Before the era of salary caps, owners would cry poverty while they owned their team but more than make up the difference when they sold it.
No more. Now they can enjoy the riches of ownership while still enjoying the perks of the owner’s box.
The table below lists the 25 teams that have generated the most operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) during the past three years. We compiled these figures from our sports database for MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL and soccer teams. For baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer, our figures are through the 2022 seasons. For football, our data end with the 2021 season.
The Dallas Cowboys head the list. The only sports team on the planet worth $8 billion pocketed $1.17 billion in operating income the past three years. The NFL, which limits player salaries to a bit under 50% of the league’s revenue, leads our list with 13 teams due to the richness of its broadcasting deals. In 2021, each of the NFL’s 32 teams raked in a total of $198 million from Fox, ESPN, CBS and NBC.
There are five soccer teams on our list — Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Bayern Munich. These global brands either earn extra money by typically finishing near the top of their leagues and play in lucrative tournaments or keep from overspending on players.
No NHL or MLB teams made the list in part because their live gate suffered during the pandemic that crushd profits, and their broadcasting deals are not as rich as those of the NFL or NBA. Also, MLB has a competitive balance tax to discourage excessive payrolls rather than a “cap.”