Forbes published the valuations for all MLS clubs for the first time since 2019 in a juicy online feature, and New York City FC was pegged at an eye-watering $800 million. NYCFC trails only LAFC ($1 billion), LA Galaxy ($925 million), and Atlanta United ($825 million).
Before we get into what those valuations might mean, we want to point out that these numbers are essentially made-up. Forbes didn’t conduct an audit, and MLS clubs are under no obligation to submit their finances to the publication. These valuations are entirely speculative, estimations based not just on attendance and merchandising, but vibes. Or, in the words of the disclaimer published in Forbes, “All published figures are Forbes estimates; team values do not include stadiums, real estate or debt.”
As The Athletic pointed out last year, MLS clubs are “like tech stocks” with inflated values that reflect potential growth. In addition, every club in MLS is worth $325 million simply for being a club in MLS: That’s the buy-in fee paid by Charlotte FC to join the league, which makes it the foundational value of every team.
Keeping all that in mind, we’re deeply skeptical of the attention-grabbing headline that appeared in Forbes, namely “Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Clubs 2023: LAFC Is The First Billion-Dollar Franchise.” Did an intern with an abacus really arrive at that oh-so-clean $1 billion figure? Or was the actual figure, say, $970 million, and an SEO-savvy editor bumped it up to a billion with a “B” because who will know?
All that aside, we like goofing around with numbers, and this article is as fine an excuse as ever to play around with millions – even billions! – of make-believe dollars. In that spirit, here are 6 takeaways.
But first, here’s a table that compares the valuations published today and the valuations Forbes published in 2019. It’s best viewed on a desktop, but we know most of you are reading this on your phone.
MLS Franchise Valuations by Year (per Forbes)
|Rank||Club||2023 Value||2019 Value||Change||% Change||2019 Rank||Rank Change|
|1||LAFC||$1 billion||$475 million||+ $525 million||111%||3||+ 2|
|2||LA Galaxy||$925 million||$480 million||+ $445 million||93%||2||–|
|3||Atlanta United||$850 million||$500 million||+ $300 million||60%||1||– 4|
|4||NYCFC||$800 million||$385 million||+ $415 million||108%||7||+ 4|
|5||DC United||$700 million||$330 million||+ $370 million||112%||9||+ 4|
|6||Toronto FC||$690 million||$395 million||+ $295 million||75%||5||– 2|
|7||Austin FC||$680 million||–||–||–||–||–|
|8||Seattle Sounders||$660 million||$405 million||+ $225 million||56%||4||– 5|
|9||Portland Timbers||$650 million||$390 million||+ $260 million||67%||6||– 4|
|10||Charlotte FC||$625 million||–||–||–||–||–|
|11||Inter Miami CF||$600 million||–||–||–||–||–|
|12||Sporting Kansas City||$590 million||$325 million||+ $265 million||82%||10||– 3|
|13||Phildelphia Union||$575 million||$240 million||+ $325 million||135%||18||+ 4|
|14||FC Cincinnati||$560 million||–||–||–||–||–|
|15||Columbus Crew||$550 million||$200 million||+ $350 million||175%||23||+ 7|
|16||Minnestoa United FC||$540 million||$300 million||+ $240 million||80%||11||– 6|
|17||New Jersey Red Buls||$525 million||$290 million||+ $235 million||81%||13||– 5|
|18||Nashville SC||$500 million||–||–||–||–||–|
|19||New England Revolution||$475 million||$245 million||+ $230 million||94%||17||– 3|
|20||San Jose Earthquakes||$450 million||$275 million||+ $175 million||64%||16||– 5|
|21||Real Salt Lake||$440 million||$235 million||+ $205 million||87%||19||– 3|
|22||Houston Dynamo||$435 million||$280 million||+ $155 million||55%||15||– 8|
|23||Chicago Fire||$425 million||$335 million||+ $90 million||27%||8||– 16|
|24||Orlando City||$420 million||$295 million||+ $125 million||42%||12||– 13|
|25||Vancouver Whitecaps||$410 million||$215 million||+ $195 million||91%||21||– 5|
|26||FC Dallas||$400 million||$220 million||+ $180 million||82%||20||– 7|
|27||CF Montréal||$375 million||$210 million||+ $165 million||79%||22||– 6|
|28||Colorado Rapids||$350 million||$190 million||+ $160 million||84%||24||– 5|
1. Not all clubs gained value
The table above looks like growth was spread around the league, albeit unevenly. But those gains are misleading as all MLS teams got a $175 million bump over 2019 figures.
If every MLS franchise is worth at least $325 million today (the cost of Charlotte’s expansion fee), then every club should be worth $175 million more than what they were valued at when Forbes last published this list in 2019, when FC Cincinnati joined the league for $150 million.
Chicago Fire’s gain of just $90 million is especially notable — basically, they lost $185 in value. More like Chicago Dumpster Fire, amiright?
2. Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew are overperforming
While the Forbes headline belongs to LAFC, and the glam clubs at the top of the list generally posted the largest gains, both Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew outperformed traditionally strong franchises such as Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, and Toronto FC. The Crew’s 175% growth was the most in the league, and they climbed seven spots in the rankings despite MLS adding four teams.
3. NYCFC are keeping it tight at the top of the pack
New York City have generally remained a top-five team since joining the league in 2015. As you can see from the following table, NYCFC have steadily added value over the years. (Note that no major publication published MLS valuations in 2020; Forbes didn’t publish valuations in 2021 or 2022, so we use Sportico’s figures for those years.)
NYCFC Valuation by Year
4. New Jersey Red Bulls remain mediocre
Our frenemies across the Hudson River added just $235 million in value, or $60 million when adjusted to reflect the higher MLS franchise fee. Arbitrary as all of this might be, it feels right that the New Jersey Red Bulls are worth less than Minnesota United, FC Cincinnati, or Sporting Kansas City.
5. DC United’s $700 million valuation is a mystery
Why DC United, a team that came in last or almost-last in every meaningful measure this past season on the field, are ranked fifth, which put them above hyper-popular clubs such as Sounders and Timbers, is beyond us. Are DC United really worth more than the always-sold-out Austin FC, a team that dominates the sporting scene in a metropolitan area with more than two million residents? Or than Toronto FC, a team that feels like a perennial contender even when it doesn’t put up the strongest performances?
If you want an illustration of the arbitrariness of these numbers, look no further than DC United’s $700 million valuation, which, if you are to believe it, means that the club is worth more than Newcastle United, Leeds United, Southampton, and Fulham combined.
6. Sounders fans aren’t happy with these numbers
Looks like Seattle dropped $20 million in value in the past year. Declining valuation, missing the playoffs: Looks like going all-in to win the CCL last year continues to hurt the organization.
Still, best of luck in the Club World Cup this Saturday!