The question of whether or not professional athletes are overpaid is one on which I tend to vacillate. One day, I understand the immense amounts of money generated by the tremendous feats of these athletes. The next, I’m annoyed at how much is being asked of me in exchange for the privilege of seeing these feats in person.
To add to my consternation, I’m someone who actively wants to work in the sporting arena, preferably in a franchise’s front office. So, what is it that has made me come down on the side that says sporting salaries need to be downsized? To quote the political wags, it’s the economy, stupid.
As I write this, signs of strain are beginning to show in the financial framework of sport. The NBA is preparing to decrease its player salary cap for the first time ever, due to a downturn in team revenues. The Florida Marlins are occasionally playing to crowds whose total number has only three digits instead of the customary five. The New York Yankees, who were asking over $2600 for ONE front-row seat when the new Yankee Stadium opened, were quickly forced to backpedal and cut prices for said seats in half.
Even though the Yankees are not-very-affectionately known to other teams’ fans as the Evil Empire, them asking those exorbitant prices was not out of hubris, more out of simple economic necessity. Third baseman Alex Rodriguez’s salary is only $3.8 million short of those lonely Marlins’ ENTIRE Opening Day roster.
No matter where you live, keep an eye out today and note how many heads you see sporting Yankee caps. How many people will you see sporting their favorite teams’ jerseys? Even as I write this, I’m wearing a shirt commemorating the Indianapolis Colts’ victory in Super Bowl XLI. The bottom line is that we’re all complicit in paying these athletes.
When we buy tickets and merchandise, it’s duly noted. The teams, the players’ agents, the media, they all track our spending activity. A player who generates large sums in jersey sales wants to make sure he’s getting a hefty piece when his next contract is being negotiated.
Players have a much more limited window of time to earn their money than the frequently cited examples of teachers, policemen, and firemen. Therefore, they strive to get what they can while they can. That part is easy for anyone to understand. However, there is an old saying that tells us we should have enough to do something, but not enough to do nothing.
Hand a 19-to-22-year-old man $30 million, and you learn quite quickly the definition of enough to do nothing. It’s deceptively easy for athletes, very few of whom come from affluent households, to lose all financial perspective and spend themselves into oblivion. Seems they’re not all that different from the rest of us after all.
Athletes themselves may be well served by lessening their wage, simply for the educational value of learning to manage money effectively. A first-round draft pick who decides he can go out and buy himself an Escalade, his mother a house, and expensive toys for all his boys suddenly learns a hard lesson when he washes out of the league after his third season.
The only way to get off this slippery slope, however, is simply to stop going to the games and buying the jerseys. We all know that’s not happening…well, unless you live in Miami, home of the aforementioned Marlins. Only a cutoff of supply (fan-derived income) will have a dampening effect on demand (athletes’ salary expectations).
As the economy continues to tighten its grip on the average fan, signs of change are beginning to appear. But until Joe Fan learns that keeping the lights on at home is a little more important than getting lit at the ballpark, these signs are going to remain few and far between.
And players like Alex Rodriguez will continue to make more money per year than 600 teachers combined.