There was a point in time when minor league baseball conjured up something just above sandlot ball. Either that, or Crash Davis and "Nuke" LaLoosh in Bull Durham.
That has changed, and in a big way.
Minor league baseball is certainly not “minor” any longer, at least from a business perspective. There have been peeks at minor league club values in the past, but nothing comprehensive.
Forbes, whose MLB club valuations are a religious stop each year, has released a valuation of the top 20 minor league clubs by focusing on the 160 minor league teams in either class AAA, AA or A (excluding rookie leagues) that, although they are independently owned and operated, are directly affiliated with a Major League Baseball team. As reported by Forbes:
The most valuable team is the Sacramento River Cats, an affiliate of the Oakland Athletics owned by Art Savage and worth $29.8 million. The River Cats drew more than 700,000 fans last season (an average of 10,000 per game), the most in the minors.
Rounding out the top five: The Memphis Redbirds, The Frisco RoughRiders, The Round Rock Express and the Indianapolis Indians, publicly traded under the ticker symbol INDN. Since its thinly traded shares were listed on the pink sheets in 2004, the price of Indian shares increased to $24,000 per share from $16,000, during a period the S&P 500 tanked. In 2007, the Indians increased the dividend to $350 a share from $200 as net income increased to $1.3 million from $810,000.
The report goes on to say that “on average, the top 20 teams are worth $21.2 million and pulled in $9.8 million in revenue per team, of which 49% came from tickets.” As noted, clubs can pull in a hefty profit because their MLB parent club picks up all minor league player payroll, thus cutting margins.
For more on minor league baseball, read The Biz of Baseball interview with Pat O'Conner, the president of Minor League Baseball