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September 16, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Hoopin’ and Hollerin': Round $$$ix

We find it easy to be amazed by sports. The nexus of physicality and grace, raw emotion expressed as brute force and deft skill, the payoff of decades of training—there is plenty to be in awe of. However, perhaps the most amazing thing about sports is money.

It’s obvious that sport is driven by cash; just look at the way advertisers flock to brand stadia, jerseys, official team products, memorabilia. The All Blacks recently put the AIG logo square on the chest of the sacred black jersey, as part of a deal worth over NZ$80 million. While figures aren’t available for New Zealand, the Australian sponsorship market is worth about a billion dollars annually. Globally, the figure is around NZ$60 billion. And to think, this is sponsorship; something which exists around sport. What about sport itself?

When such money is at stake, things get nasty. There’s barely a governing body which hasn’t been touched by allegations or proof of corruption—FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, the Indian Premier League, the International Cricket Council, the English Premier League, the NBA; the list goes on. David Tua, New Zealand’s greatest boxing product, went bankrupt after dodgy dealings with a manager. People like to get rich, and attaching themselves to people playing games is a good way to do it.

That’s not to say that the players themselves don’t do well out of the entire deal too: in fact, the opposite is the case. In the English Premier League last year, NZ$3,040,000,000 was paid to 550 players. That’s 50 kilograms of $20 notes.

In US leagues, the salaries rise further: the NFL paid less than 1800 players over NZ$5 billion last year—NZ$2.9 million on average—while the NBA paid 400 players NZ$2.3 billion, or NZ$5.5 million on average. In the US, the highest-paid sports stars can expect to earn 750 times more than the average person on the street, and even the average wage for the four major leagues is 100 times the national average.

Whether you think this is good or bad depends on your politics: philosopher Robert Nozick would argue that it’s not inherently bad that so few earn so much, given that they are paid these amounts because a large number of people are happy to give them money to watch them do what they do best. Since we can’t argue that it’s unfair people choose to pay small amounts to watch sports, we also can’t argue that the pattern this behaviour results in is unfair. At the end of the day, the players are just pawns in a larger system. While they become incredibly wealthy as a result of their skills, it’s because they are worth paying that much because of the revenue they generate for organisations, owners and sponsors. Next time you gape at how much so-and-so signed with their new team for, just think of the people who sign the cheques.

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