Each global region has its own unique relationship to sports. Internationally, association football and cricket may be the most recognizable sports, but locally, activities like dragon boat racing or college lacrosse may be more popular.
For a single team to make it big around the world, there are a few factors at play. Unsurprisingly, one of the biggest requisites for a team to ‘go global’ is strong financial backing. Simply put, more profit can help executives onboard new fans—with, say, a brand new stadium or an international series.
According to Forbes, the world’s 50 most lucrative teams all took home more than $2 billion in profit last year. Clearly, the curve toward success is steep, as deeper pockets also mean teams can make a play for stronger players that demand higher pay.
But a team’s recognition doesn’t always rely on bagging billions. Smart partnerships can also do the trick, from fantasy league spin-offs to virtual reality games. In certain countries, major leagues can pool their resources with long-term contracts with popular betting groups and other related industries.
For example, one of the most popular sportsbooks in the US, FanDuel, recently signed agreements with an MLS team, DC United, and the MLB as a whole. A FanDuel sportsbook review may mention that the oddsmakers have a limited bet history, but their big-name partnerships help expose them to DC United fans—and vice versa.
For teams looking to build fanbases, like the relatively unknown DC United, such maneuvers are invaluable. Many of the world’s most popular teams are conflated with value, but big money doesn’t always mean global popularity. Let’s look at the world’s biggest sports franchises, related to both value and popularity.
Value: Dallas Cowboys
National Football League (NFL) / Texas, USA
Headed by billionaire businessman Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys are known for continually leading Forbes’ list of most valuable sports franchises. Back in 1989, Jones paid $150 million for the group, but has since turned the Boys into a $5.7 billion dollar venture.
Most notably, Jones built the AT&T Stadium, the premier class of sports recreation in the US and beyond. However, it’s important to note that the Cowboys aren’t even considered one of the most popular (or formidable) teams in the NFL—and the NFL isn’t considered one of the most popular sports in terms of a global audience.
Value: New York Yankees
Major League Baseball (MLB) / New York City, USA
The New York Yankees, similar to the Cowboys, are a financial success story. Since the Steinbrenner family took over the business in 1973, they’ve turned their $9 million investment into a $5.25 billion dollar empire.
Unlike the Cowboys, the Yankees have fared a bit better in terms of taking home championships. The Yankees have also benefitted from transforming the team into a brand that’s synonymous with New York City.
Fan Count: Chennai Super Kings
Indian Premier League (IPL) / Chennai, India
When looking at the world’s most popular sports, India’s IPL can’t be overlooked. Not only does India have hundreds of millions of sports fans, but the IPL regularly turns out international superstars who move between domestic leagues and ICC matches.
CSK, with three IPL titles, has nearly 27 million fans in India alone. The club has benefitted from stars like MS Dhoni and Virat Kholi, who have endeared and onboarded new fans. Despite CSK having fewer IPL titles than other teams like the Mumbai Indians, the Kings have a higher and more dedicated fanbase. The Cowboys, for comparison’s sake, have less than nine million fans.
Global Fan Count: FC Barcelona
Association Football Club / Barcelona, Spain
FC Barcelona performs well in terms of both fan count and value. Forbes ranks the team fourth in the world in terms of profit with a total net worth of $4.76 billion. FC Barcelona also manages to keep its 150 million fans engaged with its long list of superstars, from Messi to Griezmann.
Global Favorite: LA Lakers
National Basketball League (NBA) / Los Angeles, USA
The LA Lakers (and the NBA as a whole) don’t have huge international backing. However, the Lakers are a recognizable brand. Worldwide, Lakers merch (from hats to jerseys to sneakers) is bought and sold. Sports fans may not watch or play basketball, but they’ve likely worn or seen a Kobe, Shaq, LeBron, or Magic jersey before.