LAFC is the first billion-dollar franchise in Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Clubs 2023

LAFC is the first billion-dollar franchise in Major League Soccer’s Most Valuable Clubs 2023

Since 2019, the average MLS team’s valuation has climbed 85% to $579 million.

Ten weeks after his team’s exciting penalty shootout victory over the Houston Dynamo to win the inaugural Major League Soccer championship, lead managing owner Bennett Rosenthal is still analyzing his team’s incredible season at the Los Angeles Football Club’s University Hills training facility. The 59-year-old says, “It’s a life event that you don’t expect.” “I think we’re all still smiling every day.”

Now Rosenthal has something else to celebrate—Forbes estimates that LAFC is worth $1 billion, just nine years after it joined MLS for an expansion fee of $110 million, making it the league’s first billion-dollar franchise. That’s more than double the $475 million Forbes determined it was worth in 2019, the last time we assessed North American soccer teams.

That’s an impressive return, but not one Rosenthal was banking on. “We did not do this because we thought it was the best place to put our capital,” says the cofounder of the $341 billion (AUM) Ares Management, who made his fortune finding profitable alternative investments. “We thought it could be fun and we’re making a great macro bet on the growth of the sport.”

LAFC’s ascent is the latest sign of just how much MLS has grown since it was founded in 1996. There are now 29 teams in the league—it began with 10—with St. Louis City SC set to debut this season. Since 2019, the average team valuation has climbed 85%, from $313 million to $579 million. And the price tag for the next expansion team (likely Las Vegas or San Diego) is expected to be $500 million, according to a well-placed industry source, a considerable increase from the previous record of $325 million set by billionaire David Tepper when he founded Charlotte FC in 2019.

Group photo of the owners of the LAFC
Managing owners Bennett Rosenthal of Ares (bottom right), Larry Berg of Apollo (top left) and Brandon Beck (bottom left) of Riot Games rotate as team head every four years. Mandalay Entertainment’s Peter Guber has been executive chairman since 2014.TIM TADDER FOR FORBES

Billionaires have long believed in the potential of MLS. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and entertainment mogul Philip Anschutz were among MLS’ original owners, and a slew of others—including Tepper, Morningstar founder Joe Mansueto (Chicago Fire, 2018) and Qualtrics’ Ryan Smith (Real Salt Lake, 2022)—have since gotten in the game and driven up team values.

“It’s less of a financial hurdle to control an MLS team than [in] some other sports, so you do see more people who can do it,” says Rosenthal, who is worth an estimated $1.3 billion. “But I think people love it. They want to be a part of the community and the trajectory.” Forbes estimates there are at least 19 billionaires or members of billionaire families who have key ownership stakes in MLS franchises.

Rosenthal, who fell in love with soccer while managing his daughter’s team, and Apollo Global Management partner Larry Berg, who played the sport from age 8, became LAFC minority owners in 2014. The two knew each other well from the private equity world and had together invested in Italian soccer club A.S. Roma. “To be honest,” Berg says, “MLS wasn’t really sexy yet.” In 2016, they increased their stakes and became LAFC’s co–managing owners along with Riot Games cofounder Brandon Beck, who had invested in 2015, each agreeing to rotate as the team’s lead owner every four years. Rosenthal took on that role in January. As befits a team in Los Angeles, several celebrities—including Will Ferrell, Magic Johnson and Mia Hamm—have minority stakes in the club. Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber is LAFC’s executive chairman. Meanwhile, LAFC built a $350 million, 22,000-seat soccer-specific stadium in downtown L.A. and barnstormed soccer bars and held pep rallies to build interest. It even sent fans to a match in Germany to study European fan culture.

Those investments have paid tremendous dividends. LAFC has sold out every MLS regular season and playoff match since its first kickoff in 2018. Celebrity superfans are frequently seen in the stands, with Justin Bieber and Wiz Khalifa attending the MLS Cup in November. And LAFC turned an estimated $8 million operating profit on a league- high $116 million in revenue last year. That figure is set to rise in 2023, with BMO agreeing to a league-record 10-year, $100 million stadium naming rights deal.

Just how far can LAFC and MLS go? More than half the clubs lose money and, with average revenue at $55 million, MLS teams can’t really compete against Europe’s soccer clubs for top players. “A billion dollars is a huge number. Nine times, eight times revenue is huge, particularly when you’re locked in to a certain degree on your media rights,” says Edwin E. Draughan, a vice president at sports investment bank Park Lane. (Manchester United, by contrast, is valued at $4.6 billion, or 6.9 times revenue.) The future for MLS investors is predicated on how much soccer continues to grow in North America, with hopes pinned on a new annual tournament between MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX kicking off in 2023. And in 2026, soccer should get another big boost when the United States, Canada and Mexico cohost the next World Cup.

Even more crucial is MLS’ new media rights deal with Apple, which has unified the league’s local and national broadcast rights under one umbrella. Per the arrangement, MLS is guaranteed at least $2.5 billion over 10 years, and possibly more based on subscriptions. It’s a big payday, but less than the $300 million annually the league reportedly expected, especially given that MLS must pay the production costs. While MLS has added ancillary TV deals with Fox, Univision, TSN and RDS, no major North American sports league has committed to a streaming-first strategy.

