In the business world, it's fairly straightforward regarding how to determine which company is the most successful. You just look at a common economic calculation like annual revenue, net income, or overall value. After all, since the prime directive of almost every business entity is to make money, the benchmarks for success line up nicely with numerical dollar amounts.
But things are different in the sports world. While the people in the management suites do everything they can to maximize profit, the real measure of success comes from the team's performance on the field, court, or ice rink.
So in a sense, every sports franchise is trying to accomplish two important but distinctly different goals: to make money and to win championships. Inevitably, these two goals will conflict with one another; this is most often seen when player contracts are negotiated, new playing venues are built, or fan ticket prices are increased.
In professional football, NFL teams didn't had to worry much in the past about the bottom line. The league had signed some mega-deals with TV networks, merchandise sales were humming, and profits kept rising for almost every team. But recently, a few scandals have rocked the NFL concerning player bounties, spying on practices, head injuries, and domestic violence. Some are saying that the days of the NFL printing money are over.
If that's true, team owners will be focusing more on their balance sheets than they have in quite a while. That may lead to coaches and general managers having to do more with less in the years to come. These circumstances will make it harder for any NFL team to attain the ultimate prize: a Super Bowl title.
With this profit-performance dichotomy in mind, let's take stock of where the NFL franchises are now. Here are the ten most financially valuable teams (as determined by Forbes magazine based on August 2014 figures) who have yet to put a Lombardi Trophy in their locker room.
10 Cincinnati Bengals: $990 million
Actually, Bengals' management is pretty happy with that figure, since it represents the largest current value in franchise history, topping the previous high of $953 million set in 2009. One financial component that the Bengals cannot take advantage of is revenue from the stadium's naming rights, which are owned by Hamilton County, Ohio (who financed the construction of the stadium). And it doesn't look like the team will be getting those rights anytime soon.
9 San Diego Chargers: $995 million
Here's another team whose home venue is owned by a municipality. Qualcomm Stadium is owned by the city of San Diego, and the franchise is trying to get public approval for a new stadium. But the public cannot vote on that measure until 2016. The good news is that the Chargers' on-field performance has improved in recent years, which helps the team's bottom line. The bad news is that they play in a city with beaches, a bustling downtown area, and beautiful year-round weather - which makes it that much more difficult to compete for entertainment dollars.
8 Arizona Cardinals: $1 billion
Arizona is the first member of this list's billionaire's club, although that figure is only good for 25th overall on the list of NFL franchise values. The Cardinals play in a relatively new, state-of-the-art venue, at the University of Phoenix Stadium (which is a for-profit national educational institution, not a school in Phoenix) in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. Before the franchise moved west in 1988, Arizona was Dallas Cowboys' country, but the team's recent success has helped solidify its fan base.
7 Cleveland Browns: $1.12 billion
The Browns' franchise got a huge financial boost in the off-season when it agreed to a 17-year naming rights deal worth $102 million. FirstEnergy Stadium is still owned by the city of Cleveland, and its fans are being treated to a surprisingly successful football team thus far this year led by out-of-nowhere quarterback Brian Hoyer. But despite winning four NFL Championships between 1950 and 1964, the Browns are one of only two teams on this list who have never even played in a Super Bowl.
6 Atlanta Falcons: $1.125 billion
The Falcons were the only team in the bottom half of the NFL franchise value list to see a year-over-year increase of at least 20%. Perhaps one of the main reasons for the 21% jump is the start of construction on a new stadium, which is set to open in 2017. While the state currently owns the Georgia Dome, Atlanta's franchise will receive all of the revenue from non-football operations at the new venue - so look for the team's value to skyrocket in the coming years.
5 Minnesota Vikings: $1.15 billion
Speaking of new stadiums, the Vikes will move into their new digs for the 2016 season. However, the construction bill is a big reason why Minnesota's NFL franchise has the highest debt-to-value ratio (43%) of any team in the league except for the 49ers (who debuted their new stadium this season). But the Vikings have failed to make the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and their quarterback woes in 2014 won't help them break that streak. The franchise is also tied with Buffalo for the most Super Bowl appearances without a win in history.
4 Tennessee Titans: $1.16 billion
Here's a fun fact: the value of this franchise has increased by about 46,400% since Bud Adams paid the $25,000 franchise fee for the AFL's Houston Oilers way back in 1960. That also averages out to an annualized growth rate of 24% over those 54 years, which is the biggest return on investment among owners in NFL history. But the team hasn't been to the playoffs since 2008, and the year-over-year increase in value of 10% is the eighth lowest in the league.
3 Carolina Panthers: $1.25 billion
Things are looking up for the Panthers. The team made the playoffs last year for only the second time since 2005, and the organization is in the midst of a renovation of the team-owned Bank of America Stadium. Two-thirds of the $112.5 million price tag is being handled by Charlotte taxpayers, but owner Jerry Richardson has promised to keep the team in the city for another six years at least. Carolina is also celebrating its 20-year anniversary in the NFL this year.
2 Philadelphia Eagles: $1.75 billion
There's a huge gap between the top two entrants on this list and the rest: Philly has the seventh-highest value in the NFL, while Carolina doesn't even crack the top half. Nevertheless, the Eagles are fourth in their own division in that category despite having made the playoffs in all but four seasons this century. The franchise is one of only eight in the league that recorded a year-over-year value increase of at least 30%, and the Eagles are hoping that its newly-completed $125 renovation of Lincoln Financial Field will help boost the team's fiscal fortunes.
1 Houston Texans: $1.85 billion
It's not surprising that the NFL's newest franchise has yet to win (or even make it into) a Super Bowl. But the fact that the Texans are the fifth-most valuable team in the league is pretty amazing. Owner Bob McNair has already nearly tripled his investment of $700 million that he paid for the franchise in 2002. But it helps that the team plays in America's fourth-largest city in the massive-yet-beautiful NRG Stadium, which will host the NFL's championship game in 2017.