The Red Sox, centerpiece of Henry’s closely held Fenway Sports Group, are alone worth $1.3 billion, the 11th most valuable sports franchise in the world this year, according to Forbes. That’s more than twice what the group Henry led, which included NYT Co., paid for it in 2002. Fenway Sports, like other big market franchise owners, also controls its own lucrative cable network, New England Sports Network, to broadcast the games. As has been noted, Henry paid more for a second baseman than he did for the storied Globe.
And sports values have been burgeoning across the board. The average team in Forbes’s list of the top 50 professional sports franchises is worth $1.24 billion, up a stunning 16% in a year. There are 33 teams worth $1 billion versus 24 last year. Two years ago there weren’t any teams worth $2 billion; now there are five.
A sharp uptick in sports-franchise value came, coincidentally, during the collapse of the newspaper business. And while of course news organizations are routinely called on to cover companies much bigger than themselves, the sports industry’s fate is particularly, even uniquely, intertwined with media companies that are both its partners in broadcasting and that purport to cover them. This 2002 paper by scholars from Trent University and the University of Ottawa aptly chronicles what they were already calling, “The global sport mass media oligopoly.” The paper describes the globalization and surging values of sports franchises and the role of media behemoths News Corp., Disney, Time-Warner, among others, in helping to propel them.
Indeed, the ties are getting so close between media and sports that it’s hard sometimes to tell which is the tail and which is the dog. When major college football went on a conference realignment binge a couple of years ago, the big driver was a contract ESPN had struck with the Texas Longhorns that was so big it wound up splintering the Big 12 conference. ESPN, by the way, did a poor job covering a story with itself at the center.
All this is to say the rise of the sports-industrial complex is an important story, and its intimate ties to media giants make it even more so. The question is, who is going to cover it?