£1.43bn Manchester United world's most valuable team

But what does this really mean?

Manchester City will go into this year’s Premier League season as champions but it is their bitter rivals across town that is the undisputed most valuable sports team in the world in spite of spiralling debt.

Forbes top 50 most valuable sports teams places United top of the pile with an estimated value of £1.43bn, up from £1.2bn. This is £250m more than second-placed Real Madrid.

That United is the most bankable brand in sport is no surprise. The club has an unrivalled global fan base of 659 million, enjoy unrivalled success of 20 titles in the most popular football league, Premier League, and has been aggressively building its base in football hungry Asia.

Although United has worrying debts of £424m, the club has huge pulling power when it comes to sponsorship. American Insurance firm Aon pays £19.8m to stick its logo on United’s shirt, DHL Express recently signed a four-year deal worth £40m to sponsor the club’s training kit and Nike contributes £25m a year towards team merchandise sales.

But what does being in Forbes’ most valuable list actually mean?

Very little, if you consider who else figures.

Football clubs, which undoubtedly enjoy the greatest world-wide appeal of any team sport, have seven top 50 entrants, including four in the top 10 – Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona (£838m – 8th) and Arsenal (£825m – 10th).

Remarkably, NFL clubs dominate the top 50 with 32 teams!

According to Forbes, global household names St Louis Rams, Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals (all NFL) are all more valuable than Champions League winners Chelsea.

How Forbes works out the rich list is beyond me but I can imagine a lot of it is based on gate receipts, sponsorship and other commercial revenues pouring into a club.

In the mega-rich NFL, which dwarfs football in terms of the stupid amounts of money invested in the game, you could understand such a good showing from grid iron teams.

But in my books, a club’s value has as much to do with its global appeal and fan base as it does with revenue generation, and a complete list would factor this into account.

NFL teams that few people outside of the United States have heard may be valuable at home, but I doubt cashed up investors from the Middle East, Europe or elsewhere would place such a high value on their brand.

The other sports to feature include Major League Baseball (seven entrants), Formula One (Ferrari and McLaren) and Basketball (Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks).

The numbers: the world's top 10 most valuable teams:

1 Manchester United - £1.43bn

2 Real Madrid - £1.20bn

3= NY Yankees - £1.18bn

3= Dallas Cowboys - £1.18bn

5 Washington Redskins - £1bn

6= LA Dodgers - £895m

6= NE Patriots - £895m

8 Barcelona - £838m

9 New York Giants - £831m

10 Arsenal - £825m

Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. Photograph: Getty Images

Arvind Hickman is the editor of the International Accounting Bulletin.

Getty Images.
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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.