The National Football League (NFL) is one of the most successful sports leagues in the world. For all the talk of the Big Three sports in North America (or Big Four, for hockey fans), the truth is that there is pro football, and then there is everything else.
The NFL gets the lion’s share of its money in TV deals. Other revenue streams include ticket sales, merchandising and licensing rights, and corporate sponsorships. Because of its private status, the NFL does not share its finances publicly. However, it is estimated that in 2023 it earned about $ 12 billion in the previous period.
- The National Football League (NFL) is one of the most successful sports leagues in the world.
- Only one NFL team is run as a nonprofit corporation: the Green Bay Packers. Some are privately owned.
- The league gave up its tax-exempt status in 2015.
- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is targeting $25 billion in revenue by 2027.
- TV deals are the main source of revenue for the NFL, but licensing is also a big earner.
The NFL Business Model
The NFL groups its revenue streams into two categories: national revenue and local revenue.
National revenue consists of TV deals along with marketing and licensing contracts, which are negotiated at the national level by the league itself. This money is divided equally among the 32 teams regardless of individual performance. In the most recent NFL season, each team received $374.4 million.
Local revenue—consisting of ticket sales, concessions, and local corporate sponsors—is earned (and kept) by the teams themselves. In FY 2023, for example, the Packers reported $235.9 million in domestic revenue.
A lot of revenue is needed to help cover the high costs of running a professional football team. In 2022-2023, the Packers spent $541.6 million in operating expenses. A large chunk went to pay players ($294.2 million), with the rest allocated to stadium maintenance, marketing, and team and administrative costs.
This is where the league’s money comes from:
Great TV and Streaming Deals
Football is, hands down, the most watched sport in the United States, with Super Bowls being one of the highest rated TV broadcasts in US history.
During the season, NFL games are broadcast live in the United States on Mondays, Thursdays, and Sundays. These games are always one of the most popular TV shows. Therefore, the media companies took big money for the right to broadcast it.
The NFL has TV deals in place with Amazon, CBS, ESPN/ABC, Fox, and NBC that run through the 2033 season. People familiar with these deals say they could be worth more than $100 billion. Under the terms of the deals, the four broadcast TV networks will each year rotate the rights to the Super Bowl, while Amazon will get the exclusive streaming of “Thursday Night Football.”
In addition, in December 2022, the NFL announced a multi-year agreement with Google (GOOG), which gives YouTube TV and YouTube Primetime Channels the right to exclusively distribute a package called “NFL Sunday Ticket” to consumers in the United States starting with the 2023 NFL season. NFL Sunday Ticket allows viewers to watch regular season games not carried by local broadcasters in their area. The Wall Street Journal estimates the deal will bring the NFL $2 billion in annual revenue.
Merchandising and Licensing Deals
Although most of its national revenue comes from monster TV deals, the NFL also makes money through its NFL Properties LLC and NFL International LLC divisions, which handle licensing for the league and the individual teams.
As the NFL explained to prospective licensees, the two divisions represent the “National Football League and its member professional football clubs for the licensing of their trademarks and logos (the “NFL Marks”). The NFL Marks include, among others, the NFL shield, the words SUPER BOWL and PRO BOWL, the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl logos, and team names, nicknames, colors, symbols, emblem, helmet design and uniform design.”
By one estimate, licensing deals bring in another $3 billion a year.
Ticket Sales and Concessions
Although ticket sales are an important revenue stream for individual NFL teams, they still pale in comparison to the rapid growth in revenue from TV deals (you may be noticing a pattern here ).
On average, NFL stadiums seat about 70,000 people, and games are often sold out, with the average NFL ticket estimated to cost about $151. This does not leave much room for growth.
One thing teams can do is renovate their stadiums to add more seats and concession stands. Such repairs are expensive and disruptive but often pay off – especially since they are often subsidized by local taxpayers.
Like ticket sales, concessions are peanuts compared to TV deals. Concessions contribute a small amount to the average NFL team’s revenue, but, like movie theaters, margins on food and beverage sales at games are extremely high.
Corporations always want to be associated with major sports franchises and are willing to pay for the privilege.
According to the Sports Business Journal, the NFL begins the 2023 season with 37 league-level franchises, including Best Buy, Campbell Soup, FedEx, Frito-Lay, Marriott, Rocket Mortgage, Subway, and Visa.
The most coveted sponsorships are naming rights to NFL stadiums. In January 2024, for example, Levi Strauss & Co. and the San Francisco 49ers announced a $170 million deal to keep the jeans maker’s name on the team’s stadium through the 2043 NFL season.
Future Plans and Areas of Development
TV and Streaming
As the ways people consume entertainment continues to evolve, the NFL has the advantage of offering a product that can be used across many different channels. In addition, its long-term contracts with television broadcasters and streaming services assure it of more revenue in the future.
In May 2018, the US Supreme Court decided to allow states to decide whether or not to legalize gambling on sports. Many states chose that option, considering the large tax revenues it would generate. Today sports betting is legal in 38 states.
According to a 2023 Washington Post report, the NFL currently takes in $132 million in gambling-related sponsorships. Those sponsors include sports betting providers Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings, and FanDuel.
That can only be the beginning. The American Gaming Association predicted in 2018 that legal betting could cost the NFL more than $2.3 billion a year — driven in large part by increased TV viewing (and resulting advertising revenue) of fans who have a financial stake in the outcomes of the games.
Rely on Pricey Star Power
To keep fans coming back, the NFL relies on star athletes who aren’t easy or cheap to replace. According to the NFL, the top five players for 2023, chosen by their fellow players, are Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs), Justin Jefferson (Minnesota Vikings), Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles), Nick Bosa (San Francisco 49ers), and Travis Kelce (Kansas City Chiefs).
The NFL’s reputation has been under fire in recent years from several directions.
The league has been accused of not only looking at players’ risk of severe brain damage but also of discriminating against players based on race in the financial settlements it offers.
The league has denied claims that its players were involved in domestic abuse and blackballed quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2019 for kneeling during the national anthem to protest racism.
An email scandal erupted in 2020 that alleged systematic sexual harassment and verbal abuse and led to resignations and investigations. And while the NFL welcomes sports betting as a new revenue stream, it faces potential damage to its reputation if players, who are not allowed to bet, are caught gambling; in 2023, it suspended at least nine players based on such accusations.
In 2015, the NFL gave up its tax-exempt status, which had been in place since 1942.
Who Owns the National Football League (NFL)?
No one person owns the National Football League (NFL). It is, instead, a trade association made up of individual franchises or groups. Thirty-one of these teams are individually owned, while only one—the Green Bay Packers—is owned by shareholders as a nonprofit.
Is The NFL Losing Money?
The NFL makes money on a general basis, primarily from lucrative television, streaming, and marketing deals. The global Covid-19 pandemic put a damper on the league’s bottom line, but it has since bounced back.
Which NFL Team Has the Most Valuable Money?
The team worth the most money in the NFL is the Dallas Cowboys, with an estimated worth of $9.2 billion.
Which NFL Team Has the Least Money?
The Cincinnati Bengals are believed to have the least value of any team in the NFL, but even they are worth an estimated $3.5 billion.
The Bottom Line
Although the NFL is a private entity and is not obligated to disclose how much it makes, there is ample evidence that it generates a significant amount of money. In 2010, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell set an annual revenue target for the league of $25 billion by 2027. Currently in the middle.