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As the most popular of the four major American professional sports leagues, the NFL is an industry unto itself.

$37.4 billion
Combined value of NFL’s 32 teams
That’s more than the national GDPs of Afghanistan, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Jamaica and more than 115 other countries.
The value of the NFL’s richest team, the Dallas Cowboys, is enough to …
… buy an iPhone 5C for nearly every person in the state of Texas
… pay the monthly SNAP food assistance amount for 17 million Americans
… buy the five lowest-value Major League Baseball teams, the Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays
… hire more than 65,000 new elementary school teachers

Buying and Watching

One reason why the NFL has so much money is Americans can’t seem to get enough of it.
At the game
Average costs:
Ticket $78.38
Beer $7.28
Soda $4.57
Hot dog $4.84
Parking $27.35
Program $4.06
Hat $21.38
$3 billion
Total NFL merchandise sales in 2011, up from $2.8 billion the previous year
Best-selling jerseys on (through June):
Colin Kaepernick
Russell Wilson
Robert Griffin III
Adrian Peterson
Peyton Manning
What the networks pay annually for broadcast rights:
Through 2013 season
CBS $622.5 million
Fox $712.5 million
NBC $650 million
ESPN $1.1 billion
CBS $1 billion
Fox $1.1 billion
NBC $950 million
ESPN $1.9 billion

For the first week of the 2013 season, football provided the top three most-watched shows, and four of the top 10. Among those shows was NBC’s rain-delay programming, which beat eight other shows that week.
Most watched TV broadcasts ever:
Super Bowls account for the 21 highest rated broadcasts in U.S. history in total viewership.
2012: Super Bowl XLVI (Giants-Patriots) 166.8 million
2013: Super Bowl XLVII (Ravens-49ers) 164.1 million
2011: Super Bowl XLV (Packers-Steelers) 162.9 million
2010: Super Bowl XLIV (Colts-Saints) 153.4 million
2009: Super Bowl XLIII (Cardinals-Steelers) 151.6 million

No Place Like New Home

As the NFL becomes more and more profitable, new stadiums become more and more common, usually on the backs of the public. Of the 20 NFL stadiums built or renovated since 1997, all but one have used taxpayer money.
Team Year built Total cost Percentage of public funds
New York Jets/Giants 2010 $1.6 billion 0%*
Dallas Cowboys 2009 $1.2 billion 28.60%
Philadelphia Eagles 2003 $474 million 40%
Arizona Cardinals 2007 $455 million 67.70%
Denver Broncos 2001 $365 million 68.40%
Houston Texans 2002 $424 million 73%
Cleveland Browns 1999 $290 million 74.70%
Pittsburgh Steelers 2001 $357.5 million 78.70%
Indianapolis Colts 2008 $720 million 86%
* New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has $100 million in debt from old stadium, and new stadium was built on public land
The Minnesota Vikings are building a new $950 million stadium, the cost of which will be about evenly split between the team and the taxpayers. The Atlanta Falcons are in planning stages on a new stadium that would be finished in time for the 2017 season. The total cost is estimated to be as high as $1 billion, some of which would be provided by taxpayers.

Player Income

While many NFL players are very highly paid, they have some of the lowest compensation figures in pro sports—and the shortest careers on average.
League Average annual salary Average career length Average total career earnings
NBA $5.2 million 4.8 years $25 million
MLB $3.2 million 5.6 years $17.9 million
NHL $2.4 million 5.5 years $13.2 million
NFL $1.9 million 3.5 years $6.7 million

And All This Adds Up to No Profit?

Believe it or not, the NFL is a 501(c)(6) organization, meaning the league itself is tax-exempt. The league’s 32 teams pay taxes on the profits they earn, but the league office itself doesn’t.
Other examples of such groups include chambers of commerce, real estate boards and other trade groups. How many of those will be paid billions by TV networks for the rights to air their events?
Signers of a petition to call on the U.S. Senate to revoke the league’s nonprofit status
$29.5 million
2011 compensation for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
That means Goodell is paid more than the CEOs of Target ($28.6M), AT&T ($26M), News Corp ($25M) and dozens of other billion-dollar companies.