Tech mistake |Last week, I looked at how much it will cost to keep Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green together for the next few years. It’s a big number, hovering around $300M per year depending on what choices the front office make, starting from next season.
But as outlined already the Warriors have a not-so-secret weapon in the Chase Center to keep this historic run going. Today I take a look at the wider revenue-generation opportunities headed their way and consider whether the Warriors will be able to afford the tax bills.
The current picture
As of Forbes latest team valuation, for the 2016/17 season, the Warriors had a revenue of $359M, inclusive of revenue sharing, and an operating income (ie pre-tax profit) of $120M. That was after paying a total player salary bill of around $110M. The Warriors were not in the luxury tax in 2016/17 as they had to create space under the cap to sign Kevin Durant.
In 2017/18 they paid out a total of about $160m in player salaries and luxury tax. On the other hand, the 2016/17 gate receipts figure ($143M) was depressed by the Warriors historic 16-1 playoff run. The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami previously estimated that while the Warriors grossed $95M with nine home playoff games in 2017, the extra playoff games this past season led to an overall total of $130M.
The NBA’s revenue-sharing system (more on that later) means that as a huge net contributor the Warriors lose 30% of that, but they could still count on around an extra $25m as a result. So even with that $160M payroll, all things being equal the Warriors would continue to turn a pre-tax profit of almost $100M.
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This year the Warriors are facing a salary and luxury tax bill of just under $200M in their final season in the Oracle, and with another deep playoff run would still be well into the black. That may well be the first sign that the Warriors will be able to afford a payroll of $300M once the Chase Center opens.
New media deals
The Warriors’ current local TV deal was signed when they were still doing things that would feature on the “This Day in Suck” Twitter account. But there’s a reset opportunity in the next couple of years, so they’re due a monster payday here. The Los Angeles Lakers are the kings of local TV deals, with their deal with Time Warner reportedly bringing in an average of $150M a year. The Warriors likely won’t touch that, but they are now up there with the big boys (ie Lakers and Knicks) as one of the basketball’s premier draws. Tim Kawakami has estimated a new local TV deal could double from $30m to around $65M a year given their increased popularity.
One thing to watch here, other the Warriors awesome collection of talent on the court, is the potential for the Warriors to set up their own streaming platform in the future. As befitting a team based in Silicon Valley, the Warriors are at the forefront of new ventures such as e-sports which will help them understand the possibilities offered by streaming directly and have pushed forward with a new digital strategy, which Forbes reported earlier this year increased their digital revenue by 300%.
The NBA is a big business beyond the United States, and the Warriors have been making strenuous efforts to expand into huge markets like China and Europe. The preseason China trip last year aimed to support this, as do the now regular summer antics of one #ChinaKlay. Steph Curry was all over the world last week, traveling across Asia, before heading to Paris and then finishing his tour with a visit to London.
The choice of Rakuten as a partner fits this picture too. The deal for the jersey patches is the largest in the NBA at $20m per year. While the Warriors only keep $5m of that themselves (per an ESPN report 50% goes to the players, 25% is shared with the other teams), it’s early days for jersey sponsorship and those deals could jump when they come up for renewal in 2020. For reference, the Rakuten partnership with Barcelona signed around the same time as the Warriors deal nets the Spanish soccer giants $58m a year.
Beyond that, Rakuten is one of the biggest digital companies in Japan and have a growing operation in Europe. Basketball is still a minority sport in Rakuten’s home country Japan compared to baseball. But both Curry and Draymond Green were over in Tokyo recently, where the 2020 Olympics will be held, attempting to connect with a new audience. There remain huge untapped opportunities to monetize the Warriors beyond the local TV market, and they are choosing their partners accordingly.
