Forget about WAR, FIP, wOBA and other saber creations. EBITDA (earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) is the metric baseball fans should get to know.
The Chicago Cubs won the World Series in 2016, but, using EBITDA as a barometer, the Philadelphia Phillies had the last laugh, presumably on their way to the bank. According to Forbes’ annual report on MLB finances, the fourth place Phillies led all teams with a whopping operating profit (defined by Forbes as EBITDA) of nearly $90 million. And, not only were the Phillies the most profitable team in 2016, but it also scored the highest EBITDA figure reported by Forbes since at least 2003 (Forbes has conducted the study for 20 years). In fact, four other teams would have qualified for that distinction had the Phillies not claimed the honor. In total, all but five clubs ended up in the black, with the industry as a whole topping $1 billion in profit, a 50% increase over 2015.
MLB’s profit picture was boosted by continued steady revenue growth and stable cost management. Industry income of $9 billion-plus, which differs from gross figures reported by the league, represented a 7% increase from 2015, while player expenses remained relatively flat (Forbes estimates player costs are 57% of operating expenses; I have calculated player cost at just over 50% of net revenue). The rising tide of revenue also lifted nearly every boat. Only the Reds (-3%) and Royals (-10%) collected less money than last year, while eight teams enjoyed double-digit increases.
Total Player Compensation as a Percentage of Net Revenue, 2003-2016
Note: Revenue is net of stadium debt service. Total compensation is actual payroll + player benefit costs + players’ share of the postseason revenue pool. Benefit costs are determined by working backward from the known 2015 amount and assuming a 4% growth rate (CBA calls for increases up to 10%).
Source: MLB releases published by AP (actual payroll), baseball-almanac (postseason revenue) and Forbes (net revenue)
With such healthy income statements, it’s easy to see why team valuations continued to soar across the league. In 2013, only five teams had an enterprise value above $1 billion, but now the average is $1.54 billion, a 19% jump over last year. Every team in the survey enjoyed at least a nominal bump, while all but four advanced double-digits. As a result, the relative debt levels of the league have fallen, giving each team a much more stable operating structure. Continue Reading »