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NFL (National Football League): The Biggest Money in U.S. Sports, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The National Football League (NFL) is the world-famous American professional football league, with 32 teams organized in two conferences: the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference.  The NFL has an 18-week regular season (and a three-week preseason) which runs from August through January, culminating in the Super Bowl championship game between the leaders of each conference in February.
The NFL is a global sports business giant.  Forbes magazine’s list of NFL teams had an average value of approximately $4.47 billion in 2022, up from $3.5 billion in 2021 and $3.0 billion in 2020.  (In comparison, Forbes found a $2.32 billion average team value in Major League Baseball (MLB); a $2.86 billion average in the National Basketball Association (NBA); and a $1.03 billion average in the National Hockey League in 2022).  In the United States, the NFL continues to command by far the greatest revenue, plays in the largest and most expensive stadiums and amasses more viewers than any other sport.  This is all the more remarkable in light of the fact that the NFL plays far fewer games per season than the MLB or the NBA.
NFL team valuations were boosted considerably in 2022 with the sale of the Denver Broncos to Walmart heir Rob Walton and his daughter and son-in-law for $4.65 billion.  The most recent team sales previously were the Carolina Panthers in 2018 for $2.28 billion and the Buffalo Bills in 2014 for $1.4 billion.
The most valuable franchise in the NFL by far is the Dallas Cowboys, valued at $8 billion, according to Forbes.  The team is owned by Jerral (“Jerry”) Jones.  The New England Patriots were valued in second place, followed by the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants.
The Cowboys are number one in this category due to the revenues of their enormous, relatively new stadium, savvy broadcasting and advertising agreements, and a hometown full of loyal and wealthy ticket holders.  The team’s stadium, completed in 2009 at a cost of $1.15 billion, seats 80,000 fans in normal configuration and can be reconfigured to hold as many as 110,000 people for special events.  It was the largest domed stadium in the world when completed.  It features opening glass doors on each end of the stadium that are 180 feet wide by 120 feet high.  The opening dome roof measures 410 feet long by 256 wide.  The structure has 315 luxury suites which lease for roughly $200,000 to $500,000 per season.  The Cowboys sold their stadium naming rights in July 2013 to AT&T, making it AT&T Stadium.  The deal is worth nearly $20 million yearly.
The $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium of the Minnesota Vikings opened in June 2016.  The structure is designed to seat 65,000 fans (with possible expansion to 72,000 for major events), has 131 suites, 8,000 club seats and 430 concessions.  The Atlanta Falcons moved into their new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the 2017-18 season.  Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Rams doubled in value (reaching $2.9 billion) in 2016 when the team moved from St. Louis.  Its $4 billion mixed-use stadium complex, SoFi Stadium, opened in September 2020 in Inglewood, California.
FedEx Stadium, home to the Washington Football Team (formerly the Washington Redskins), affords the franchise $207 million from FedEx over 27 years for naming rights, averaging about $7.6 million per year.  Other deals include Reliant Stadium, home of the Houston Texans, which brings in $10 million per year in naming rights; a $400 million, 25-year deal for the Giants and Jets stadium with MetLife; the Levi’s Stadium which is home to the San Francisco 49ers for $220 million for 20 years; and Phillips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers, which reaps $9.3 million per year for naming rights.
NFL revenues reached about $16 billion during the 2022-2023 season, per Plunkett Research estimates.  The business model established in the NFL stipulates partial revenue sharing among teams and a player free-agency system.  For the entire NFL, broadcast rights, licensed merchandise and certain other revenue streams are shared evenly among the teams.  The result of the NFL league’s strategy is a tight group of teams which, regardless of each team’s individual value and record, all have a chance to hire top players and to win.  Each team is able to recruit and pay top talent so that fans never know from game to game, season to season which team will win the Super Bowl.
Another revenue stream for the NFL comes from major sponsorship deals with companies such as Verizon, PepsiCo and Microsoft.  A league-wide, national sponsorship can cost more than $100 million yearly, and such sponsorships generated about $1.88 billion for the league during the 2022-2023 season according to IEG’s Sponsorship Intelligence Database.  The funds are split equally among the league’s 32 teams.
A potential revenue generator is the NFL’s attempt to drum up interest in foreign markets.  An International Division for the league has been established, and a modest number of regular season games are being played outside the U.S., including five in the 2023-24 season, three in London and two in Frankfurt.  

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