Teams For Sale? Minor Leagues, Major Profits- Forbes Sports Valuations - Home Page (2023)

by Michael K. Ozanian

When most people think of Minor League Baseball they picture teams traveling to one-horse towns on broken-down buses, stadiums with hand-operated scoreboards, and bleachers with aging female baseball groupies like the one played by Susan Sarandon in the movie Bull Durham.

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Twenty years ago that image would have been accurate for the majority of “farm teams,” whose main purpose is to train prospects for the major leagues. But times have changed. MiLB teams like the Sacramento River Cats, Dayton Dragons, Toledo Mud Hens and, yes, Durham Bulls are run like first-rate professional clubs, play in modern ballparks and make a tidy profit. These teams are operated by a new breed of owners–many of whom are successful entrepreneurs in other industries–who understand marketing and have moved teams from small towns to bigger, more affluent cities that are much closer to their big league affiliates. No wonder there’s strong interest in minor league teams for sale.

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Check Out:The 20 Most Valuable Minor League Baseball Teams

In the first-ever exhaustive analysis on the finances of minor league baseball, Forbes ranks the 20 most valuable MiLB teams. We focused our study on the 160 minor league teams in either class AAA, AA or A (excluding rookie leagues) that, although they are independently owned and operated, are directly affiliated with a Major League Baseball team. Such teams have their ownership and capitalization vetted by both MiLB and MLB.

The most valuable team is the Sacramento River Cats, an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics owned by Art Savage and worth $29.8 million. The River Cats drew more than 700,000 fans last season (an average of 10,000 per game), the most in the minors.

The River Cats play in Raley Field, among the best stadiums in baseball, period. Raley Field is just eight years old, located just beyond California’s State Capital. Affluent patrons can been seen sipping Johnnie Walker at the bar, and the stadium has become a hot place for young adults to socialize on Friday and Saturday evenings. The River Cats own the stadium, which pulls in big advertising bucks from the likes of Coca-Cola (nyse: KO – news – people ). Lawn seats can be had for $5, and the team will throw you an 80-person fajita party in the James Hardie Party Deck for $3,800.

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Rounding out the top five: The Memphis Redbirds, The Frisco RoughRiders, The Round Rock Express and the Indianapolis Indians, publicly traded under the ticker symbol INDN. Since its thinly traded shares were listed on the pink sheets in 2004, the price of Indian shares increased to $24,000 per share from $16,000, during a period the S&P 500 tanked. In 2007, the Indians increased the dividend to $350 a share from $200 as net income increased to $1.3 million from $810,000.

To create the list, our first step was to cut our list of candidates down to a manageable size by focusing on the 30 MiLB clubs with the highest attendance. For these teams we pieced together their profit and loss statements by speaking with people familiar with their finances, reviewing their ballpark leases and, when we could not get figures from an outside source, derived estimates based on teams that play in comparable markets and stadiums for which we had solid figures. We based our team values on multiples of attendance and revenue, using historical transactions as a guide. (Note: The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, who moved from Ottawa, Canada, to Allentown, Pa., prior to the 2008 season, were not part of this valuation because of insufficient data.)

On average, the top 20 teams are worth $21.2 million and pulled in $9.8 million in revenue per team, of which 49% came from tickets. The great economics of the minor leagues: Player costs–typically between $10 million and $15 million a season for scouting, salaries and bonuses–are paid by the big league affiliates. As a result, margins for clubs that draw well are often fat, and these 20 clubs generated average operating income (earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation) of $3 million.

The sixth-ranked Dayton Dragons highlight another big difference between the major and minor leagues: For the former, winning is key to filling the ballpark; for the latter it is affordability (it cost a family of four about $50 for tickets, food and parking for a minor league game, less than one-third the cost of a big league contest) and non-baseball entertainment (most teams have an abundance of contests for fans as well as play areas for children).

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Since being moved from Rockford, Ill., to Ohio after they were purchased by Mandalay Sports Entertainment in 1998, the Dragons have sold out every game and have a 10-year waiting list for season tickets despite several losing seasons. About an hour’s drive from Cincinnati, the team’s average ticket price is just $10.50, compared with $18 for the Reds. Besides the action on the field, the Dragons employ four mascots and have toddler races and T-shirt tossing contests to entertain the crowd.

Says Randel Vataha, founder and president of Game Plan, a Boston sports banking company that has been involved in several minor league team transactions: “Minor league teams compete with movie theaters for entertainment dollars. You charge people $8 to $10 to get in, and then sell them as much beer, hot dogs and popcorn as you can.”

