Thanks to Donald Sterling's ongoing legal battles, ESPN was able to get its hands on something called a "bid book," a report prepared for the Sterlings by Bank of America that details the Clippers' financials as well as what kind of bids the Sterlings should have expected from prospective buyers. There's a lot to be gleaned from the report, but two things immediately stand out: Owning an NBA team is a lucrative racket, and Steve Ballmer really, really wants the Clippers.
You can read the entire report, which has a lot of pretty graphs and tables, over here, but we'll pull out some of the more interesting stuff. For starters, here's a detailed chart of the Clippers' current financial status:
The first thing you should take note of is the row labeled "Total Operating Revenue," which rises steadily through the first three columns and then takes a massive jump in the last two. The number in that last column—$324.1 million—is the team's projected 2014 revenue, supplemented by the assumed windfalls that will come from the upcoming local and national TV deals that both the Clippers and the NBA will be signing. The important number is the last one in the row labeled "EBITDA." The $178.5 million shown there is how much of that projected money will be left after the Clippers pay their players and expenses.
The last number in the column labeled "YE June '14" is how much projected earnings the Clippers currently have—$100 million—without factoring in the TV deals or payroll expenses. That number drops to $19.3 million when payroll is accounted for. What's crazy is that the projected earnings, with expenses and payroll factored in, jumps up to $178.5 million when the TV deals are factored into future earnings. So, yes, now is a very good time to be an NBA owner. I mean, look at this damn chart:
Despite the skyrocketing value of NBA franchises, it still looks like Steve Ballmer bid a shocking amount of money on the Clips. His $2 billion is 12.1 times the expected 2014 revenue of the team, before subtracting payroll. Even when factoring in the coming TV money, Ballmer's bid still stands at 7.1 times the team's projected revenue. As you can see in this table, that far outpaces the five-year mean of recent NBA franchise sale prices, which sits at 3.1 times total revenue:
It's important to remember what made all of this—a team with a bumbling and inept owner tripling its revenue within two years; a dude like Ballmer willingly forking over about a billion more dollars than he needed to because he knows a good business when he sees one—possible. Yes, the NBA is booming in popularity, but this, as Zach Lowe reminded us when Ballmer's bid first came in, is the direct result of the bullshit CBA the owners shoved down the players' throats two years ago:
The forces driving this are obvious. The league slaughtered the players, forever disorganized and fighting among themselves, in the 2011 lockout. Players used to get 57 percent of all league revenue; they get 50 percent now, a savings of about $10 million per year for each team. Live sporting events only get more valuable to TV networks as fewer competing programs prove DVR-proof. China and India loom as untapped or only semi-tapped markets.
The league's revenue-sharing system will soon ensure that every team makes a profit, or at least comes close. The Bobcats got $20 million from it last season, and they'll get about that much again this season. The Pacers and Grizzlies snagged about $15 million apiece, according to several league sources, and even big-market teams such as Atlanta and Washington got some extra scratch. Only a short time ago, owning an NBA team was not a hugely profitable business. Owners used the losses as a tax benefit, knowing they'd reap the gain someday by selling the team outright. They just enjoyed the spotlight.
Now more owners and prospective owners are viewing teams as moneymaking ventures in their own right, not just glamour purchases with shaky short-term balance sheets.
It's a good time to be an NBA owner. A player? Not as much.
EDIT: Some of the numbers in the post were originally interpreted incorrectly, but thanks to some helpful people in this discussion thread, I think we got everything straightened out.