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Thirty-two teams play in the NFL, each putting players on the field every Sunday during the season in an attempt to make the playoffs. But only one of them is worth more than $2 billion. On the other end, only one of them operated at a loss. Can you guess which ones?

If we were to go only by wins and losses, or recent Super Bowl championships, we might have a pretty good guess for the team that continually operates in the red. The Detroit Lions have had a long string of losing seasons, and they have never won the big trophy. But the cause of the team’s budget woes likely has more to do with the need to pay off the new Ford Field and the massive contracts of some big-name stars, such as Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford. Still, as the only team in the highly profitable NFL to operate at a loss, Detroit likely needs to consider why its value is slow low.

On the other end, though the Dallas Cowboys have not won a Super Bowl in nearly 20 years, the team is worth considerably more than some more recent champions (e.g., New England Patriots $1.8 billion, New York Giants $1.55 billion, Baltimore Ravens $1.22 billion). The Cowboys also have been the most valuable team in the NFL for the past seven years running. Part of the profits in the most recent year came from a new naming contract for the stadium that paid the team approximately $400 million.

But what really makes the Cowboys more valuable than the Lions—or any other team, for that matter? Furthermore, what makes NFL teams so very valuable, compared with the teams that compete in every other professional sport? Whereas on average, an NFL team is worth about $1.17 billion, the average net worth of an NBA team is about half that amount ($509 million). In the NHL, the average team is worth only about $282 million, and the most recent Stanley Cup champion, the Chicago Blackhawks, operate at a deficit. Only soccer, in which the mean value for the top 20 teams is about $968 million, even comes close to the NFL’s billion-dollar standard.

Defining value in sports—whether the value of a team or the value of a superstar player—is a challenging effort. It’s also one that largely defines how sports fans, the world over, enjoy their matches on a regular basis.

Source: Darren Rovell, “Cowboys Worth NFL-Best $2.3 Billion,” ESPN.com, August 15, 2013; Kevin Siefert, “Forbes: Lions Continue Losing Money,” ESPN.com, August 14, 2013

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