For the second straight year, Forbes’s annual NBA team valuations send the unfortunate message to owners that winning isn’t everything.
The list, released yesterday, names the New York Knicks as the most valuable team in the National Basketball Association. Also yesterday, the Knicks dropped their fifth-straight game and their 15th home game of the season, falling to 15-27 on the season. According to Forbes, being 12 games under .500 is worth $1.4 billion. Rounding out the top five are the 16-26 Los Angeles Lakers ($1.35 billion), the 21-20 Chicago Bulls ($1 billion), the 15-29 Boston Celtics ($875 million) and the surging but still 18-22 Brooklyn Nets ($780 million).
According to Forbes, the Knicks’ value grew 27 percent from last year; the value of the average NBA team grew 25 percent. The league itself generated $4.6 billion in revenue, and the combined value of all 30 teams is about $19 billion. Forbes attributes such unprecedentedly high valuations to a new collective bargaining agreement that implemented player cost controls and a new national broadcasting agreement expected after the 2015-16 season, when a $930 million deal with ESPN-ABC and TNT expires. Indeed, four of the five teams are in the nation’s top-three television markets -- New York, Los Angeles and Chicago -- while Boston represents the seventh-largest market. No team has benefited from television more than the Lakers, who boast the highest viewership in the league and earned $122 million from local TV last season.
Although New York advanced last year to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 2000, news of the team’s riches will ring hollow to long-suffering Knicks fans, who don’t need another reason for owner James Dolan’s ego to swell. As it was with the George Steinbrenner-helmed Yankees, fans hope for winning to be management’s top priority. Even if it’s not, it only seems fair that it should be incentivized. The NBA’s ballooning profits allow big-market franchises to skate by with poor personnel decisions that would doom other businesses. What’s to prevent another Isiah Thomas disaster if it doesn’t end up hurting a team’s bottom line?
(Kavitha A. Davidson is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about sports. Follow her on Twitter at @kavithadavidson.)