The Forbes team valuations include a figure of just over $100m presently for every team from league-wide revenues such as the national TV deal and sponsorship. It is expected that this will increase going forward as the NBA continues to be in a strong place and expands internationally. In April this year Forbes reported that by every measure the NBA’s popularity is growing:
- NBA ratings increased across all four networks in the 2017/18 regular season, with ABC leading the way at +17%. TNT was up +13%, and ESPN (+4%) and NBA TV (+1%) were also up. It was the NBA’s highest-rated season in five years.
- Attendance for regular season games increased for the fourth season in a row, reaching 22.1 million. Average attendance per game was 17,978, and there were a record high 741 sellouts.
- The subscriber count for NBA league pass grew by 63% on the previous season.
- Online merchandise sales reported an increase of 25%.
But it goes further. Earlier in the summer, The Athletic’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss wrote about the role of large-market teams in driving league-wide popularity. David Aldridge pointed out that the only time the league had some measure of parity, it was at its nadir of popularity. Indeed there was so much parity in the 1970s, there was even another basketball league competing with the NBA.
So, not only do the Warriors benefit from an increasingly popular league, but they are actually one of the driving forces behind it. The better they do, the more money comes back to everyone. No wonder that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has started softening his tune.
The big unknown in league-wide revenues is the specter of legalized gambling. The NBA is right at the start of the process but has been proactive in lobbying for any revenues generated to include a 1% “integrity share” of every bet for the league. In Nevada, $1.48 billion was bet on basketball in 2017. Last month the NBA was the first league in American sports to embrace the possibilities, signing a deal with MGM Resorts.
It’s the first step into an arena which has been a major income-generating force in other sports worldwide, particularly Premier League soccer. The latest figures show that in the UK soccer betting was worth £1.4bn to bookmakers. But beyond that, almost half of Premier League clubs have jersey sponsorship with betting companies, and it is literally impossible to watch a game on TV without being bombarded with betting adverts. It is an incredibly lucrative field, but it is not without risks. Indeed over in the UK, there is a sense the pendulum has swung too far, and steps are being taken to distance the sport a little more from the gambling industry.
No account of league-wide revenues and their effect on the Warriors would be complete without a mention of the NBA’s revenue-sharing system, which aims to redistribute a portion of the profits from the big boys to the smaller markets. It’s governed by a complicated formula, but per Larry Coon’s CBAFAQ if a team is a major net contributor their payment is capped at 30% of their revenues. For all the money the Warriors are bringing in, they will have to share some of it, though the formula only includes 50% of arena naming rights and sales of corporate suites, and all that non-basketball related income from the Chase Center complex is separate.
So can the Warriors shell out $300M in taxes and salaries?
The simple answer appears to be a resounding yes. The naming rights, luxury suites, and ticket price increases at the Chase Center, plus a new TV deal, could total an extra $90-95m income every year. Even with the Warriors contributing 30% of the $75-80M that would count towards revenue sharing to the league-wide pool, that still leaves around an extra $70M of annual income headed their way that’s locked in on a long-term basis. Just on that basis alone, considering they will likely be profitable on a $200m payroll in Oracle, the Warriors would still be able to turn a profit on a $300m payroll once in the Chase Center.
Then there are the unknowns such as other sponsorship deals, concessions and parking at the arena, and increasing revenues league-wide, not least the possibilities of legalized gambling. Once you factor in the income from all that office and retail space, and those 200+ non-NBA events at Chase Center, the Warriors ownership will likely be turning an astronomical annual profit. And none of this includes the $300m+ the Warriors will receive in a one-off lump sum from the PSL issue.
Of course, all of this derives from having a historically successful team playing in a huge market, which just increases the incentive to keep the Warriors together.
So, still think they can’t afford to keep the team together? Didn’t think so.
I have followed the NBA for over 25 years from the United Kingdom. As a long time Golden State Warriors observer, I developed a keen interest in team building, organisational culture, and salary cap management. I remain fascinated by the rise of the Warriors from NBA purgato…
Continue the conversation on Twitter @PatrickMurray23
The article was originally published here.