Nearly a third of all Major League Baseball teams are worth more than a billion dollars, according to new data compiled by Bloomberg.
Though baseball revenues still pale in comparison to NFL football, they're on the rise thanks to an uptick in strategic deals with cable networks, making teams much more valuable than previously estimated.
"Major League Baseball is catching up to valuations of the National Football League," said Anthony Di Santi, managing director of Citigroup Inc.'s sports finance advisory division at the Bloomberg Sports Business Summit on Sept. 10, "It's because they've been exploiting the media opportunities that are available to them on a national level,"
Tonight, the Boston Red Sox, which rank third overall with a value of about $2 billion, will play St. Louis Cardinals, who are worth just $805 million.
Topping the list is, not surprisingly, the New York Yankees --worth about $3.3 billion. Roughly $932 million of this total comes from their stake in regional cable TV. In fact the majority of Yankee Global Enterprises income comes from cable TV and hospitality businesses.
Yankee Global owns the team outright, along with a 25 percent stake in the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES) which broadcasts a variety of sports events, emphasizing Yankee games and Brooklyn Nets basketball games.
The Steinbrenner family owns 55 percent of the whole company, according to NBC, with the remaining 45 percent distributed among 35 minority owners.
The second most valuable team, according to Bloomberg, is the Los Angeles Dodgers. The team was sold last year for a record-breaking $2.1 billion.
Before that, the highest price for any baseball team was when Steve Ross bought the Miami Dolphins for $1.1 billion three years earlier. Below that, the highest amount paid was $845 million for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.
The Dodgers' former owner, Frank McCourt sold the team along with Dodgers Stadium and the surrounding land to Guggenheim Baseball Management LP; a company led by Mark Walter and that includes basketball legend Magic Johnson. Other bidders included Steven Cohen, the hedge-fund billionaire and Stan Kroenke, another billionaire who also owns the St. Louis Rams, NBA Denver Nuggets, and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and Arsenal English soccer club.
According to the Wall Street Journal , the rate was so high because the deal included an opportunity to choose between a stake in a new sports network in the country's second-largest market, or a 17-year extension on a deal with News Corp.'s Fox division -- valued at nearly $3 billion.
This kind of deal isn't unusual. Deals with television networks have become a main source of revenue for Major League Baseball.
In 2012, MLB announced an agreement with ESPN for a 100 percent increase in annual rights fees -- marking an all-time record for an MLB broadcasting deal. For the price, ESPN will be allowed to increase its studio and game content, which includes the right to broadcast up to 90 regular season games every year from 2014 - 2021. This is in addition to its three nightly games on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday.
According to Forbes calculations, this eight-year deal will bring in over $12.4 billion for the league, which will amount to about $52 million on average for each team.
In 2012, the San Diego Padres were paid $1.2 billion for a 20-year deal with Fox Sports San Diego, along with a 20 percent stake in the network. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Angels won a 17-year contract with Fox Sports West for $2.5 billion and a 25 percent stake.
“What you really are seeing is teams that are becoming media companies, they’re taking equity ownership properties,” Chris Bevilacque, founder of Bevilacque Media Company, explained on Forbes' "SportsMoney" program.
"So once you get into owning the actual media and having the intellectual property rights, the economics just become greater and greater," he said.