According to Forbes' annual ranking of the league's most valuable franchises, the average NFL team is worth $1.97 billion. Combined, they are valued at upwards of $62 billion -- well above the average market cap of the S&P 500.
"The NFL is the number one sport in the United States and occupies a special spot in the American sports psyche," said Michael Colangelo, assistant director of the USC Sports Business Institute and senior editor at sports business publication The Fields of Green in an email to TheStreet. "It is by far the most popular television product and out-rates every show/sporting event on television. The league is a multi-billion dollar league with multi-billion dollar franchises due to the business sophistication of the league and franchises. The NFL doesn't miss a chance to monetize its product."
The NFL's revenue-sharing pool grew to $7.3 billion last season, meaning a $226.4 million payout to each of its teams. The league has set a goal of reaching $25 billion in revenue by 2027, and according to Sports Business Daily, its revenue is projected to be about half that amount -- $12 billion -- for the current year.
The NFL hasn't always been the cash cow it is today, but values have increased quickly.
In 1993, Fox paid $1.58 billion to snag the rights to broadcast NFC league games. Just over four years later, CBS spent $4 billion for the rights to AFC games. Robert Kraft and Jeffrey Lurie spent $185 million and $172 million to buy the Patriots and Eagles in 1992 and 1994, respectively, but by 1999, Bob McNair had set a new benchmark by paying $600 million for the Houston Texans. And, just last year, Terry Pegula paid a whopping $1.4 billion to buy the Buffalo Bills. (Despite the high price tag, at just $1.4 billion, the Bills are listed as the NFL's least valuable franchise.)
"This is when you can point to a tipping point on when the NFL and its franchises became billion-dollar businesses," Colangelo said.
It is worth noting, however, that while the NFL is the home of the most valuable teams in the league, its players are not generally among the best-paid in comparison to athletes from other sports.
"Superstars in the NFL still make a lot of money (look at Eli Manning, AJ Green, Julio Jones, Russell Wilson, and Luke Keuchly's recent contracts), and most of it is at the front end of the contract in signing bonuses," Colangelo said. "Howeverm the NFL has a hard salary cap. There is no luxury tax penalty like the NBA, where teams can spend over the cap if they'd like. MLB has no cap at all. Every team in the NFL has a hard cap, meaning there is cost certainty for NFL owners. This can artificially deflate contract values because teams have to pay for 53 players. Compare that to 15 in the NBA."
Which teams are really raking in the most dough? Here are the 10 most valuable teams in the NFL today.
10. Green Bay Packers $1.95 Billion
The Green Bay Packers is the only team in the NFL owned by the public -- and, therefore, it is the only one who that has to disclose their financials.
The Packers reported yet another record year for revenue in July, bringing in $375.7 million for the fiscal year. Not only did it get a boost from league revenue but also from the new Packers Pro Shop, which opened in July 2014.
The team has invested $312 in its Lambeau Field stadium over the last several years, resulting in 3,000 jobs and $130 million in wages -- most of which is spent in its home state of Wisconsin. The franchise is in the process of planning its Titletown District, a destination area to be built on 34 acres of land immediately west of its field.
The four-time Super Bowl champion have $63.3 million in operating income, and is valued at $1.95 billion. Tickets to the games are among the hottest on the market, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the highest-paid in the league. According to a separate Forbes ranking, he is the NFL's 15th best-paid player with $19.1 million in total earnings over the past year.
9. Philadelphia Eagles $2.4 Billion
Jeffrey Lurie bought the Philadelphia Eagles for $185 million in 1994. Today, the team is worth $2.4 billion, with $370 million in revenue and $88.7 million in operating income.
Forbes points out that the Eagles refinanced about $120 million of stadium debt and $70 million of debt related to its Lincoln Financial Field renovations, taking advantage of low interest rates. The stadium, which opened in 2003, cost $360 million to build.
The Eagles' player expenses are $167 million, but one famous player not included in the mix is quarterback Tim Tebow. He was cut by the team before the start of the season in September.
8. Chicago Bears $2.45 Billion
The Chicago Bears might not make as much in sports revenue as other big-name teams, but the team isn't doing half-bad, either, raking in $352 million in revenue and $85.7 million in operating income.
The team has been owned by the same family for nearly a century. Virginia Halas McCaskey took over as owner when her father, former owner and coach George Halas, died in 1983. At the age of 92, Halas McCaskey is the oldest owner in the NFL and is still paying close attention to what happens to her team
George McCaskey, her son and the chairman of the Bears, said at the end of the 2014 season that his mother was "pissed off" about the state of her team. "She's been on this earth for eight of the Bears' nine championships, and she wants more," he said. "She's fed up with mediocrity. She feels that she and Bears fans everywhere deserve better."
