While it might not attract as many fans as the NFL, the NBA is quickly growing into a monster in its own right. Over the last year, the average NBA franchise’s value has risen to $1.1 billion. That’s a ridiculous increase of 74% in such a short amount of time. In fact Forbes states that it’s the largest one year gain since they’d started evaluating the four major U.S. sports back in 1998. There are now 11 NBA franchises worth over $1 billion. Compare that to only three years prior and you can see just how much the NBA is growing.
The league recently signed expanded contracts with Walt Disney and Time Warner. The deals should be worth around $2.66 billion a year. Just to put that into perspective, this would pay out almost triple of the previous contract. It’s no surprise that TV networks are jumping at the opportunity to associate themselves with the NBA. The Finals this past year were the most watched since 1998, and had the highest ratings since 2001. What’s more, the recent NBA draft drew in 3.7 million viewers on ESPN, which makes it the most watched NBA draft on record.
As it continues to grow larger inside the United States there is a ton of potential for Basketball outside of the country as well. There were 101 foreign players from 37 different countries on opening day rosters last year. That’s a lot of people outside of the U.S. who’ve made it into the NBA. While none of these players were from China, there are over 300 million people playing the sport over there according to the Chinese Basketball Association. Perhaps China could turn into a potential candidate for an NBA franchise in the future. Commissioner Adam Silver already said that he wants to launch four franchises in Europe. That’s not too much of a surprise considering the league’s international revenue of $350 million last year. A number that’s been growing annually at 18%.
30 Milwaukee Bucks – $600 Million
In 2014, the Milwaukee Bucks franchise changed hands. Herb Kohl sold the team to two New York based investors, Wesley Edens and Marc Larsy, in May of 2014 for a cool $550 million. The Bucks currently have around 4,000 season ticket holders, which is the fewest in the NBA. The team improved by 26 wins this season and look to be on the up and up despite their loss to the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs. With the second lowest attendance record in the NBA last year, Milwaukee needs to continue to improve if they wish to attract a larger fan base.
29 Minnesota Timberwolves - $625 Million
The Timberwolves haven’t made the playoffs in more than ten years. Now going through a rebuilding stage after finishing last season with a 16-66 record under Flip Saunders, the franchise is desperately trying to improve. Last August, they traded away arguably their best player, Kevin Love, to the Cleveland Cavaliers, though they did receive an upcoming star in Andrew Wiggins in return Hopefully he’ll attract a larger crowd as well as success in Minnesota, seeing as the team finished third to last in attendance last season.
28 New Orleans Pelicans - $650 Million
A young franchise, the New Orleans Pelicans have only been around for the last 13 years and the team relocated from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002. In that time – in which they started out as the New Orleans Hornets – the franchise has made the playoffs six times. Not bad for such a young organization. In 2012, they drafted Anthony Davis, and he’s quickly become one of the better players in the NBA. A year later, they changed their name from the Hornets to the Pelicans to “represent the culture and resolve of the Gulf Coast region.” Tom Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, now owns the team and, in an attempt to increase attendance, the team cut their ticket prices by 10% last season. The franchise also recently signed a 10-year arena naming rights deal with New Orleans based Smoothie King.
27 Philadelphia 76ers – $700 Million
After last making the playoffs in 2012, the Philadelphia 76ers haven’t really been relevant in the NBA for the last couple years. Their last championship came in 1983 and fans have been waiting for another ever since. Over the last two years, the 76ers have won just over 22% of their games. The team has been stockpiling young players as well as draft picks in an attempt to finally turn things around. But all this losing is keeping fans at bay. In the last year, attendance has dropped 17% and the team’s been trying anything to get those numbers up. However, so long as they keep racking up the losses, it’ll be hard to get more fans to attend their games.
26 Charlotte Hornets - $725 Million
The Hornets made the playoffs for the first time in four years a couple of seasons ago. However, they once again missed the playoffs last season finishing with ten less wins. After the original franchise had moved to New Orleans in 2002, the Hornets were out of commission for two years, but were brought back for the 2004 season. Still looking for a championship, the team has made the playoffs only nine times in their 25 year history. While their last playoff berth boosted their TV ratings 33% and got them a $34 million dollar investment towards their home arena, another playoff drought could follow if the team continues to play inconsistently.
