Steinbrenner’s $3.4 Billion Legacy

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George Steinbrenner died early Tuesday morning after having a heart attack in Tampa, Fla. The Yankees’ principal owner, dubbed “The Boss” by both fans and critics, was 80 years old.

“[Steinbrenner] was a visionary and a giant in the world of sports,” a press release issued by Yankees.com said.”He took a great but struggling franchise and turned it into a champion again."

While you can debate Steinbrenner’s particular style and tactics (this is a man, after all, who hired and fired manager Billy Martin five times), you can’t dispute his financial accomplishments. As he pointed out himself in a 1998 interview with The New York Times, "Have I made mistakes? Yes.  Are there things I would do differently? Yes. I'm human, and I have an ego. I'll admit that. But, if the goal is to win, I'll stand on my record."

It’s not a bad record to have. Let’s recap some of the highlights:

Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees back in 1973 from CBS Inc. for what ultimately amounted to $8.7 million. (The deal, made at the time with 11 other investors, was for $10 million, but included two parking garages that CBS bought back weeks later for $1.3 million.) These days the ball club’s estimated value is $1.6 billion, trailing only, according to Forbes, Manchester United ($1.8 billion) and the Dallas Cowboys ($1.65 billion) in net worth.

Of course, Steinbrenner’s franchise brings in more revenue through its parent company Yankee Global Enterprises, which includes Steinbrenner's stakes in the team, the YES Network, a regional cable channel which broadcasts Yankees and Nets games as well as some original programming, and some Yankees-related hospitality businesses. If you factor in this income, the team has a combined equity value of $3.4 billion. (As Forbes reporter Peter Schwartz points out, this is a 33,900% cumulative investment.)

The YES network can be directly attributed to Steinbrenner, who became the first sports club owner to sell broadcasting rights to a cable network.  Created after an initial deal with the MSG network went sour over (what else?) rights fees, the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Channel currently generates the bulk of Steinbrenner’s wealth. (To put it in perspective, back in 2006, the network brought in $340.5 million in revenue.)

In 2009, Forbes estimated that Steinbrenner himself was worth $1.15 billion.

Full disclosure: I’m a Yankee fan, so I feel the need to mention the seven World Series championships, 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles Steinbrenner’s team won during his 37 years as owner.

But, really, who’s counting?

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