How Steinbrenner spent his way to a $1.6B Yankees empire

New York Yankees George Steinbrenner watches his team warm up before a spring training baseball...

New York Yankees George Steinbrenner watches his team warm up before a spring training baseball game in Tampa, Florida in this March 19, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Scott Audette/Files

STEFANIA MORETTI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:08 PM ET

So how did George Steinbrenner, the son of a shipbuilder, revive the New York Yankees baseball franchise to become a $1.6-billion sports empire and one of the most recognized clubs the world over?

In truly American fashion: By spending his way to seven World Series Championships, 11 American League pennants and 16 AL East titles.

Steinbrenner, the 80-year-old club owner nicknamed “The Boss” died of a heart attack early Tuesday morning.

Steinbrenner led a group of 13 investors who bought the club from CBS Inc. in January 1973 for roughly $10 million US. The Yankees had been in an eight-year drought at the time.

Steinbrenner promised to be a hands-off baseball owner after having made a small fortune by merging the family shipbuilding business Kinsman Marine Transit with American Shipbuilders Co.

But by the time free agency was introduced to the league in the late 1970s Steinbrenner’s winning attitude led him on a buying spree that would eventually see him sign big names such as Reggie Jackson, Alex Rodriguez and Roger Clemens in a series of blockbuster deals.

Within five years, Steinbrenner signed 10 players raking up a $38-million bill. The Yankees soon became the first team with a $200-million payroll.

“Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing,” Steinbrenner was fond of saying.

Steinbrenner’s approach cost him dearly among baseball purists. He was accused of hoarding players and throwing off the league’s delicate competitive balance.

But Steinbrenner knew an all-star roster helps put bums in seats. In 2005, the Yankees became only the second team in American League history – after the Toronto Blue Jays from 1991-1993 – to top four million in home attendance.

Fans flocked to watch the Yankees play in rising numbers every year until attendance dipped just this year. The new, smaller stadium with more expensive seats is partly to blame.

Steinbrenner’s deep pockets paid off dividends for fans, sports broadcasters and merchandisers alike.

Today, the team is valued at $1.6 billion - more than 100 times what Steinbrenner paid for it, according to a recent estimate by Forbes. The Red Sox and Mets trail far behind with $870 and $858 million.

The Yankees, along with U.K. football club Manchester United, are the two most valuable sports brands in the world, according to Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

“There’s no doubt that one of the things he did was front the money to buy the best,” Middleton said.

“So, yes, there will definitely be a question mark about the future with a strong leader like Steinbrenner gone.”

The winning brand’s longevity and the fact that it’s based it one of the most lucrative markets around meant merchandise and television deals at every corner.

Steinbrenner capitalized with a longtime cable TV deal with the Madison Square Garden network and then with the creation of Yankees’ YES network, which brought in $257 million in revenue in 2005.

He also teamed up with Adidas in a 10-year $95-million apparel deal.

The Yankees also have major corporate sponsorship deals with PepsiCo, MasterCard and Bank of America.

The team’s head office, often portrayed on the hit TV comedy Seinfeld, has been described as a revolving door with managers frequently being hired then fired.


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