MIAMI -- The Los Angeles Lakers are losers in the standings but financial winners in a big way.
They were declared the NBA's second-most valuable franchise, behind only the New York Knicks, in an annual report released Wednesday by Forbes.
The Lakers are worth $1.35 billion, up 35 percent from the previous year, thanks mainly to their new television contract with Time Warner Cable. They earned $122 million last season from TWC, more than 20 times what the Charlotte Bobcats and Milwaukee Bucks received from their broadcasting partners, according to Forbes.
The Lakers are in the second season of a 25-year, $5 billion TV deal with Time Warner.
"It's the value of live sports programming," said George Belch, chairman of the marketing department at San Diego State. "What's happening is that sports right now have just gone through the roof if you look at the NFL, MLB, NBA, college sports. You've just got a tremendous amount of competition for it.
"The networks still want to use sports as a platform, you've got ESPN and the new Fox sports entity. Everybody's stepping up their game, even the cable companies themselves like Time Warner. If you're a sports property, particularly in L.A., you're in a very good situation."
The latest valuation of the franchise was an incredible jump from when Jerry Buss purchased the Lakers for $16 million in 1979, part of a larger deal in which he also acquired the L.A. Kings ($8 million), the Forum ($33.5 million) and a 13,000-acre Sierra Nevada ranch ($10 million). Buss died last February, handing majority control of the franchise to six of his adult children.
The Lakers turned an operating profit of $66.4 million last year on $295 million in revenue, despite paying almost $30 million in luxury taxes. The team's payroll has dropped sharply since then, down from $100 million to about $78 million this season, so expect even more profit in the next survey. The annual contract with TWC increases by about 3 percent every year.
All the money hasn't translated to victories, the Lakers (16-26) sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference as injuries have damaged their already-slim playoff hopes entering the season.
"You kind of have to separate the two things," Belch said. "When these deals were being negotiated, I'm not sure Time Warner saw how quickly the franchise was going to get in trouble on the court. And injuries are always a wild card. You can't account for that.
"But you're looking at the history of the franchise. They've had a tremendous run over the last couple decades and you have to bank on the fact they're going to get their act together and get the right players. ... It's still L.A., it's a huge media market."
The NBA also saw the value of the average franchise rise to $634 million, a 25 percent increase from last year. The Knicks are worth $1.4 billion, up 27 percent from last year's Forbes valuation.
GASOL IS OLD SCHOOL
Like teammate Kobe Bryant earlier this week, Pau Gasol said he was not impressed by the so-called "small ball" being played by numerous teams this season, including the Lakers on plenty of occasions.
"I'm not a big fan of having a small forward playing the power position but it's kind of evolved to that," he said. "I don't know if it's because of a lack of big men or just a style that has been implemented and worked for some teams.
"I've always been more of a fan of two bigs that can dominate the paint and pound teams and take advantage of their size if you do have it. If you don't have it, then you do whatever you can. That's just the reality of the league right now."
Gasol complained last month that he wasn't getting the ball in the post. After a sluggish first two months, though, he is averaging 20.4 points and 12.2 rebounds in January.
"As long as I'm the center, I'm OK with it," he said of the Lakers' offense. "But if I have to play power forward then I have to adjust to that position being always outside the paint and just kind of spacing out a lot. It kind of takes me out of my best game."
Gasol said he sat out practice Wednesday because of an "open wound" in his toe stemming from the tape job he has used to combat a strained tendon. He will play Thursday against Miami.
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