25 Memphis Grizzlies – $750 Million
While Memphis might not be a small market for an NBA franchise, the Grizzlies have benefited from the NBA’s revenue sharing agreement that triples the amount of money for low-revenue teams. Despite having the cheapest tickets in the league, the Grizzlies lucked out thanks to the previously mentioned sharing agreement, earning themselves a league high $23 million. After a four year playoff drought, they’ve managed to pull through the last five years. Sadly, they have lost every time, including in the Conference Finals.
24 Sacramento Kings – $800 Million
While Sacramento is only the 20th largest market in the NBA, the Kings’ financial fortunes are on the rise thanks to a new arena and a huge new TV deal. Last October, the team broke ground on what will be a massive new $477 million arena scheduled to open around October of 2016. They also signed a 20-year, $700 million deal with NBC Sports Group to have their games broadcast on CSN California. While this all sounds great, fans are painfully aware that their team hasn’t made the playoffs in almost ten years. Last year, they finished 25th in attendance and went through three head coaches, none of whom were able to finish with a record of .500 or above.
23 Detroit Pistons – $810 Million
It’s been six years since the Detroit Pistons have made the playoffs and that’s cost a lot of coaches their jobs. In the last six seasons, they’ve had five head coaches, none of whom have posted winning records. The constant losing has also taken its toll on the team’s ability to market itself. The Pistons continue to struggle to sign corporate partners and fill their luxury suites. Their last championship is a distant memory despite it being a little over ten years ago. Times are tough in Detroit and the last thing people want to spend money on is a losing team.
22 Atlanta Hawks – $825 Million
The last time the Hawks won a championship they were based out of St. Louis. The franchise has gone through a few cites since their inception in 1949. They started out as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks then changed their name to the Hawks once they moved to Milwaukee. They spent twelve years in St. Louis before they moved to Atlanta in 1968. Fast-forward over forty years and the Hawks are a perpetual playoff team after their last drought lasted them five years. They recently got swept by the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals but have a cable deal with Fox that’s set to kick in this year, giving them three times more than their previous arrangement.
21 Indiana Pacers – $830 Million
After making the Eastern Conference Finals two straight years, the Indiana Pacers’ fortune took a turn last season as they failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010, due to the injury to star player Paul George. Two seasons ago, their playoff run led to a 15% increase in attendance with a grand total of 17,500. While they do have three ABA championships, the franchise has failed to win the big one since joining the NBA in 1976. Fans will have to wait yet another season to see if their team is ready to make another push for a championship. While they have come close over the last few years, last season served as a reminder as to just how quick a team’s fortune can change in the NBA.
20 Utah Jazz – $850 Million
The Utah Jazz’s 2014-2015 season was a steady – albeit small improvement from their 2013-2014 campaign that saw them put up their worst season in 34 years. Three years removed from their last playoff berth, Utah had one of the youngest and most inexperienced rosters in the league last season with several rookie or first year players and only one veteran with more than four years of experience. They’ve ranked in the bottom five of the NBA in terms of team payroll and currently have an income of $142 million. They’ll be relying on 12th overall pick Trey Lyles to help the team out sooner rather than later.
19 Denver Nuggets – $855 Million
The Denver Nuggets haven’t made it to the finals since 1976. The team has been struggling over the last few years and in turn have had trouble filling seats at games. They last finished 27th in attendance and if they fail to make the playoffs for a third straight season, that number will not improve. In the last twenty years, the struggling franchise has made it past the first round of the playoffs only once. That was back in 2009 when they lost in the Western Conference Finals. So long as the team struggles, the franchise will continue to struggle filling the Pepsi Center in the near future.
18 Orlando Magic – $875 Million
Dwight Howard was traded right before the 2012-2013 season. It’s never a good thing when a team trades away their best player and things were unsurprisingly no different in Orlando. Since Howard’s departure the team has lost a whopping 72% of their games. Unsurprisingly they haven’t made it to the playoffs either and are now in a three year rut in which they’ve failed to make the playoffs. This is also affecting their attendance and TV ratings. While attendance has declined some 14% their TV ratings on Fox Sports Florida and Sun Sports went down 63%. Despite this, they’ve still been able to rack in corporate partners and matched their all-time high for sponsorship revenue this last season.
