Somewhere between the latest incarnation of SONY Playstation and Star Trek’s Holodeck could be the salvation of our modern economic woes. Trillions and trillions of dollars are spent on the sports industry. $300 million dollar player contracts, multi-billion dollar palaces, billions of public dollars spent to attract and then lose relocated franchises, bidding on Super Bowls to boost the local economy, boondoggle television broadcast deals all conspired with capitalist endeavors such as merchandise sales, inflated postseason ticket prices, expanded postseasons, player agents feasting on the volatility of the free agent market, etc. It seems there is no end in sight to the spiraling explosion of this money-gobbling industry which vacuum-sucks dollars from the paying public depositing exponentially more money into the coffers of billionaires.
The NFL could impose a work stoppage due to a disagreement regarding the best way to subdivide their $10 billion profit margin. The NBA is still locked out for much of the same reason – save the caveat that most of these multi-million dollar entities seem to be losing money while trying to keep pace. The federal government bailed out the banking industry spending trillions to pay off their CEO bonuses so there is not much danger of the NBA or MLB receiving the same sort of federal funding. Dumping billions upon billions into an industry so that a scant handful of billionaires can share their booty with a few already wealthy conglomerate corporations – then selling that product back to the public consumer? How’s that for a monumentally brilliant business model?
Robin Hood would be agog offered such a premise as are Robin Ventura, Robin Roberts and any surviving members of the Brooklyn Robins (before they became the Trolley Dodgers and eventually the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers). Rough and tumble blue collar “professional” athletes used to scrabble for their existence playing a full season in the Major Leagues or the infancy of the NFL, most not making more than a living wage. The 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal occurred because infamously cheap team owner flatly refused to pay his players fairly. Many renown players such as Duke Snider, Stan Musial or Frankie Frisch would spend their entire career barely earning a living, often returning to their offseason jobs in hardware stores or grocery stores, all in the hopes that they would be rewarded upon their retirement with a couple of hunting dogs, a Winchester and a plow horse for their family farm. It was a different time but seems even farther removed from the modern era of the sports business – where minimum wage MLB players average roughly ten times that of most working Americans. Worse still, an NFL weekly game check exceeds the annual salary of all but the wealthiest 3% of Americans.
In 1922, Babe Ruth signed a contract paying him $50,000 per year to play for the Yankees (lauded as making more money than the President of the United States). Hank Greenberg doubled that in 1947 ($100,000) with the Detroit Tigers. The first million dollar contract appeared thirty years later in November 1979 when Nolan Ryan was seduced by the brilliant colors of the headache-causing uniforms of the Houston Astros (4 years, $4.5 million). Dave Parker had been offered a one million dollar contract the previous year (1978) but the Pittsburgh Pirates worded the contract in a roundabout way as they didn’t want to be publicly known as the first team to pay a player one million dollars a year. By that time, the market had begun to establish itself after 5 years of freedom for Major League Baseball – courtesy of George “The Boss” Steinbrenner during the pioneer days of free agency (Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rich Gossage and Dave Winfield). Two million dollars was the next echelon in 1982 when George Foster signed a $2 million deal to play for the NY Mets. Kirby Puckett surpassed the $3 million threshold in 1989, followed by Jose Canseco’s $4.7M deal in 1990.
Ten years later Manny Ramrirez would secure $20 million only to be outdone by Alex Rodriguez ($20M in 2000, $25M in 2003 and $27M a couple years later) three different times. Now Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder look to hit the free agent market seeking $30 million per season starting in 2012. Anyone who is naïve enough to find themselves waiting for the free market to eventually right itself and even out might be in the market for a bridge or two. That myopic minority has been waiting a long time and would likely sympathize with Chicago Cubs fans for their generational levels of patience.
It is a losing proposition disguised as an investment in the community.
Cities pay millions with public tax money to erect sports complexes and attract franchises or over-expand across all sports. Players, General Managers and Owners make millions to play or manage a game while semi-illiterate young college “graduates” are offered a free ride and massive support to encourage them to make their millions in their sport of choice. College football bowl games garner millions in profits now numbering three dozen incarnations. Sweetheart TV deals are offered per conference, per division and per school offering more money to be shared among smaller groups of profiteers. Meanwhile average hardworking people scrimp and save and mortgage their futures to fund their children’s education so that they can spend $200 to attend one of these sporting events as a family. Overpriced concessions, overpriced tickets (at least for the good seats), overpriced parking and the list goes on and on and on and on … It will never change so long as those making money remain in control of the industry. David Stern, Bud Selig, Roger Goddell and even Gary Bettman are four of the most handsomely rewarded individuals in the world while none can hit a curveball, throw a spiral or pair up for a decent pick and roll.
COST CUTTING: One way to potentially stop some of the madness would be to stop paying athletes $30 million per year to play a game. Owners are reluctant to offer these huge contracts due to the possibility of player injury. Should Albert Pujols or Kobe Bryant suffer a career-ending injury their franchises would still be obligated to pay their entire guaranteed contract. At least if Peyton Manning ‘s neck injury sidelines him forever, the remainder of his contract is voidable – of course it was front-loaded in the first place!
DIGITAL DELIVERY: So the way to remove player investment vs. player injury from the equation would be to remove the human element of the player. Thanks to the developments of the digital age, composite technology and the popularity of video games, video analysis and virtual reality programming; this is no longer a science fiction film plot.
FUTURE IS NOW: Science fiction is reality – or at least virtual reality. Want proof? Watch any NFL pregame show where they have 3-D (three dimensional) holograms being used to simulate a play. Play a video game where multiple players across an inexpensive broadband digital network manipulate realistic-looking and sounding CG caricatures inspired by our hometown heroes of today or even yesteryear. The average 10-year-old suburban middle class kid can witness a home run derby between Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds or design a sweep play pitting Barry Sanders against the original Monsters of the Midway.
We have the technology, we can rebuild the system. If a junior high schmuck can square off Pele’s New York Cosmos vs. the USA Women’s 1999 Soccer team or control a power play in the final minute of a showdown between the 1984 Edmonton Oilers vs. the Broad Street Bullies then major changes can be made within the sports industry.
Virtual All-Stars: All-Star Games across all sports have become problematic so this is an area in which the theory can be tested. Players don’t want to play in meaningless games where they are risking injury while TV networks insist that they public demands all of the stars or nothing for their ratings needs. Problem solved. Name players to the respective all-star teams based on their in-season performance and simulcast a “video game version” in which real player attributes and skill sets can be matched or tested using the likenesses of the best players. A Virtual Reality game can even be played in a stadium with a little holographic imaging. Video game likenesses are used in millions of homes every day. Thanks to motion capture branchpoint technology and pre-existing licensing agreements there is no need to pay player bonuses or make travel arrangements. No need to contend with players declining to participate due to potential injury or travel conflicts. Expenses saved. Problem solved.
If this works for the MLB, NHL and NBA All-Star Games as well as the apathetic, maudlin exhibition of the NFL’s Pro Bowl (rescheduled for the off-week prior to the Super Bowl and still failing to nudge the needle) it can be revisited for other venues.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org