Eisenberg: Forbes Ranking A Genuine Baltimore Sports Triumph


I didn't hear any cheering around town when Forbes magazine judged the Ravens to be the 24th most valuable sports franchise in the world in its annual rankings released last week. 

That's no surprise, but it's too bad. The Ravens' high placement on Forbes' list is one of Baltimore's genuine sports triumphs.

Oh, I understand why it's met with a shrug. It's just a subjective magazine guesstimate, hardly a big deal. The $1.5 billion price tag Forbes affixed to the Ravens is figurative money in Owner Steve Bisciotti's pocket, not the pockets of fans. (If the fans got a cut, there'd be cheering. Shoot, there'd be a parade.)

Then there's the fact that Forbes has ranked the Ravens in that neighborhood for a while. They were No. 19 in 2014. It's the status quo.

Finally, I get that a chant of "We're No. 24!" probably isn't going to get the public's blood boiling.

Let me see if I can do something about that.

Let's revisit a dark period in this city's sports history, the NFL expansion derby of the early 1990s. Remember? The league was adding two teams. A bunch of cities took years to gin up proposals that included stadium plans, projected ticket and suite sales, prospective ownership groups and more. The finalists were Baltimore, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Carolina and Memphis. 

Baltimore believed it had the best bid, but amid much hoopla at a league meeting in Chicago, Jacksonville and Carolina were awarded the franchises.

I was there, standing next to William Donald Schaefer, Maryland's governor at the time, when the news was announced. Schaefer softly wept, as did others back home. The Colts had been gone for a dozen years and it appeared we would never return to pro football.

Shortly thereafter, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue infamously stated, in response to a question, that perhaps Baltimore should take the money it had slated for football and "build a museum."

Less than two years later, Art Modell took the excellent offer Baltimore had put on the table and moved his Cleveland franchise here. The rest is history. The Ravens have won two Super Bowls and sold out more than 150 straight games. Their value has more than doubled, according to Forbes.

Let's tally up the results of that expansion derby now, more than two decades later.

Memphis never got a team. Jacksonville's franchise enjoyed some nice early moments but has lately struggled to win games and generate consistent support. St. Louis, like Baltimore, lured another city's team and enjoyed on-field success, but now the Rams are having stadium issues and they're in the mix of teams that might move to Los Angeles.

Carolina's franchise is a success at No. 42 on the Forbes list, but Baltimore and its franchise are the winners by a wide margin.

I don't know why the league snubbed Baltimore in that expansion derby, but it botched the thing. According to Forbes, the Ravens are worth more than 22 of the NFL's 31 other franchises, 25 of major league baseball's 30 franchises, 19 of the 20 teams in England soccer's popular Premier League and every team in the National Hockey League.

They're worth more than legendary soccer clubs such as Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City, as well as popular NFL teams such as the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Not bad for a team situated in the NFL's No. 27 market in terms of size: only five teams in the league play in smaller markets.

Talk about outkicking your coverage.

Sure, the Ravens' high value is partly attributable to the NFL's sweeping overall popularity; the league has 20 of the world's 50 most valuable sports franchises, according to Forbes. That's something to think about the next time you hear it suggested that a run of controversies has knocked the league perilously off stride.

City and state government has also contributed nicely to the Ravens' success with a state-of-the-art stadium and plenty of supporting infrastructure.

But most of the credit belongs to Modell and Bisciotti for running a sound operation; GM Ozzie Newsome and his staff for picking the right players; the players and coaches for putting winning teams on the field; the rest of the front office for endeavoring to build a brand; and the fans for selling out all those games.

Baltimore pro football 2.0 is an overachieving success story that the league obviously couldn't envision when it awarded franchises to other places in the 1990s. Forbes' valuation says it all.

I'd say that merits a celebratory shout, wouldn't you?

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