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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soccer is at least one business that hasn't been sidelined by the recession.
A new report by Forbes magazine finds that the world's top 25 soccer clubs are now worth an average of $597 million, or 8 percent more than a year ago, before the financial crisis fully took hold. Five clubs are worth at least $1 billion.
"With its capitalistic bent, European soccer rewards the best-performing clubs with higher broadcasting revenue," the magazine said in a report on Thursday. "Leading the charge is the world's most valuable sports franchise: English Premier League champions Manchester United, worth $1.87 billion."
Indeed, Forbes reports United posted $160 million in operating income, with its stadium, Old Trafford, pulling in more than $200 million in ticket and concession revenue last season.
Spain's Real Madrid ranked as the second most valuable at $1.35 billion, followed by another English club, Arsenal at $1.2 billion, Germany's Bayern Munich at $1.11 billion, and England's Liverpool at $1 billion, according to Forbes.
By comparison, the most valuable Major League Baseball team is the New York Yankees, worth an estimated $1.3 billion as of last April, while the most valuable National Football League team is the Dallas Cowboys, valued at $1.6 billion last September, according to Forbes.
While the financial crisis has resulted in a big pullback in sponsorship of some sports, Europe's top soccer clubs have been protected by long-term deals they signed with marketers and broadcasters, Forbes said.
"Burnished by that relative stability and by the sport's growing popularity throughout China and Southeast Asia, big-ticket investors have continued to pour money into England's Premier league," the magazine points out, noting the sale last fall of England's Manchester City to Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan for nearly $385 million.
The complete rankings can be found at the magazine's website at www.forbes.com.
Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Steve James and Brian Moss