Once MiLB teams with a modern ballpark can get annual attendance up to the 400,000 range, Vataha notes, they can generate significant revenue from sponsors, especially if the team has a modern stadium where luxury suites can be given to sponsors who lavish advertising revenue on the team. Says Vataha, “With a minor league team, you are really running a themed restaurant with a cover charge.” We estimate Dayton, which has 30 suites at its state-of-the-art Fifth Third Field, raked in $2.5 million in sponsorship revenue last season, fourth-most in the minors.

Combined, Mandalay Sports Entertainment, an arm of Mandalay Entertainment Group of Los Angeles, which owns five farm clubs, probably possesses the most valuable collection of minor league teams. Mandalay’s Chairman and CEO is legendary movie producer Peter Guber ( Midnight Express, Flashdance and Batman). Says Guber: “Our focus is on family entertainment, affordability, customer service and working intensely with sponsors on what will work best for them.”

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By owning teams throughout the country, Mandalay has shown how to build value in all kinds of markets, and its reputation is so great that executives in the National Hockey League, Arena Football and Major League Soccer have tapped into Mandalay’s expertise on how they can improve branding, marketing and sponsorships.

Mandalay owns controlling stakes in the RoughRiders and Dragons and, along with the New York Yankees, operates a third (Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees) with an option–which it expects to exercise–to buy from Lackawanna County, Pa.

The combined value of these three clubs is $68 million, and their aggregate operating income was an estimated $15.6 million in 2007. Clever marketing and sponsorship deals are Mandalay’s trademark. Its teams provide fans with a free program each game called Play Ball that has fresh statistics each game. Most teams sell their programs, but by giving theirs away Mandalay is able to assure sponsors that thousands of fans will have them, in turn enabling Mandalay to sell pricier category exclusive sponsorships and feature sponsor’s logos on the covers.

Feel threatened by the professionalism that has infiltrated the way farm teams are currently run? Don’t be. There’s still plenty of Bull Durham fun in the minors. There’s just a lot more money now too

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Are minor league hockey teams profitable? ›

On average, the top 20 teams are worth $21.2 million and pulled in $9.8 million in revenue per team, of which 49% came from tickets. The great economics of the minor leagues: Player costs–typically between $10 million and $15 million a season for scouting, salaries and bonuses–are paid by the big league affiliates.

How much are the Frisco Roughriders worth? ›

Last season they boasted almost 670,000 fans total, with an average of 9,428 per game – the highest in minor league baseball. We estimate that the team is now worth $47.5 million and last year turned a $5 million profit – the third-most in the minors – on $17 million in revenue.

Do minor league baseball teams turn a profit? ›

The financials involved, while significant for minor league owners, are minuscule by the standards of MLB teams, which annually generate nine-figure revenue numbers. While there are exceptions, most minor league teams are doing well if they generate more than $1 million in profit in a year.

How much is a minor league team? ›

MiLB franchises trade at values ranging from $6 million to $50 million+, depending on the League, level of play (Single-A, Double-A, Triple-A, etc.)

What is the highest paid AHL Player? ›

AP The New York Rangers assigned 33-year-old defenseman Wade Redden to the Hartford Wolf Pack this weekend, where he will play out the remaining four years of his six-year, $39-million contract. All four years.

What is the salary of an AHL hockey player? ›

While there's no exact salary data for AHL players, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the median average salary for athletes and sports competitors is $50,850.

What baseball stadium has a lazy river? ›

At Riders Field, where the minor league baseball team Frisco RoughRiders play, fans can watch games from a 68,000-gallon lazy river, which is the largest water feature in a professional sporting venue, according to the league. One lap around the more than 3,000-square-foot river is about 400 feet.

What minor league team has the best attendance? ›

The Nashville Sounds baseball team finished the home portion of its regular season with the highest total and average attendance in minor league baseball. The Sounds drew 436,868 total fans to First Horizon Park, which was an average of 6,721 per game.

How much does a baseball stadium make per game? ›

The average attendance at the stadium is 40.975. With the hefty average ticket price of $86.85, they earn more than $3.5 million in gate receipts for every home game.

How do minor league owners make money? ›

Unlike Major League Baseball, which has a lucrative television contract, nearly all revenue for a minor league team comes from inside the stadium — ticket sales, concessions, in-stadium advertising and merchandise sales.

How much do AAA baseball players make 2022? ›

While an MLB player's minimum salary is $700,000 as of 2022, a Triple-A minor leaguer may only make around $14,000.

What does a AAA baseball player make? ›

The MLB raised minimum salaries for minor league players in 2021, increasing pay for players in Single-A from $290 to $500 per week, Double-A from $350 to $600 and Triple-A from $502 to $700 over the roughly five-month season.

