NFL TV ratings remain sky-high through the first three weeks of the season, expanding the gulf between the world’s richest sports league and its competitors. Expect more of the same in Week 4 with a pair of TV darlings on the slate: Steelers and Packers, facing off in the afternoon, followed by one of the most anticipated matchups of the season, as Tom Brady returns to Foxboro Sunday night.
TV is the financial engine that makes the NFL go, and revenue should top $10 billion from the medium this season through the combined national, local and international cash spigots. But the league has a decent side hustle from its stadium business that largely disappeared last season without fans in the building, costing the 32 teams combined roughly $4 billion. The fans are back in force, and revenue from tickets, suites, concessions and parking over four weeks will top $1 billion after this weekend’s games.
Teams were able to capture most of their sponsorship revenue last season, but total NFL attendance plummeted 93%, to 1.2 million, due to local COVID-19 restrictions. Fourteen teams did not have any fans at games, including at much-anticipated new venues in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, while another six teams let in fewer than 25,000 fans over the whole season. Dallas, Jacksonville, Kansas City and Tampa Bay were the only teams with more than 100,000 fans during 2020.
Four NFL teams—the Saints, Seahawks, Raiders and Bills—have fan vaccine mandates at their stadiums in 2021, but every team is open to full capacity so far; the Colts were the last team to get local approval in June. As a result, home attendance should hit 4.3 million for the first four weeks of the season, or 22 times the 197,000 during the comparable period last season; season-long attendance peaked at 17.8 million in 2016 and was 17.3 million two years ago.
Fans clearly missed seeing the action in person. At 92%, season ticket renewal rates this year equaled a five-year high, and resurgent teams, like the Browns, topped 99%.
Each NFL team is expected to receive $335 million this season from the league through its equally shared media and licensing revenue. The massive windfall before a single ticket is sold is why every NFL team is worth at least $2.4 billion—Cincinnati is ranked No. 32—and the average team value is $3.5 billion, including team-related businesses and real estate held by owners. Total NFL revenue should top $17 billion for the year.
The major differentiator for NFL team values is the stadium, as local TV deals are a fraction of what elite NBA and MLB franchises receive from their regional sports network agreements. Most NFL teams generate less than $200 million in their local markets, but four teams, by Sportico’s count—the Cowboys, Patriots, Rams and Giants—will earn more than $300 million from their stadiums in 2021, including sponsorships and non-NFL events and assuming a full 17-game season with fans. That quartet also represents the NFL’s four most valuable franchises, led by Dallas at $6.92 billion.