£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.

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war