Amid controversy, the NFL is still thriving financially

NFL revenues were up last year.
NFL revenues were up last year.
Image: USA Today Sports
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The Green Bay Packers are an anomaly. While every other team in the NFL is owned privately by a single owner or group of owners, the Packers are a publicly owned nonprofit with 360,000 shareholders. The Packers’ unusual structure means that the team must disclose its finances in an annual report. This report, which includes some league-wide information, is the best view the public has into the NFL’s financial health. And the latest edition of it indicates that despite a shroud of controversy, the NFL is indeed very healthy financially.

According to Bloomberg, which obtained the report, the NFL handed out $8.2 billion in league-wide revenue to its 32 franchises in 2017, up nearly 5% from the previous year. The NFL’s national revenue is mostly made up of money from TV and sponsorship deals. Teams also generate revenue locally from ticket sales and food sales on game days. The Packers, at least, had a strong year, with increased local revenue even though the team missed the playoffs.

Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy says the controversy over whether players should stand for the national anthem has yet to hurt the league financially, according to ESPN. While it is true, as Donald Trump has noted, that the NFL’s ratings are down—they fell by almost 10% from 2016 to 2017—this doesn’t matter for the league in the short run, as the league’s major TV deals run through 2022.

It is certainly possible that when these TV agreements need to be renegotiated, falling ratings could harm the league’s bottom line. Yet it’s equally likely that the desire for live rights from new media players like Amazon and Facebook, and the increased value of live events for advertisers, could keep revenues climbing.

Another sign of the league’s health is the $2.2 billion dollars paid in 2018 by hedge fund manager David Pepper for the Carolina Panthers. It was a record sale price (paywall) for a North American franchise, and an $800 million increase over the price paid for the Buffalo Bills in 2014, the last franchise to be sold. These are not the numbers of a sports league that is struggling.