Do minor league teams lose money? ›

State of the Minors

The 120 teams now comprising the minors have lost over $800 million since the onset of Covid-19, according to Greg Rosenbaum, owner of the Cincinnati Reds affiliate Dayton Dragons, who's spearheading an effort to secure congressional relief for suffering teams.

How are minor league baseball teams funded? ›

Unlike Major League Baseball, which has a lucrative television contract, nearly all revenue for a minor league team comes from inside the stadium — ticket sales, concessions, in-stadium advertising and merchandise sales.

How much does a minor league baseball player make? ›

After all, minor leaguers earn anywhere from $4,800 per year in rookie ball to approximately $14,000 annually in Triple-A, according to The Washington Post.

How much does a Zamboni driver make NHL? ›

According to reported salary estimates on job posting sites, the average Zamboni driver salary is around $13 per hour, or $26,500 (USD) annually. Top earners, such as NHL Zamboni drivers, earn a salary range from $29,000-$31,000, per ZipRecruiter.

Do Taxi Squad players get paid? ›

*While on the taxi squad, the player will be treated as if he is in the AHL for salary and injury purposes. However, Taxi Squad players can dress and practice with the NHL players. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, this also includes a $500 per day stipend.

How much does an ECHL coach make? ›

East Coast Hockey League Head Coaches earn $91,000 annually, or $44 per hour, which is 78% higher than the national average for all Head Coaches at $40,000 annually and 32% higher than the national salary average for ​all working Americans.

How much do G League players make? ›

But how much do G Leaguers get paid? On average, a G League player makes around $35,000 per season.

Do ECHL players get paid? ›

Teams are required in 2022-23 to pay rookie players a minimum salary of $510 per week and returning players a minimum salary of $555 per week.

How much is it to rent a pool at Chase Field? ›

Despite a price tag that starts at $4,750, the pool suite sells out for every game, including the upcoming wild-card playoff game. It has also moved beyond novelty and has became part of Diamondbacks lore.

What baseball stadium has a waterfall? ›

Kauffman Stadium's best-known feature is the fountain and waterfall display (known as the Water Spectacular) behind the right-field fence.

Which MLB stadium has a pool? ›

Chase Field also has a swimming pool located in right-center field, which is rented to patrons as a suite holding 35 guests for $3,500 per game during the 2011 season.

What is the biggest minor league baseball stadium? ›

The highest seating capacity of all active Triple-A teams is 16,600 at Sahlen Field, where the International League's Buffalo Bisons play. The stadium with the lowest capacity is Tacoma's Cheney Stadium, which seats 6,500.
Pacific Coast League.
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Are minor league teams privately owned? ›

Under most circumstances, minor league teams are not owned by Major league clubs, but have affiliation contracts with them. A small number of minor league clubs are directly owned by major league clubs, but these are rare.

Who is the most profitable baseball team? ›

The latest ranking reported that the New York Yankees is the most valuable MLB franchise after the 2021 MLB season. The fastest growing MLB franchise is the New York Yankees as well, with a 50% increase in valuation since the 2017 MLB season ($4 to $6 billion).

How much do MLB umpires make per game? ›

The highest-paid refs are in the NBA, where the average is $375,000. However, divide the amount of games MLB umpires must work and that number looks less appealing. NFL referees haul in more than $11,000 per game worked while MLB's officials take home less than $1,500 per game.

What is the lowest paid MLB player? ›

The average earnings of an MLB player in 2022 is $4.41million, according to the Associated Press. This means that baseball players earning millions are counterbalanced by players on lower wages. Those at the bottom of the league earn $700,000 which is up from $570,500.

How much do MLB players pay for their bats? ›

The average professional tier bat costs anywhere between $75-$185 per bat if the player will be paying for the bat out of pocket. If the bat is purchased at a premium through a bulk rate team discount, prices may range anywhere from $40-$60 give or take.

How do minor league owners make money? ›

Unlike Major League Baseball, which has a lucrative television contract, nearly all revenue for a minor league team comes from inside the stadium — ticket sales, concessions, in-stadium advertising and merchandise sales.

How much does it cost to start a minor league hockey team? ›

Minor league and top-level junior hockey franchises range in value, starting at approximately $1 million and increasing to as much as $25 million or higher in some leagues and markets.

How much does an AHL franchise cost? ›

Though the AHL's asking fee for expansion franchises is $1 million, it has been reported that the league would reduce or waive the fee for the ECHL teams.

Do minor league players make money? ›

Minor leaguers are paid much less than the major league players, often earning under $15,000 a season — which is less than most jobs in America, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and only a few grand over the poverty line.


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