Last fall, I wrote about the folly of using public tax dollars to build a new stadium for a Major League Soccer franchise in St. Louis. Now Ray Hartmann adds more math to the argument against, explaining how any such deal would be great for the owners, but not for the rest of us:
A soccer team doesn’t add to our collective wealth. It’s not a major tourist draw. For the same reason that the Rams’ departure didn’t take a giant bite out of the local economy — the dollars spent by local fans having now been freed up for some other entertainment purpose — sports franchises coming and going are eternally overrated in terms of their economic impact.
There’s one other thing you should know about MLS teams: They strangely don’t generate the numbers that would justify $200 million franchise buy-ins.
For perspective, let’s look to Forbes, the undisputed authority on the wealth of sports franchises. Last November, Forbes.com listed the values, revenues and operating income of the existing 23 MLS teams. They ranked in valuation from brand-new juggernaut Atlanta United’s $330 million down to Kroenke’s Colorado Rapids, worth $155 million, at the bottom. But get this: No fewer than 15 of the 23 teams had net operating losses, according to Forbes, for a combined total of negative $63 million. The league’s total revenues were little more than $800 million, a tiny number relative to the robust franchise valuations estimated by Forbes.
Contrast that with the National Hockey League, fourth in stature to Major League Baseball, the NFL and NBA. According to Forbes, 25 of the 31 NHL teams turned operating profits — an impressive $766 million in the black as opposed to MLS’ $63 million in the red — on revenues of more than $4.8 billion (or six times the size of MLS). Our own once-shaky St. Louis Blues, with a reported $148 million in gross revenues, do more than four times the business of an average MLS team.
So why would people pay big dollars for a marginal MLS team? Because they’re really paying for something totally unrelated and unhelpful to their respective local sports scenes. They’re buying a piece of MLS’ worldwide action.