Forbes Launches First-Ever SportsMoney Index

The definitive ranking of the most influential athletes, agencies, brands and teams in sports

Cristiano Ronaldo.
Photo: ©
Cristiano Ronaldo.

Forbes launched The Forbes SportsMoney Index (SMI), the first-ever definitive money ranking in sports. Over 400 athletes, agencies, brands and teams are ranked based on their place on one of Forbes' annual sports lists, as well as the place of the other SMI members to which they are directly connected. The Forbes SportsMoney Index is the only quantitative ranking of the most influential names in the sports world.

To create the SMI, Forbes combined all of Forbes' SportsMoney annual valuations lists (sports teams, brands, athletes and agencies) and proprietary financial data into a single ranking to see how their values affect one another. This is the first time that a cross-category ranking of sports business influence has been compiled.

"The Forbes SportsMoney Index is the definitive money ranking in sports because it not only tells you who the industry's most important players are, but it also tells you why," said Mike Ozanian, Assistant Managing Editor of Forbes Media and co-host of the four-time Emmy Award-winning Forbes SportsMoney on the YES Network.

The order of The Forbes SportsMoney Index will change in the future to reflect updated valuations and earnings lists, as well as any new or ended business relationships. The index will change every few weeks when Forbes updates its team, agency, athlete or brand valuations.


The Forbes SportsMoney Index takes into account both the business power an entity has within its own category as well as how well-connected it is to other powerful entities in the sports ecosystem. The Yankees score highly, for instance, not only because they are one of the most valuable teams in pro sports but also because they employ three of the world's highest-paid athletes and have sponsorship agreements with four of the world's most valuable brands.

For years Forbes has been the ultimate scorekeeper of sports business, tracking everything from the most valuable teams to the highest-earning players, from top agencies to biggest sponsors. But quantifying monetary success doesn't tell the full story.

The Dallas Cowboys, for example, are the world’s most valuable pro sports team, now worth $4.2 billion with a staggering $700 million in revenue last season. Cristiano Ronaldo is the world’s highest-paid athlete, taking home $88 million. Nike is the globe’s top sportswear brand, worth $28 billion and clocking $30 billion in annual revenues. And Creative Artists Agency beats all sports agencies, with a whopping $290 million in maximum commissions.

But what, exactly, makes the Cowboys, Ronaldo, Nike or CAA so successful? What is it that’s driving the impressive numbers on their balance sheets? It’s the business relationships they have throughout the sports ecosystem.

The Cowboys are tremendously successful largely because they field superstar athletes like Dez Bryant and have deals with some of the world’s most valuable brands in Pepsi, Ford, AT&T and Bank of America.

Ronaldo earns so much because he has a massive contract with Real Madrid - worth $56 million last year - and a group of corporations willing to shell out more than $30 million per year just to be associated with him.

Nike is able to sell $20 billion worth of shoes annually because it’s directly associated with some of the biggest names in sports – Barcelona, LeBron James and the NFL, to name just a few.

And CAA has built its success upon the sports agency world's most star-studded roster of athletes, boasting a lineup of Eli Manning, Drew Brees, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Julio Jones and many, many more.

Those sorts of relationships are the very foundation of the sports business world. And though we’ve long detailed the end results – which teams are most valuable, which players are highest paid – until now nobody has ever done a comprehensive study of how all of those connections fit together to create wealth.

Introducing the Forbes SportsMoney Index, the definitive money ranking in sports. We’ve ranked 430 athletes, agencies, brands and teams, accounting for both their financial power as well as their influential relationships with others in the sports world. To create the SMI, we’ve combined all of FORBES’ SportsMoney annual valuations lists (sports teams, brands, athletes, agencies) and proprietary financial data into a single ranking that reflects their monetary success and how their values affect one another. This is the first time that a cross-category ranking of sports business influence has ever been compiled.

The Top 10 in The Forbes SportsMoney Index Debut Edition

1. Nike

Number of SMI index connections: 9

Value: $27.5 B

Revenue: $30 B

Parent company ad spending: $3.2 B

NIKE, Inc. engages in the design, development, marketing and sale of footwear, apparel, and equipment, accessories and services. Its athletic footwear products are designed primarily for specific athletic use, although a large percentage of the products are worn for casual or leisure purposes. It focuses on NIKE Brand and Brand Jordan product offerings in seven key categories: running, basketball, football, men's training, women's training, NIKE sportswear, and action sports. It also markets product designed for kids, as well as for other athletic and recreational uses such as baseball, cricket, golf, lacrosse, outdoor activities, football, tennis, volleyball, walking, and wrestling. The company sells a line of performance equipment under the NIKE Brand name, including bags, socks, sport balls, eyewear, timepieces, digital devices, bats, gloves, protective equipment, golf clubs, and other equipment designed for sports activities. It also sells small amounts of various plastic products to other manufacturers through its wholly-owned subsidiary, NIKE IHM, Inc. Its reportable operating segments for the NIKE Brand are: North America, Western Europe, Central & Eastern Europe, Greater China, Japan, and Emerging Markets. The company wholly-owned subsidiaries include Converse Inc., which designs, markets and distributes casual footwear, apparel and accessories and Hurley International LLC, which designs, markets and distributes action sports and youth lifestyle footwear, apparel and accessories. The company was founded by William Jay Bowerman and Philip H. Knight in 1964 and is headquartered in Beaverton, OR.

