With over half of the league among the world’s 50 most valuable football clubs, MLS teams are financially punching above their weight class. We look into how they have been able to do so.
Football, whether we like it or not, is centered around money. It certainly isn’t the only factor in a club’s success, but an accurate generalization amongst the world’s best clubs is that they spend the most money.
Bigger payrolls usually mean better rosters, which in turn brings in more fans and higher revenues. This all may seem simple and straightforward, but a recent list revealing the top 50 most valuable football clubs in the world paints a slightly different picture. The list is judged on revenue, excluding transfers, but including broadcast, commercial, and matchday. The bigger the brand, and club, the bigger these three buckets will be.
In the 50 most valuable soccer clubs in the world:
— Sportico (@Sportico) May 3, 2023
At the very top, there are a lot of expected names. Manchester United occupy the throne despite their recent tumultuous period on the pitch. They are still, as the list proves, the biggest brand in world football, with fans spanning every continent and investment from all corners. Real Madrid and Barcelona take up the following two spots, as they regularly flex their prowess around the world as well. The rest of the top 15 is littered with usual suspects like Manchester City, Liverpool, PSG, and Bayern Munich.
However, out of the next 35 teams, over half come from a league that isn’t quite amongst the world’s elite yet — MLS. It’s enough to made you ponder about the American soccer system and all its intricacies and its quirks.
In 16th place is LAFC, who sit one place above their in-city rival, LA Galaxy. It’s fitting that the top two highest valued MLS clubs are respectively the current most successful club and the all-time most successful club in the league.
LAFC, which has only played six seasons, was valued at $1 billion by Forbes earlier this year, the first MLS side to reach a 10-figure mark (although the more recent list has the club at $900 million). It helps to be in a market like LA, along with an ownership group that features globally recognized celebrities like Will Ferrell and Magic Johnson — a move which has become common across MLS.
But, the club also has a solid brand, business proposition, and plan in place that has elevated it to the No. 16 spot, which, if looking at the top 15, can be classed as a huge victory for the club.
I won’t sit here and show naivety, as the MLS involvement in this list comes with a load of contextual factors we must consider. The way American soccer is set up is more risk-free, allowing for a bit more freedom from a business perspective. It’s a closed league approach, with no relegations or promotions, meaning the return on investment is not in as much danger as those in league setups with multiple divisions. The business model of MLS clubs is different to what Europe is used to, allowing them to be more financially focused. The investor-led model sets them up to almost be business first, club second, and this is a large factor in the value list being stacked full of MLS clubs.
LA Galaxy is a good example of this. The club has underperformed in recent years and are currently at the basement of the league, yet their valuation continues to grow, nearing the $1 billion mark.
So it’s no wonder that the push for a closed league format in Europe continues. The Super League debacle depicts the hunger for this approach, with many owners and influential figures in the upper echelons of the game stating that there’s a considerable need for a closed system if football wants to “survive.” The conversations around the Super League are entirely profit-focused and look to feed the ever-growing digital age and the apparent different mindsets of new generations. This list of the most valuable clubs is food for thought, and MLS’ prominent position across it all provides further evidence of the burgeoning want for business first, football later.