The vast majority of MLB franchises are privately held, which means they're under no obligation to release their financials to the public. When owners do make public comment about the financial state of their teams,. The reality is that teams are almost always highly profitable from year to year, and their owners without fail realize tremendous gains on their original investments when they sell.
While Forbes isn't working with publicly available data, they've become very good at "reverse engineering" each club's financial picture. If nothing else, the Forbes estimates are far closer to the truth than anything you'll hear from the teams themselves.
As for the 2020 version, the Yankees remain the most valuable team in all of MLB, with a valuation of $5 billion (among sports franchises, only the Dallas Cowboys boast a higher figure). Here's a look at the five most valuable MLB franchises, per these Forbes estimates:
The Yankees have topped this list of MLB franchise values ever year since 1998, when Forbes first began doing this. Note that the Red Sox and Cubs, who refused to invest in the product this offseason despite having contention-caliber rosters, rank near the top. Now some other observations on the 2020 edition of Forbes' estimates:
- In all 29 of the 30 MLB franchises are valued at $1 billion or more. The only exception is the Marlins, which Forbes pegs at $980 million.
- Just two teams -- the Pirates and Marlins -- saw their valuations decrease from 2019.
- Five teams -- the Diamondbacks, Tigers, Indians, Athletics, Royals -- saw their valuations stay roughly the same relative to last year.
- The other 23 teams saw their estimated valuations increase. The Yankees, Nationals, and Orioles saw the largest percentage increase.
- In terms of operating income -- i.e., profitability, basically -- the Astros led the way with a figure of $99 million for the past year.
- In all, 29 of 30 teams were profitable, according to Forbes' estimates. The Marlins are the exception with an estimated operating income of -$5.9 million.
Obviously, the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 season and the reality that it won't produce revenues anything close to standard levels will affect these estimates next time around. For now, though, MLB remains a wildly healthy and wildly profitable industry, both in the aggregate and at the level of the individual franchise.
As for the Forbes piece, there's lots more in there, including detailed information on each and every team. Be sure to give it a look.