This Oct. 21, 1981, file photo shows New York Yankees...

This Oct. 21, 1981, file photo shows New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner working at his desk at Yankee Stadium in New York, before Game 2 of the World Series. On the wall behind Steinbrenner is an autographed photo of Cary Grant. A person close to George Steinbrenner says the Yankees owner died Tuesday morning, July 13, 2010. Credit: AP

As anyone who's seen the iconic New York Yankees hat on the streets of Paris or Sydney knows, the franchise under George Steinbrenner was a success far beyond the corner of East 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx.

"He bought the team for $10 million" in 1973, said Bruce Johnson, a sports economist at Centre College in Kentucky. "Now they're probably the most valuable franchise in professional sports in the country, if not the world."

In its annual assessment of baseball franchises, Forbes magazine calculated that the Yankees are worth $1.6 billion, almost as much as the second- and third-most valuable teams - the Boston Red Sox and the Mets - put together.

Despite often being ridiculed for his spendthrift ways when it came to acquiring high-priced free agents, economists said it paid off for Steinbrenner. It led to victories, which led to championships - which led to strengthening the Yankees brand and increased income.

"George Steinbrenner spent a lot of money - but he got it all back," said economist Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College in Massachusetts. "He gets rewarded for spending money. It was spending for the sake of winning."

Particularly after free agency, Steinbrenner recognized that simply by being in New York, he was sitting "on top of the richest entertainment market in the world," Zimbalist said. He showed other sports teams how to go after commercial opportunities.

Johnson said Steinbrenner was a master at exploiting the value of cable television. "When he recognized the advantage of having his own network, that's when the value really took off," Johnson said.

Steinbrenner first struck gold with a 12-year, $486-million deal with the Madison Square Garden Network in 1988. Then in 2002, the Yankees started the YES Network with other investors. That deal has been worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

As a result of the team's success, it squeezes far more from the same market than the Mets do, Forbes reported.

The Yankees bring in $55 per fan, compared with $32 for the Mets. The Yankees get $839 million of its value from the New York market, and the Mets get just $380 million from the same market. And the Yankees brand management is worth $328 million, compared with $158 million for the Mets.

Steinbrenner's savvy capitalization of Yankees success boosted all of baseball, Zimbalist said. "It had been a sleepy sport until George Steinbrenner came along," he said.

Economists said there has been no evidence that Steinbrenner's health-related absence from the team or his death will have an effect on the team's fortunes. "They're still the Yankees," Johnson said. "They're still in New York."

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