17 Washington Wizards – $900 Million
For the first time since 2008, the Washington Wizards made the playoffs in 2014. They managed to do the same during the 2014-2015 season, but lost in the Eastern Conference Semis just as they did they year before. However, the team looks to be on the rise. Led by superstar John Wall, they're making strides in the league and TV stations are taking notice. During their 2014-2015 season playoff run, attendance spiked to an additional 700 fans per game, while their ratings on CSN Mid-Atlantic went up 33%. Good enough to be the fifth biggest jump in the NBA.
16 Phoenix Suns – $910 Million
In their 47 seasons as an NBA franchise, the Phoenix Suns have made the playoffs 29 times but have yet to win an NBA championship. Starting this summer, their 23 year old arena will be getting a new name. It might be the small change of identity the Suns need after failing to make the playoffs for a fifth straight season. While the franchise might not be known as a winner, that hasn’t stopped fans from tuning into their games. Last season, local TV rating went up a league high 80%. showing that fans are still willing to cheer the struggling team on.
15 Cleveland Cavaliers – $915 Million
LeBron James might be one of the biggest names in basketball right now, but his team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, just barely slid past the Phoenix Suns to ensure their place among the top 15 most valuable NBA franchises. After his somewhat controversial choice to publicly broadcast his decision to leave the Cavaliers in favor of the Miami Heat a few years back, James returned to Cleveland and James’ impact on the team was huge. The team made it all the way to the finals but lost out to the Golden State Warriors. With James in town, the Cavs will continue to be a force.
14 Toronto Raptors – $920 Million
The NBA’s only Canadian franchise has been doing well for themselves as of late. After missing the playoffs for five straight years, they’ve managed to make it in two years in a row. While they've lost in the Eastern Conference 1st Round both years, the recent success has bode well for the team. Their success led to a 25% increase in TV viewership and a 7% increase in gate receipts. What’s more is that they’d managed to sellout all their season tickets for the 2014-2015 season. This recent success has also helped them improve from 11th to 7th in sponsor revenues.
13 Oklahoma City Thunder – $930 Million
Oklahoma City has one of the leagues biggest names in Kevin Durant, who won his first MVP award a couple of years ago. While they barely missed the playoffs this past season, they had made five straight playoff appearances – including an appearance in the finals – since 2010. They had the most local TV ratings two seasons ago with an average of 8.81 million viewers on Fox Sports Oklahoma. While they continue to search for their first championship since 1979, the Thunder have had a great deal of success over the years. Despite their disappointing omission from the playoffs last year, the team continues to draw in the fans and have sold out every home game since February 2011.
12 Portland Trail Blazers – $940 Million
While they finished fifth in the league in ticket sales two years ago with 19,746 per game, the Portland Trail Blazers had their lowest attendance since 2008. It only got worse last year when they finished eighth in the league in attendance. So why is the team posting lows in attendance while still finishing in the top ten in that category? Well Portland has a very weird and complicated ticket pricing system. They’ve got 27 different prices for 41 games, so there’s no consistency in the ticket prices. There are a number of different elements that play into a games ticket price, which is determined weekly. Demand, star quality and playoff ramifications all factor into how much fans will have to dish out to see their team play. The system is more than a little confusing and unbalanced, which explains why less and less fans are willing to deal with it.
11 San Antonio Spurs – $1 Billion
Alright, the first team on this team worth at least $1 billion. The San Antonio Spurs have had a long tradition of winning and are one of the most successful franchises in the NBA. Since 1997, they’ve had one of the highest winning percentages in all of sports and haven’t finished a season below .500 in almost twenty years. They’re only two years removed from their last championship, which put them up to five in the franchise’s history. Their success gave them a 15% increase in ratings for Fox Sports Southwest, finishing behind the Oklahoma City Thunder in that category.
10 Dallas Mavericks – $1.15 Billion
The Mavericks won their first NBA championship in 2011 and have made the playoffs three times since, losing in the first round every time. During the 2013-2014 season, they finished second in the league in attendance despite missing the playoffs the year prior. Since December 15th, 2001 the team has sold out every single home game which is currently the longest sellout streak in all of the four major sports. Recently, the streak went on and topped over 500 games. A huge milestone for a team that’s been in the league for over 35 years now.
9 Miami Heat – $1.175 Billion
The Heat missed the playoffs last year after making them for six straight years, which coincided with the departure of LeBron James. This streak saw the team make it to the finals four years straight while winning two championships in a row. Their first championship win came a decade ago and the team will soon be looking to get themselves a fourth. Last June, the team and Miami-Dade County agreed to a deal that would continue to pay the team $6.4 million as an operating subsidiary throughout 2030. Afterwards the deal would change to an increase of $8.5 million for the next five years. Looks like the franchise will be getting a whole lot richer pretty soon.
