By Emily Stephenson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The National Football League's average team value fell for the first time in 10 years as the economy squeezed ticket sales and scared off investors, according to an annual Forbes report released Wednesday.
Twenty teams out of 32 in the most popular U.S. sports league by TV ratings lost value during the 2009 season, the magazine said, as smaller-market teams struggled to find new revenue streams and keep up with player salaries offered by more profitable teams.
"You're seeing some uncertainty in the NFL for the first time in a couple decades," said Kurt Badenhausen, a Forbes staff writer who helped produce the report. "Teams on the bottom of the ladder are really having trouble. Their stadiums don't have the potential to generate revenues like the teams at the top."
The Dallas Cowboys -- the highest-valued team for the second year in a row at $1.8 billion, an increase of 9 percent from the 2008 season -- used a stadium opened in 2009 to create new revenue.
The team hosted the National Basketball Association All-Star game, a highly publicized boxing match and several concerts in the new stadium. The team had an operating income of $143.3 million in 2009.
The Washington Redskins, at $1.55 billion, and the New England Patriots, at $1.37 billion, ranked behind the Cowboys.
But teams in smaller areas that can't offer expensive luxury seats or generate nonfootball revenue had trouble keeping up this year, Badenhausen said.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' value fell 16 percent in 2009, sending the team to the bottom of the list with a value of $725 million. The Oakland Raiders, valued at $758 million, and the Minnesota Vikings, at $774 million, were near the bottom.
The league is still profitable overall, Badenhausen said. But the economy does not look promising during the 2010 season, and the NFL faces a potential lockout in 2011.
A collective bargaining agreement between players and owners expires in March, and the parties don't appear close to reaching a new agreement, Badenhausen said.
"How those two things play out over the next 12 months is going to significantly affect the NFL's future financial situation," he said.
Eight teams lost value in the 2008 season, the first time Forbes saw any individual team values decline since the magazine began tracking NFL values in 1998.
The full list for the 2009 season is online at www.forbes.com/nhl. Forbes' value determinations are based on estimated team revenue, operating income and debt in 2009.
(Reporting by Emily Stephenson; Editing by Gary Hill)