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MLS Franchise Value Slowing Catching Up to Major North American Leagues

Recent numbers released by Forbes suggest that Major League Soccer is still well behind the pack when it comes to franchise values. However, evidence would suggest that the league is gaining ground.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers released by Forbes this week indicated that while franchise values for Major League Soccer clubs is on the rise, they are still well behind the major established sport's leagues. However, percentage wise at least, the league is slowly catching up.

The average value of a Major League Soccer franchise has risen to $157 million USD and is up 52 per cent from two years ago when Forbes last collected data on the league.

This is a statement of the fact that the league is in a good place, and slowly carving out a niche in the already saturated major sports empire in North America.

With all of the league's franchise's now worth over $100 million USD the league is in the best shape financially it has ever been. These numbers don't even include the values of recent expansion clubs New York City FC and Orlando City SC.

The league is far from done expansion, as well, as Atlanta will be joining the league in 2017, Los Angeles FC will be joining in 2018 and the league has approved expansion into both Minnesota and Miami with no expansion dates being set.

All of this should be an indication that the league will continue to grow in value, as new stadium deals and a more expensive American television deal are negotiated, considering the audience will be expanding into new markets.

However, as Major League Soccer grows so does the rest of the major professional sports leagues in North America.

The NBA leads the way as it saw the average franchise increase 74 per cent in value over the past year. It is followed by MLB at 48 per cent, the NFL at 23 per cent and the NHL at 18.6 per cent.

While Major League Soccer is technically second among these franchises in terms of franchise valuation growth, at the aforementioned 52 per cent, it is still far from making up the overall ground.

Taking a look at the franchise values at the high end of the continent's sports scene makes this clear. The New York Yankees (MLB) and Dallas Cowboys (NFL) are both worth 3.2 billion, roughly 13 times the value of the Seattle Sounders.

The Sounders are Major League Soccer's most valuable team according to Forbes, who valued them at $240 million USD in their recent report. Toronto FC is worth $175 Million USD, and are fifth among MLS franchises.

Even the "lowly" National Hockey League, who could be considered Major League Soccer's biggest competitor at the present moment considering stature in the sport's scene in North America, is ahead. The average NHL franchise is worth more than double the Sounders.

So while the latest numbers make it clear that the league is making inroads in at least the business side of sports, those inroads are incredibly long and difficult to make.

Major League Soccer has set a goal of being among the top league's in world soccer by 2022. However these numbers would indicate it would be a massive feat to even be among the top three leagues in North America by that time.

Franchise values tell far from the entire picture, but with sports by and large being a business they are a good gage of public interest. A lot of the factors that would go into comparing the success of leagues are considered in these calculations.

Truly MLS still has a long way to go before it can truly be considered among the "Major Leagues" in North American professional sports.