8 Houston Rockets – $1.25 Billion
Having spent their first four years as the San Diego Rockets, the Houston Rockets have been in the NBA for 48 seasons. Back to back championships in the 199’s were the lone highlight in the franchises history. While they’ve made 29 playoff appearances since their inception, they’ve only made the finals four times. Last Octobe, the Rockets and the MLB’s Astros got themselves a new local television channel, Root Sports Southwest. This happened after their previous network, CSN Houston, had failed to gain enough coverage and filed for bankruptcy.
7 Golden State Warriors – $1.3 Billion
The current champs come in at number seven on this list, but that number can only go higher after their recent championship win. Finishing with an impressive 67-15 record, the Warriors breezed through the rest of the NBA on the way to their fourth title. A couple years ago, they boasted the fifth largest TV audience averaging 81,000 viewers on CSN Bay Area. 15% more than the previous year. Their new stadium, expected to hold over 18,000 people, should be ready by 2018. Who knows, they might add a couple more championships between now and then.
6 Brooklyn Nets – $1.5 Billion
The Nets have been all over the state of New York, going by the New York Nets, New Jersey Nets and now the Brooklyn Nets. After missing the playoffs for five straight years in New Jersey, the Nets moved their act to Brooklyn and instantly found their way into the playoffs. Though they haven’t appeared in the finals since 2002, the Nets are relentlessly pursuing their first NBA championship. But while the team is one of the most valuable in the league, their financial situation is a mess. Thanks to their Aanormally high payroll, debt and failed local TV deal, Brooklyn posted the biggest loss in the NBA last year. Their operating income is actually in the negative range at -$99 million.
5 Los Angeles Clippers – $1.6 Billion
The Clippers might not be the most popular team in LA, but they recently outperformed their counterparts the Lakers this past season. Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, purchased the team from Donald Sterling and his wife Shelly in August of last year. The move cost Ballmer $2 billion with the second and third highest bids being $1.6 and $1.2 billion. Before the bidding took place, the team had been valued at between $1 billion and $1.3 billion, which was double the recent $550 million sale of the Milwaukee Bucks.
4 Boston Celtics – $1.7 Billion
The Celtics got back to the playoffs last years after an abnormal 2013-2014 season saw them lose 57 games. In almost 70 years of existence, the franchise has made 52 playoff appearances and won 17 championships, with the last one being in 2008. They’re one of the NBA’s most profitable organizations due to the fact that they pay no rent at TD Garden and bring in over $60 million a year in local television revenue alone. A big factor in this is their equity stake in local Comcast SportsNet New England, which airs all the teams’ games.
3 Chicago Bulls – $2 Billion
Though they might not have as many championships to boast about as the Celtics, the Chicago Bulls have managed to rack up six championship wins in their time in the NBA (Thanks MJ). What’s more impressive is the feat they accomplished in winning those games. From the early to late 90s, the Bulls three-peated as champions twice during the decade. They’ve led the NBA in attendance for the last six years, thanks in part to their current streak of seven straight playoff berths. They average 21,716 fans in attendance per game and continue to play well for their fans.
2 New York Knicks – $2.5 Billion
Over the last couple of seasons, the New York Knicks have failed to make the playoffs. During the 2013-2014 season, the teams operating income fell down 45% to $53 million. A big part of why this happened is the $36 million luxury tax bill they received at the end of that season. Despite their lack of recent success, the Knicks aren’t having any trouble maintaining a fan base, with an average of 163,000 viewers per game during their 37-45 2013-2014 campaign. That’s not a surprise seeing as they play in one of the largest sports markets in the world. But while New York is one of the premier places to have a sports franchise, it’s also very unforgiving of failure.
1 Los Angeles Lakers – $2.6 Billion
The Lakers are another team that have missed out on the playoffs these last couple years. But unlike the Knicks, the Lakers have a long history of winning, which makes their recent struggles all the more strange. Obviously every franchise can’t consistently stay a contender throughout a prolonged period of time and there’s always a point where teams drop off the radar and have to rebuild. Maybe this is what’s happening to the Lakers. Two seasons ago, their monstrous 270-game sellout streak, which lasted them some seven years, came to an end. It could be the first of many changes Lakers fans might have to get used to in the near future.