The simple answer is that’s what rich folks are willing to pay for them right now.
So, to find out, you’d really need to ask rich folks who have bought MLS teams or portions of MLS teams recently, why they paid so much?
It could be that they figure someone else will be willing to pay them that much or more when they decide to cash out and in the meantime, it’s good for their profile and other business’s to have own a major sports team.
It could be that they hope the value will increase over the next 20 years by a lot. In this sense, the MLS team serves as an option on a future that they hope looks a lot like the NFL.
It could be that there are other things wrapped up in what they paid for, like the value of future franchise fees paid by new MLS owners and/or the value of payouts for the broadcast rights of international games that take place in the U.S.
I suspect that last bit could be a fair amount of the value as the amount for the MLS franchise fees seemed to start going up dramatically soon after US Soccer locked up hosting the World Cup in 2026, which could mean billions in broadcast revenue from international games.
If that’s the case, then the value of an MLS team may have little to do with what owners think the teams might be worth and more to do what they think those things are worth.
If so, that’s a big hoodwink as MLS has been playing up their increasing valuations as a sign that “MLS is growing” when by most measures of true value, like TV ratings and ticket sales, don’t line up with that story.
I also find it strange how few people, including journalists, are interested in exploring this topic. For example, a recent change of ownership stake for the Houston Dynamo valued the franchise at $400 million.
Now anyone who watches any amount of MLS can tell you that a key feature of the Dynamo home games is the empty orange seats in the stands. I’m assuming TV viewership in Houston is not much better. How that can be worth $400 million is a mystery.