Okay, so the best of a bad bunch on this list still comes close to cracking a billion dollars, so it’s not all doom and gloom, but when a guy like Robert Kraft (owner of the dynastic New England Patriots) could literally buy the company two times over and still have change for a nice dinner, something’s gone awry. The easy answer would be to point to Detroit’s economic freefall of recent years, and while that’s certainly part of the problem (anyone struggling to feed their family on a week-to-week basis isn’t about to drop a couple hundred on a new jersey anytime soon), contemporary mismanagement of the team – to group the dark years of the Matt Millen era – and a record winless season in 2008 kept fans away in droves, with the team just now starting to turn a very gradual corner.
Given the league’s immense popularity, it’s not often that an NFL franchise plays the role of little brother to another sports team with which it shares a common city, but that’s exactly the case with the Rams. Situated in the picturesque capital of America’s 18th most populated state, the Rams consistently play second-fiddle to baseball’s Cardinals, and with the state of Missouri further dividing market share amongst the Kansas City Chiefs, poor St. Louis may not have a leg to stand on when those Los Angeles stadium developers come a-knockin’.
Just trumping the Rams for third place are the Bills, New York’s forgotten team. If you thought market share in St. Louis was a problem, how about competing in arguably the most densely populated sports city in the world? Even if you haven’t heard of American sports, you’ve definitely heard of the teams: Giants, Jets, Yankees, Mets, Rangers…and Buffalo. Combine this franchise suffocation with a long and depressing history (the Bills advanced to four Super Bowls in the 90s, only to lose all four, and have since failed to make the playoffs in a decade and a half) and it’s no surprise to see Buffalo dwelling towards the bottom of yet another table.
Well, they might be number two, but if any franchise on this list has cause for immediate optimism, it’s the lowly Jags. Lacking the proud history of the Dolphins and recent skyrocket success of the Heat, this Floridian franchise has recently begun to dispel long-standing rumours of poor crowd attendance following the team’s buyout by Pakistani billionaire Shahid Khan, who has endeared himself to fans both local and overseas, taking a handful of Jags games to Wembley stadium in the name of international exposure.
Once considered the most feared enforcers in the league, the Raiders have spent the better part of a decade as the doormat of the NFL, run into the ground through gross mismanagement and a firm eye on the past. For all his accomplishments (and there were many), not even the most stoic member of Raider Nation could argue that previous owner Al Davis (who passed away in 2011) was doing more harm than good, repelling fans with a stubbornness that will get you eaten alive in a rapidly-changing corporate sports world. Yet to really break out of the mould, the team has recently worked its way out of salary cap hell and is entertaining the idea of a flash new stadium. Hopefully the turnaround is a short one, because as they say, when the Raiders are good, the NFL is good.
Every year, Forbes and their fellow money magazines come out with their list of the most valuable NFL franchises. But, year after year, it's gotta get a little stale seeing Jerry Jones’ and Dan Snyder’s smug smiles staring us in the face.
So it’s time for a turn of the tables. Which are the least lucrative clubs in one of global sport’s true powerhouse leagues, and more importantly, why do they struggle to hang with the big boys? Forbes provides us with a list for that, too, but stats and percentages are no fun, so without further ado…