On the other end of the NFL financial spectrum from the Redskins, consider the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags joined the NFL in 1995 as an expansion franchise. The team made the playoffs in their second season, and as can be seen below, they reached the AFC championship game in just their fifth season. This year they were in playoff contention until early December. That’s a much better on-field performance than the Redskins over the past decade.
1999: 14-2 (best record in the AFC, lost AFC Championship game)
2001: 6-10 (last place)
2003: 5-11 (tied for last place)
2005: 12-4 (lost wild card game)
2007: 11-5 (won Wild Card game, lost in second round)
2008: 5-11 (last place)
Financially, the story is quite different. The 2009 Forbes estimates put the Jags value at $866 million, ahead of only the Falcons, Vikings, and Raiders. Forbes estimates their revenues last year at $217 million and their operating income at $27 million. One of the reasons the Jags have such a low value is that their attendance is terrible. Two recent newspaper articles, in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, paint a bleak financial picture. Nine home games were blacked out on local TV this season because of insufficient ticket sales. A late November game drew a franchise low attendance of 42,079, despite the playoff contention. Jacksonville is the 47th largest media market (DMA) in the US, which is larger than only New Orleans, Buffalo, and Green Bay. Some have questioned the viability of Jacksonville as an NFL host, and the franchise is frequently mentioned as a candidate to move to LA.
Clearly, market size is not a requirement for on-field success in the NFL. The Packers are valued at more then $1 billion by Forbes (17th largest), so financial success is not strictly related to market size either.
Two important financial changes will take place next year in the NFL that will have a powerful effect on the relationship between revenues and success: first, there will be no salary cap (and no salary floor), which will allow teams like the Redskins to acquire many high priced free agents and teams like the Jaguars to shed tons of salary if they want; second, the Supplemental Revenue Sharing Program, that redistributes about $100 million each season from high revenue teams like the Redskins to low revenue teams like the Jags will come to an end. The consequences of these two changes remain to be seen.