love it. They want to be a part of the community and the trajectory.”
This trajectory is something which is surely being accelerated by the 2026 World Cup, but also speaks volumes about a sport which has its finger solidly on the pulse of the United States. Across a list in which LA Galaxy are second and upstart Atlanta United come third, there is a decided trend toward the country’s major metropolitan areas, but also to cities in which alternative culture is important. Think Austin, Seattle, and Portland — each of these teams are also in the top ten, and underscore how soccer in the United States is successfully branding itself as a trend-setting sport, with the growing valuations to prove it.