7. Houston Texans $2.5 Billion
The Houston Texans are among the newest and most profitable teams in the NFL. It is worth $2.5 billion, with $383 million in revenue and $114.6 million in operating income.
The Texans joined the league in 2002 after Houston's prior franchise, the Oilers, moved to Nashville, Tennessee and became the Tennessee Titans. Owner Bob McNair went up against bidders from Los Angeles and Toronto to bring an NFL expansion team to Houston and in 1999 was awarded the 32nd franchise for a record $600 million.
It took the Texans nearly a decade to make the post-season but the team finally managed to do so in 2011. It is also the home of the fourth highest paid player of 2014 -- defensive end JJ Watt, whose total earnings are $27.9 million.
6. New York Jets $2.6 Billion
The New York Jets, nicknamed "Gang Green," improved game attendance in the 2014-2015 season by lowering the average price of its non-premium tickets. And for this season, it made headlines with another ticket-related tactic: sending out emails to season-ticket holders with playoff ticket pricing information before regular play had even started. A bit presumptuous for a team that isn't expected to contend.
The team is valued at $2.6 billion and has $383 million in revenue and $118.4 million in operating income.
5. San Francisco 49ers $2.7 Billion
This year, the San Francisco 49ers had the biggest one-year increase in value of any NFL team to $2.7 billion.
According to Forbes, the jump was largely the result of its move into the $1.2 billion Levi's Stadium in 2014, which helped to bring about a 160% increase in the team's revenue from sales, sponsors, concessions, luxury suites and non-football events. The venue will also host Super Bowl 50 in February.
The five-time Super Bowl champs boast $427 million in revenue and $123.7 million in operating income.
4. New York Giants $2.8 Billion
At $2.8 billion, the Giants is worth about $200 million more than fellow New York team the Jets. Its revenue is $400 million and operating income $105.2 million, and its brand is valued at $209 million -- well above the $172 million Forbes assigns the Jets.
The Giants have won four Super Bowls, the last being in 2011, and is the home of one of the league's leading quarterbacks, Eli Manning. Forbes lists Manning's earnings at $23.7 million, including $8 million in endorsement deals with brands like DirecTV (DTV - Get Report) , Dunkin' Donuts (DD - Get Report) and Gatorade.
The franchise is co-owned by John Mara and Steve Tisch, both the sons of former owners Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch. Steve Tisch, who is also a film and television producer, is said to be the only person to have won both an Oscar (for the 1994 film Forrest Gump) and a Super Bowl ring.
3. Washington Redskins $2.85 Billion
The Washington Redskins haven't been playing the best football in recent years -- and the team hasn't done very well in the press, either.
The team has amassed a record of 7-25 over the past two NFL seasons. Attendance has taken a hit as a result, and The Washington Post reported that the Redskins removed thousands of seats from FedEx Field, its home stadium, for the third time in five seasons this year. To make matters worse, the Redskins has also been embroiled in controversy regarding its name, which many say is offensive to Native Americans.
Nevertheless, the Redskins remain one of the most valuable teams in the league, worth $2.85 billion, with $439 million in revenue and $124.9 million in operating income. Its contentious brand is valued at $234 million as well.
The team's name may be a hiccup as it starts planning for a new stadium when its lease at FedEx Field expires in 2026, but Redskins President Bruce Allen has said that he won't budge on the issue.
2. New England Patriots $3.2 Billion
Reigning Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. But bad press and cheating allegations haven't done much to hurt the brand, as the franchise's value has climbed 23% since 2014.
Valued at $3.2 billion, the Patriots are the second most valuable team in the NFL and the third most valuable in the world. Robert Kraft, who has owned the team throughout all but one of its eight Super Bowl appearances, bought the franchise in 1994 for $172 million.
1. Dallas Cowboys $4.0 Billion
The Dallas Cowboys surpassed Spanish soccer giant Real Madrid to become the most valuable sports franchise in the entire world this year. Forbes estimates the organization, also known as "America's team," to be worth $4.0 billion. It boasts $620 million in revenue and $270 million in operating income, and its brand is priced at $497 million.
The Cowboys tie the Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl appearance of any NFL team at eight, although they haven't won -- or even gotten to -- the NFL's championship game since 1995. The franchise's recipe for success, at least on the financial front, has been the $90 million generated annually from 350 luxury suites at AT&T Stadium as well as $100 million from sponsors.
The franchise employs two of the league's top-earning players: offensive tackle Tyron Smith and quarterback Tony Romo, both of whom made more than $20 million in the year leading up to June 1, 2015.