Sunday, April 27, 2008
We, the Punk'd Proletariat
It’s become impossible to watch a professional sports contest without developing a molecular distaste for money. Especially in our recessive economic climate, resentment for professional athletes’ salaries is accumulating an ever-more-acerbic argot: Unconscionable. Unjustifiable. Obscene, disgusting, revolting, and criminal.
The only way to makes sense of athletes’ salaries is by looking at how much revenue they produce. A 12-man basketball team can sell 20,000 tickets to 41 home games each year, not including the playoffs. More popular players (the better-paid ones, almost without exception) sell oodles of merchandise, from jerseys and bobbleheads to basketball cards and posters. Autographs can go for hundreds, even thousands, and when you toss in multi-gajillion dollar TV and radio contracts, appearance fees, and ESPN exposure, the windfall is even more handsome for the billionaire owners than the millionaire players.
And beers cost $7 each.
Who sustains the whole thing—the salaries, prohibitive grog, new arenas, posters, sneakers, and even the workout facilities? Two groups: the players and us.
Without players, there would be no games in the first place. Sports have always been big business, and it wasn’t until a few decades ago that players started clueing in to their own importance. Once they realized that they could hold the game hostage by refusing to play—which has happened in the case of various lockouts and strikes—the players started demanding otherworldly sums of money. They coalesced into unions and upped their labor savvy. What’s obscene and criminal to some is fiscal pragmatism for the players—they bargain for a fair share of the money they generate.
It’s us, meanwhile—consumers and taxpayers (in the case of new arenas)—who underwrite sports. Without consumers, there would be no leagues, no teams, and no money. It would seem that, with the owners and players both drowning in dinero, the fans are getting screwed: the drudges who shell out big money simply to watch the players play; the plebeians who pay extra for sports television access.
Yes, it is true that even with all the money they make, athletes are unduly restricted. Players must operate within a demarcated court/field/rink and abide by a lifeless rule set. No taunting in basketball? Please. No excess fighting in hockey? Come on. No arguing with the umpire in baseball? Babe Ruth is regurgitating in his corpulent grave.
However, whatever the players suffer is miniscule compared to the fans' victimization. Just like the players realized, once upon a time, that they could demand huge money because they were indispensable, so too should we fans embrace the same reality. Sports cannot exist without us.
If we stop going to games, stop tuning in on TV, and stop grab-assing merchandise—if we strike, in other words—the owners would have to lower tickets prices. The extortionate prices on beer, sneakers, posters, DirectTV, etc. would deflate.
Sports would become affordable, and psycho-economically, way more fun. In an age, additionally, when all my favorite teams either suck (Jets, Nets), habitually break my heart (Mets), or are in the process of losing (Rangers), I must go on strike.
I cannot afford to root for them anymore.
Stay Savvy, Sports Consumer