“Everything’s a gamble,” Rosenthal says. “But it’s a really smart bet.”

MLS Valuations 2023

Nos. 1-7

No. 1. $1 billion

Los Angeles Football Club

2022 Revenue: $116 million | Operating Income: $8 million

Key Owners: Bennett Rosenthal*, Brandon Beck, Larry Berg

Photo of ryan-hollingshead-by-Omar-Vega-Getty-Images

No. 2. $925 million

LA Galaxy

2022 Revenue: $98 million | Operating Income: $4 million

Key Owners: Philip Anschutz*

No.3. $850 million

Atlanta United FC

2022 Revenue: $81 million | Operating Income: $6 million

Key Owners: Arthur Blank*

No. 4. $800 million

New York City FC

2022 Revenue: $55 million | Operating Income: -$12 million

Key Owners: City Football Group

No. 5. $700 million

D.C. United

2022 Revenue: $70 million | Operating Income: $8 million

Key Owners: Jason Levien, Steven Kaplan


No. 6. $690 million

Toronto FC

2022 Revenue: $62 million | Operating Income: -$15 million

Key Owners: MLSE (Larry Tanenbaum*)

No. 7. $680 million

Austin FC

2022 Revenue: $84 million | Operating Income: $2 million

Key Owners: Anthony Precourt

Nos. 8-14

No. 8. $660 million

Seattle Sounders FC

2022 Revenue: $66 million | Operating Income: $1 million

Key Owners: Adrian Hanauer, Jody Allen

No. 9. $650 million

Portland Timbers

2022 Revenue: $65 million | Operating Income: $1 million

Key Owners: Merritt Paulson


No. 10. $625 million

Charlotte FC

2022 Revenue: $69 million | Operating Income: $4 million

Key Owners: David Tepper*

No. 11. $600 million

Inter Miami CF

2022 Revenue: $56 million | Operating Income: -$5 million

Key Owners: Jorge* and Jose Mas, David Beckham

No. 12. $590 million

Sporting Kansas City

2022 Revenue: $59 million | Operating Income: -$3 million

Key Owners: Cliff Illig*, Patterson Family

No. 13. $575 million

Philadelphia Union

2022 Revenue: $54 million | Operating Income: -$8 million

Key Owners: Jay Sugarman


No. 14. $560 million

FC Cincinnati

2022 Revenue: $56 million | Operating Income: -$1 million

Key Owners: Carl Lindner III*, Meg Whitman*

Nos. 15-21

No. 15. $550 million

Columbus Crew

2022 Revenue: $55 million | Operating Income: -$8 million

Key Owners: Dee & Jimmy Haslam*

No. 16. $540 million

Minnesota United FC

2022 Revenue: $54 million | Operating Income: -$1 million

Key Owners: Bill McGuire

No. 17. $525 million

New York Red Bulls

2022 Revenue: $50 million Operating Income: -$6 million

Key Owners: Red Bull GmbH


No. 18. $500 million

Nashville SC

2022 Revenue: $46 million | Operating Income: -$5 million

Key Owners: John Ingram*

No. 19. $475 million

New England Revolution

2022 Revenue: $37 million | Operating Income: -$4 million

Key Owners: Kraft Family*

No. 20. $450 million

San Jose Earthquakes

2022 Revenue: $43 million | Operating Income: -$5 million

Key Owners: John Fisher*

No. 21. $440 million

Real Salt Lake

2022 Revenue: $43 million | Operating Income: $0

Key Owners: David Blitzer*, Ryan Smith*

Nos. 22-28

No. 22. $435 million

Houston Dynamo FC

2022 Revenue: $39 million | Operating Income: -$10 million

Key Owners: Ted Segal


No. 23. $425 million

Chicago Fire FC

2022 Revenue: $25 million | Operating Income: -$18 million

Key Owners: Joe Mansueto*

No. 24. $420 million

Orlando City SC

2022 Revenue: $42 million | Operating Income: -$4 million

Key Owners: Wilf family

No. 25. $410 million

Vancouver Whitecaps FC

2022 Revenue: $21 million | Operating Income: -$15 million

Key Owners: Greg Kerfoot, Jeff Mallett, Steve Luczo

No. 26. $400 million

FC Dallas

2022 Revenue: $40 million | Operating Income: -$8 million

Key Owners: Clark and Dan Hunt*

No. 27. $375 million

CF Montréal

2022 Revenue: $30 million | Operating Income: -$12 million

Key Owners: Saputo family*


No. 28. $350 million

Colorado Rapids

2022 Revenue: $33 million | Operating Income: -$5 million

Key Owners: Stan Kroenke*


To rank the most valuable Major League Soccer franchises, Forbes examined recent transaction data, reviewed publicly available financial information and spoke to more than 40 team executives, owners, investment bankers and industry insiders. All published figures are Forbes estimates; team values do not include stadiums, real estate or debt. Revenue and operating income are for the 2022 season, and the latter represents earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Playoffs, player transfers and shared distributions from MLS were excluded from revenue calculations. Clubs’ ancillary revenue streams, such as non-MLS events, were included.

*Billionaires or billionaire families


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