Monday, March 15, 2010

The Trite Utterances of Subpar Sports "Fans," Volume Two

(Before reading this, take a gander down at our Bracket below and provide some input, as much or as little as you want. And remember it's all in good fun and that you can't have a blog in March without having some sort of tournament bracket.)

I would have included this in the "Saturated" post from a few weeks back, but today's issue has grown to warrant its own space. For years we've been hearing the "professional athletes are overpaid, blah blah blah blah blah" refrain, and I don't know about anyone else, but this garbage makes my ears bleed. It's a major go-to phrase for those who make a pastime out of complaining about things they are never going to be able to change. It's a major go-to phrase for those who wish to treat all levels of sports like they are tee-ball and refuse to accept the fact that pro sports are businesses - hence the use of the word "professional."

Of course, that's not to say that there aren't individual athletes who are overpaid. I'd be stupid to try to say that. But you can find people who underperform their compensation at any workplace. I'm talking in general terms, not of individual athletes but of the overall salary scales of pro sports. The vast majority of these guys really do earn their money. Even a dream job is a job. There are levels of pressure and expectations that you or I do not see at our offices. Too often we watch a game for 3 hours out of the day and think that's all there is to it. We forget about the hours spent practicing and training just to get to this point, and how the work only gets harder once you're there. We've all had bad days at our jobs, but I doubt we ever got booed by 50,000 people or had scathing articles written in the paper about us the next day as a result.

Simple business thinking dictates that employees are paid based on the value of the efforts and services they provide. Why did Peyton Manning get paid $14 million this year for his endorsements alone? Because up on a high-floor office somewhere at the headquarters of Mastercard/Sprint/Gatorade/DirecTV, groups of people sat in a room and agreed on the projection that paying Peyton Manning $x to do commercials for their products would ultimately generate $x + $y in additional revenue, with "y" representing a worthwhile profit margin. It's just like how a film studio chooses to throw $20 million at Tom Cruise for a movie on the thought that his name and performance will put at least another $20 million worth of asses in the movie theater seats to go see it. Remember, whether you are a master at throwing a football or bringing a written character to life on screen, it's all entertainment. All in the game, right?

On the same note, a teacher making $45k a year is paid such an amount of money because the numbers dictate that his or her teaching services are worth in the neighborhood of $45k a year to the town and school district. That number is found essentially in terms of the town's basis of tax revenue, as well as the intangible "good name" asset for a school district that a well-performing teaching force creates. You become known as a town with very good schools, and guess what - more families want to live there, thus generating more tax dollars, and allowing the township to charge higher tax rates in the future and being able then to pay its teachers, police, firefighters more. That sound you hear is supply shaking hands with demand.

What I'm really tired of is when people give the old "(insert athlete name here) makes more money in a week than a teacher or patrol officer do in a year!" argument. Listen, no one is saying that teachers, firefighters, police, etc. don't perform a much nobler task than pro athletes do. It's the replaceability factor, technically known as opportunity cost. If I decide to leave my job, it is not going to break the company's back to hire and train a replacement. Same goes for a bus driver, construction worker, or stevedore. It's not that the hard-working everyday Joe is of little worth and easily dispensable, it's just that, when it comes to our own individual lines of work, none of us possess skills to nearly as a high a level as professional athletes do.

Think about it. These athletes are among the several hundred best in the world at their craft. What do you think the world's few hundred best lawyers make in a year? Or the few hundred best investment bankers? It's got to be on par with the few hundred best baseball players or football players. So let's not treat athletes as if they're the only ones out there making tons of money. What it comes down to is, enough people place sufficient value on the display of athletic excellence and top-level competition that they decide to part with considerable money in order to spectate.

You personally may think ticket prices are too high, but no one's holding a gun to your head and making you order season tickets. Because if you don't want to pay those prices, I'm sorry, but there are droves of people standing behind you in line who will, provided the product is good. That's how Major League Baseball last year achieved the fourth-highest regular season attendance level in its history despite poor economic conditions. At least with sports there are low cost viewing alternatives like TV and radio, unlike Broadway, where the only way to see it is live so if you don't want to pony up half your next paycheck for tickets, you're S.O.L.

So before this gets too long (as you can see I'm not into the whole brevity thing lately), I leave you with this: find something to complain about other than professional sports. These salary amounts didn't come from nowhere, but not one dime has to come from your pocket if you don't want it to. But before you get to saying, "why don't we pay our teachers $2 million a year?" just remember that if we ever chose to, then get ready for a tax bill so big it wouldn't be able to fit in your mailbox. Just throwing that overlooked nugget out there.


  1. Brilliant. An argument that sports fans always try to make but you put the pen to paper and laid the fondation.

  2. Well put. It's only fair that pro athletes see their fair share of the massive amounts of revenue they generate.