Most of us think of NFL franchises like we do casinos, IE a license to print money. A sport that has the richest TV contracts ever and a hard salary cap on player salaries, how could team owners not be laughing all the way to the bank, Well, yesterday, August 14, 2013, Forbes released its annual NFL team value estimations and it paints a very ugly picture for the Detroit Lions. According to Forbes the Lions are only one of five NFL team not worth at least one billion dollars and are the only team to not turn a profit in 2012. Forbes also estimates that the Lions have lost money for the past four years as well.
Let's look at he economic climate in which the Lions operate. Put aside what you think you know about the size of the NFL’s TV deals and the Lions share of said deals and realize the Lions operate in state with very high unemployment. Their home stadium is located in an economically depressed area of the city and while around 4.4 million fans live within driving distance of their stadium, entertainment dollars are hard to come by. They only one four games in 2012, and had to compete for those dollars through the early part of their season with the Detroit Tigers who went all the way to the World Series in the stadium next door.
However, all of that is just the icing let's get down to the cake. According to Forbes and Mlive.com the real issue for the Lions is the amount of debt they are dealing with due to the construction of Ford Field. The Lions moved there in 2002 and while part of the stadium was constructed with public funds the team ate all of the construction overruns and may been in debt up 350 million dollars. Forbes rates the Lions percentage of revenues to debt as the most unhealthy in the entire NFL.
The simple math here is the Lions have several large contracts and simply haven’t won enough to get home playoff games that would help offset the cost of those contracts first and then put a dent in the Ford Field stadium debt second.