2. Pepsi

Number of SMI index connections: 4

Value: $19.4 B

Revenue: $11.8 B

Parent company ad spending: $2.4 B

Pepsi sponsored the Super Bowl halftime show for a third straight year in 2015 and got a big bang for its buck with 115.5 million people tuning in. It was a bigger audience than the game itself. Pepsi has three products - Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi Max - that each generates more than $1 billion in annual retail sales with the flagship Pepsi brand over $10 billion. Volumes declined in the U.S. last year for both Pepsi (-3.2%) and Diet Pepsi (-5.8%), according to Beverage Digest, as Americans continue to shun soda. Pepsi did pass Diet Coke in 2014 to return to its spot as the second most popular soda for Americans. Pepsi-Cola was created in 1898 in New Bern, N.C. by pharmacist Caleb Bradham.

3. Real Madrid

Sport: Soccer

Number of SMI index connections: 6

Value: $3.6 B

Revenue: $694 M

Operating income: #162 M

During the past decade, Real Madrid's revenue has increased at a 7.6% compound annual rate, with recent growth underpinned by sponsorship deals with Adidas, Emirates and the International Petroleum Investment Company.

4. Barcelona

Sport: Soccer

Number of SMI index connections: 6

Value: $3.5 B

Revenue: $675 M

Operating income: #108 M

Last year, Barcelona became the only team to win the treble (League, Spanish Cup, Champions League) twice (2008-09, 2014-15).

5. Cristiano Ronaldo

Sport: Soccer

Number of SMI index connections: 3

Total Earnings: $88 M

Endorsements: $32 M

Salary: $56 M

The three-time FIFA best player in the world has broken the 50-goal mark six seasons in a row for Real Madrid, where his $50 million a year in salary and bonus runs through 2018. He's the world's most popular athlete with over 200 million social media followers, helping him land head-to-toe sponsorships including Nike,Tag Heuer, Sacoor Brothers suits and Monster headphones.

6. LeBron James

Sport: Basketball

Number of SMI index connections: 5

Total Earnings: $77.2 M

Endorsements: $54 M

Salary: $23.2 M

LeBron James made history when he reached his sixth straight NBA Finals. No player has accomplished that in 50 years since the dynasty of the Boston Celtics. Nike signed James to the first lifetime contract in the company's 44-year history at the end of 2015. Sales of James' signature shoes are down over the past 12 months, but if sales rebound and James can move product after his NBA days are over, the contract will likely pay out more than $1 billion. King James has gone Hollywood with his SpringHill Entertainment production company and multi-platform media company Uninterrupted, which got a $15.8 investment in December from Time Warner. He also made his big-screen debut in the summer of 2015 in the movie Trainwreck. James is also set to star in the sequel to the 1996 Michael Jordan movie-vehicle Space Jam.

7. Lionel Messi

Sport: Soccer

Number of SMI index connections: 3

Total Earnings: $81.4 M

Endorsements: $28 M

Salary: $53.4 M

The reigning Ballon d'Or winner has won FIFA's player of the year award five times and his playing contract is loaded with bonuses for such feats, which help make him one of the highest-paid on the pitch. A Spanish court found Messi guilty of tax fraud in July. The Argentine was sentenced to 21 months in prison, although he almost certainly will serve the time as probation instead of behind bars.

8. Creative Artists Agency

Max commision: $290.6 M

Sport: Football, Baseball, Basketball, Golf

Number of SMI index connections: 17

Contract value under management: $7.9 B

Contract years under management: 1,128

Salary: $53.4 M

Los Angeles-based Creative Artists Agency represents athletes in nearly every professional sport. The football division at the Creative Artists Agency continues to dominate NFL player contract representation, having negotiated over $3.3 billion worth of active contracts. CAA’s clients include J.J. Watt, Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Ndamunkong Suh. CAA’s baseball division represents a roster of All-Star players including Adam Jones, Buster Posey and Ryan Braun, while their  NBA division is headlined by legends and current superstars like Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George. CAA also represents some of the very best the NHL has to offer, including: Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Claude Giroux.

9. New York Yankees

Sport: Baseball

Number of SMI index connections: 3

Value: $3.4 B

Revenue: $516 M

Operating income: #13 M

The Yankees have been baseball’s most valuable franchise since Forbes began valuing teams in 1998. The Bronx Bombers generate more revenue ($516 million after revenue sharing) than any other MLB team. The Yankees returned the playoffs last year after two straight seasons sitting out the postseason, but lost to the Astros in the AL Wild Card game. The Yankees have missed the playoffs only three times since 1994. Attendance in the Bronx fell 5.5% last year to 3.2 million in the first season without Derek Jeter in two decades, but it was still good enough to lead the American League. The team's 20% ownership of the YES Network, the country's most-watched regional sports network, affords the Yankees with baseball's highest cable rights fee.

10. New York Giants

Sport: Football

Number of SMI index connections: 5

Value: $3.1 B

Revenue: $444 M

Operating income: #133 M

The Giants parted ways with coach Tom Coughlin at the end of the 2015 season after 12 years, 102 regular season wins and two Super Bowl titles. Ben McAdoo, who served the past two years as Giants offensive coordinator, was hired to replace Coughlin in January under a four-year contract. The Giants broke the bank in the offseason to shore up a defense that yielded the most yards allowed of any NFL team last season. They committed $194 million to a trio of big-ticket items on defense. Defensive end Olivier Jordan got a five-year deal worth $85 million, while cornerback Janoris Jenkins (five years, $62.5 million) and tackle Damon Harrison (five years, $46.5 million) also got big deals.

For the complete SMI visit this page.

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