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Atlanta United again leads Forbes list of most valuable MLS teams

The average MLS team is worth $313 million, up 30 percent year-over-year.

Aug 27, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United fans in the supporter section react after Atlanta defeated the Minnesota United to capture the U. S. Open Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
Aug 27, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta United fans in the supporter section react after Atlanta defeated the Minnesota United to capture the U. S. Open Cup at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. (Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)

Atlanta United once again is Major League Soccer’s most valuable team, according to Forbes.

The third-year franchise, which just saw its MLS Cup title defense come to an end in the Eastern Conference final, is valued at $500 million on Forbes’ annual list, up from $330 million from last year’s rankings.

The new report is based on data from the 2018 MLS season.

Atlanta’s revenue jumped from $47 million to $78 million, and after operating at a loss of $2 million in its inaugural season, it posted $7 million of income in 2018. The Five Stripes’ operating income leads MLS. Only seven of the league’s 23 teams that played in 2018 turned a profit, according to Forbes.

Atlanta won MLS Cup in 2018 and broke numerous attendance records along the way. The team brought in an announced 901,033 fans across 17 regular-season games, averaging 53,002 people per game. Both numbers were best in league history. The Five Stripes’ average home attendance ranked 17th globally in 2018.

The average MLS franchise is worth $313 million, per Forbes, up 30 percent year-over-year. 

“Put simply, Major League Soccer’s surging expansion fees and sales prices are not being driven by financial performance,” Forbes’ Chris Smith wrote. “In fact, though revenues are broadly on the rise, the league and most of its teams continue to operate at a significant loss. But MLS investors are still spending big to secure a share of the US soccer market because their eyes are set on potential goldmines down the road: a new national TV deal in 2023, a stateside World Cup in 2026 and, if everything goes just right, a future American sports landscape wherein domestic soccer can hold its own against the likes of the NFL and NBA.”

The LA Galaxy again rank second with a valuation of $480 million. Los Angeles FC represents the only movement in Forbes’ top five, rising one spot to No. 3 with a valuation of $475 million.

This year’s MLS Cup finalists, the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC, rank fourth and fifth, respectively. Seattle is worth $405 million and Toronto checks in at $395 million. Toronto posted the biggest deficit in 2018, operating at a loss of $19 million. The Reds employed MLS’ most expensive roster last season with big-money stars such as Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Sebastian Giovinco.

FC Cincinnati made its MLS debut in 2019 and is worth $285 million, which ranks 14th on Forbes’ list. 

The Philadelphia Union are perhaps MLS’ biggest overachievers. Philadelphia just enjoyed its best-ever season, finishing third in the Eastern Conference and winning a playoff game for the first time. The Union are valued at $240 million, 18th in the league.

On the other hand, the Chicago Fire have not lived up to their current value. The Fire rank eighth at $335 million despite the fact they have missed the MLS Cup playoffs in two consecutive seasons. Forbes valued Chicago at $245 million last year. The increase comes after billionaire Joe Mansueto took 100% control of the franchise and announced plans to leave suburban Bridgeview, Ill., and play games at downtown Chicago’s Soldier Field in 2020.  

Mansueto paid $400 million for the franchise. Forbes is “not quite so bullish” because “for all the hype around the downtown move, the club has long struggled to find either relevancy or financial success.”

The Colorado Rapids landed at the foot of Forbes’ table for the second year running, though their valuation increased from $155 million to $190 million.

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